A group of parliamentarians in Uganda have approved a motion designed to force the government to either upgrade the ministry of information and communications technology or create a science ministry. The MPs, led by members of the committee of science and technology, passed the motion for a resolution on setting up the ministry on 15 March.
“We proposed upgrading the ministry of information and communications technology, which is cheaper, or create a new ministry,” says Denis Hamson Obua, the chairman of the committee on science and technology.
The science community has been calling on the government to create such a ministry since 2008. The 2011 to 2015 National Development Plan makes provision for it. But it has not materialized. Scientists hope a dedicated ministry would help boost the national science budget. They say the science budget is being given a raw deal by the ministry of finance, which currently presides over it.
Senior Ugandan scientists are split on whether the MPs’ actions mean that the ministry will finally be set up.
“Since this issue has been around for a long time, we are relatively less optimistic that the ministry will be established this time round,” says David Mutekanga, executive secretary of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences.
Thomas Egwang, director general of Med-Biotech Laboratories, a biomedical research institution based in Kampala, is more optimistic.
“Certainly the momentum is there,” he says. “The omens are good, really good, but we have to wait and see that it is not lip-service or wishful thinking or a passing fad on the part of Parliament.”
Egwang says Uganda’s MPs have become increasingly science-savvy. Ugandan scientists are also getting better at speaking out about what they need to do their jobs, he adds. However, when the bill is debated, the final sign-off for the new science ministry would rest with the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni.
“The parliament can pass a resolution, but the decision rests with the head of state,” says Maxwell Onapa, deputy executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology.
Onapa says Museveni’s past priorities have rested with infrastructure development and energy. If that does not change, he says, the science ministry might take a long time to be established.
Credit: Research Search