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State House confirms knowledge of BBC, NBS investigation

Solomon Serwanjja addressing the media

Solomon Serwanjja addressing the media

The head of State House Health Monitoring Unit Dr Jackson Ojera has confirmed that they were contacted by a team from BBC and NBS TV prior to an investigation into the alleged trade of government-regulated pharmaceuticals on the black market.

The yet-to-be aired investigation landed BBC journalists Godfrey Badebye and Kassim Mohamed, their fixer Rashid Kaweesa and their driver Shafiq Kisaame a night in cells at the Central Police Station (CPS) after they were arrested on Wednesday while attempting to purchasing some government drugs as undercover agents.

Upon interrogation according to police, the journalists told investigators that they were recording an investigations into the alleged sale and purchase of government drugs by government officials that are later sold to neighbouring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo and private clinics in the country. The journalists reportedly disclosed that they had bought some drugs and stored them at the residence NBS TV news anchor, Solomon Serwanjja in Mukono.

Police and operatives of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), then raided Serwanjja’s home where they arrested his wife, Vivian Nakaliika who is also the communications officer in charge of health promotion and behavioural change in the ministry of Health.

Several boxes of malaria, Hepatitis B drugs were also recovered. Possession of such classified drugs is punishable by a fine of up to Shs 2 million and up to five years in prison, according to provisions of the National Drug Policy and Authority Act. The journalists have today been released on police bond with charges of illegal possession of government drugs slapped against them and are supposed to report back on March 12.

Dr Ojera said just as they were still studying the objectives and motives of the investigation and the proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the team of journalists, the journalists went ahead and started the project. 

“They sought audience with us and we guided them. We cannot, and I repeat, we cannot start anything with them until we have everything in black and white in form of MOU. We were in the process of drafting the MOU, giving comment here and there and to see how we can work together. Before were finished reviewing the MOU, it is yesterday when we’re seeing now information in the media. Little did we know that they had started their project. We are in no way part of what they were doing. We were in the preliminary, we were cautious enough." said Ojera. 

"We had included in the MOU that if we are to go into any partnership or corroboration, then there are certain things they have to allow us to first see before they publish," Dr Ojera said.

The Health Monitoring Unit was established by President Museveni in 2009 as a strategic response to challenges in the health sector such as poor service delivery. The unit is a department under State House that is charged with improving health services by monitoring the management of essential medicines and service delivery.

POLICE IN U-TURN

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga in a statement, encouraged the journalists to continue with their investigations. Yesterday Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said the journalists should have informed police about the investigation to avoid trouble with the security. Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo yesterday said police had told him that the journalists were arrested because they were working on a story that was going to cast government in bad light. 

Below is the full police statement

The Police have today, Friday, 8th February 2019, released on bond three suspects who turned out to be journalists and a one Vivian Nakalika who were arrested yesterday, 7th February, 2019, on actionable intelligence surrounding the alleged purchase and sell of government drugs.

The three journalists included; Godfrey Badebye, Shafiq Kisame, Rashid Kisame, and Vivian Nakalika in whose home the alleged illegally acquired government drugs were recovered from. The statement of Solomon Serwanja, a journalist working with NBS, who appeared today at CPS Kampala, has been recorded. He was thereafter, released on police bond.

We are aware of the important role the media plays in investigative reporting, debates, discussion, background and analysis, as well as new stories; not withstanding their journalistic duty to obey the ordinary criminal law, in the course of their duties, and we highly commend them for their tireless efforts in fighting corruption.

We would like to further acknowledge that Next Media in partnership with local correspondents from the BBC, while working on a tip, independently planned and carried out their operations surrounding the illegal sell of government drugs in selected government hospitals in Arua, Gulu and Kirudu. It is clear that their motive was to show how easy it was to buy government drugs and its conduit.

We do encourage them to continue with their documentary programme and achieve their intended objective of exposing their targets, to help prevent such occurrences in future.

The police has created a task team which is building further on the available facts on file, to establish the culprits behind the alleged theft and sale of government drugs, in these government hospitals and will ensure all suspects that are criminally liable are brought to book.

We are also closely working with the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution for legal guidance on as to whether the journalists mentioned above, in their quest for a story of essential importance to society could have breached any rules on the acquisition of government drugs and its safety considerations or not.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd