But, this is not a new happening at NDA. When Kusemererwa joined NDA, her predecessor Dr. Gordon Katende Sematiko, had been kicked out prematurely a year before. When the Independent spoke to him, he was still disgruntled. He alleged he had been framed and kicked out unfairly.
“I was suspended to give way for investigations but a few days later I received another letter signed by the chairman that I had been dismissed with immediate effect. I wasn’t given chance to explain myself,” he said.
Sematiko with other two colleagues were fired over alleged abuse of office. He allegedly without permission from the board transferred US$ 5million (then Shs14 billion) from the official authority account in Standard Chartered Bank to an unauthorized fixed deposit account in Orient Bank.
Sematiko who maintains that he possesses minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting that authorized him to open up a new fixed deposit account, accuses the board of using that as an excuse to get rid of him so that they could get their favorite candidate in the position.
“I had informed the board that we had a surplus and suggested we save it on a fixed deposit account to earn the authority some interest. They agreed and I have evidence,” he says.
Before all this happened in 2011, Sematiko’s confirmation as the new Executive Secretary of the authority also did not come easily. He had been blocked by then Minister Christine Ondoa who fired the entire board of 20 members that had appointed him. The board consists of members from major health institutions in the country; for instance a representative from Mulago National Referral Hospital, one from the pharmaceutical society of Uganda, Ministry of Health, Uganda AIDS Commission, National Chemotherapeutic laboratory, a legal advisor, Joint medical stores, national medical stores, representative of the herbalists and medical students. It was until 2013, after being summoned by the parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) to explain why he was occupying the office illegally without a confirmation letter from the board, that his appointment was formalized.
The accusations and counter accusations of intrigue and in fighting among people in these top positions at NDA date from as far back as 2002 when then Executive Secretary Dr. John Lule and retired dentist Dr. William Nganwa who was board chairman were arrested over alleged abuse of office. They were accused of permitting illegal importation and local distribution of anti-malarial drugs from a blacklisted pharmaceutical factory in Ningbo, China. The controversy at the authority came when the top officials were immediately allowed to go back to the job by then-Health Minister Jim Muhwezi even when investigations were still ongoing contrary to the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda (PSU) standing orders that provide for interdiction of any administrator being investigated. Many accused Muhwezi of allowing the two back on the job because Nganwa was his relative.
However, as NDA appears to be embroiled in endless fights, scandals, and accusations and counter accusations, it appears critical to investigate where the source of the problem is. Importing and distributing drugs across the whole country involves big money and big deals. Why does anyone who gets in this position get into some kind of trouble? Isn’t this derailing this critical organization? Already several Auditor General’s reports have punched holes in their work as they have found pharmacies operating illegally without licenses.
Cissy Kagaba the Executive Director Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) says what’s happening at the drugs’ body is a reflection of what is happening in other government departments and agencies; “they are always in intrigue and power struggles instead of getting committed to their work”.
Kagaba, who says unless genuine commitment is demonstrated and not the usual rhetoric, such occurrences will continue.
“The victim of what’s happening is the ordinary and vulnerable Ugandan who will continue receiving poor services and taking fake drugs as the regulators continue to fight,” she says.
Kagaba adds: “We also cannot rule out the power and influence of syndicates and mafias if it’s true that she (Kusemererwa) had started stepping on people’s toes, by probably cleansing the institution of graft. They can easily pull her out if she is getting in their way”.
Established in 1993, NDA is mandated to ensure the availability, at all times, of essential, efficacious and cost-effective drugs to the population as a means of providing satisfactory healthcare and safeguarding the appropriate use of drugs. But, for many years, stories told about the authority have been of bribery, poor performance, corruption scandals and abuse of office yet the authority has crucial roles of regulating pharmacies and drug shops, controlling importation and exportation of pharmaceuticals.