The Government has suspended the implementation of the national silk production project, citing possible fraud and abuse of public resources.
Information obtained by New Vision shows that the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI), a private company limited by guarantee, had so far received over sh78b from the Government to implement the project.
Dr Monica Musenero, the science minister, announced the suspension of the Government’s funding for TRIDI in a report that gave the status of the sericulture project.
The minister said their findings “so far point to possible fraud and abuse of government resources”.
Therefore, Musenero said the Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Secretariat at the Office of the President could not, in the right conscience, approve the continuation of project implementation in the current state.
The minister said the issues and consequent actions outlined in the report had led to the current suspension of funding for TRIDI.
“The technical assessment team is undertaking its work. We wrote to the Office of the Auditor General and we are following up to ensure that the forensic audit is carried out as soon as possible,” she said.
Musenero clarified that it was not true that the suspension of funding to the project was borne out of a personal conflict between her and the executive director of TRIDI, Clet Wandui Masiga.
“The actions we have taken are to safeguard public resources and give opportunity for Ugandans to benefit from this investment. The public has entrusted us with this responsibility, and anything short of this is a dereliction of duty,” Musenero said in a report, a copy of which New Vision has seen.
She assured Ugandans of the Government’s commitment to ensure the implementation of all projects with as much integrity and diligence as possible.
The minister said the recommendation for suspending funding was put forward by an inter-ministerial consultative meeting between the STI secretariat, the agriculture ministry and the Office of the President held on September 8.
Musenero said during the 2017/18 financial year, TRIDI received a research and development grant of sh1.5b through the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology to undertake the study of “evaluating the utility of sericulture technologies, silk-based textiles and other silk-derived innovations as tools for household wealth creation and employment generation in Uganda”.
The study was implemented in Sheema district. In the 2019/20 financial year, TRIDI received a further sh5b from the science and technology ministry and another sh12.3b in the following financial year (2020/21).
She said a one-year memorandum of understanding was signed to give a framework for the release of these funds on the condition that a public-private partnership is put in place to give the framework for implementation.
However, the process of establishing this partnership never took place, although the funds were still fully expended, Musenero reported.
In June 2021, President Yoweri Museveni abolished the science and technology ministry and transferred its functions to the STI secretariat under the President’s office.
Musenero said the oversight and funding of the sericulture project were transferred to the STI secretariat.
In the financial year of 2021/22, sh16.4265b was given to TRIDI based on the work plan previously approved by the science and technology ministry, and a one-year memorandum of understanding signed between TRIDI and the Office of the President. This was an interim measure.
The minister said in total, up to 2021/22 financial year, TRIDI had received and expended a total of sh36.227b, and that for the financial year 2022/23, sh42.43b had been allocated to the project; sh26b through Vote 001 and sh16.43b through Vote 002.
Value for money
Musenero said on September 1, the STI secretariat undertook a monitoring and evaluation visit to Kween, considered the second “most progressed” site according to TRIDI. The other site is Rubare in Sheema district.
Musenero reported that during the visit and ensuing discussion with TRIDI, they noted that Masiga admitted that the land, approximately 300 acres that was bought with project funds, belongs to him as a person.
It is on this land where mulberry plants are being grown and houses were constructed for silk rearing and cocoon processing.
“Moreover, there was no evidence of any formal agreement between him and the project spelling out the terms and conditions under which this land was being used. There is a need to rule out that this land was not bought using project funds,” Musenero said.
According to the report, Masiga claimed that another 100 acres of land were procured in nearby Sodenti and that this land, also acquired using government funds, shall be transferred to Uganda Land Commission.
It also said the cocoon processing equipment was installed in an incomplete ad hoc structure with a low-lying roof, poor ventilation and no shutters.
The equipment was also not operational and at risk of being damaged.