Perhaps due to overwhelming pressure from the public, President Yoweri Museveni yesterday withdrew his directive not to allow anyone into public places without a government-provided face mask.
Museveni has said in his recent addresses that relaxing lockdown measures has to be a gradual process that is accompanied with wearing of a mask by everyone in public places at all times.
But his stance, as many people perceived it, to have one company, the Jinja-based Southern Range Nyanza also known as Nytil, as the sole supplier of the masks to be distributed by the government, drew anger. The company has associated itself with members of the first family in the past. It has also benefited from lucrative government contracts to supply gear for armed forces.
In 2018, the State Minister of Finance Bahati sought powers from Parliament to exempt the company along with others such as Bidco, from paying accumulated debts with URA.
In his subsequent address on the Coronavirus delivered yesterday, Museveni said that members of the public will be allowed to use any type of mask as long as they meet the safety standards set by the Ministry of Health.
Museveni had directed in his Monday address, that the easing of lockdown measures would depend on access to a government-provided face mask. He said the government would give every persons aged 6 years and above, one free mask, which they would have to wear all the time everyday while in public places.
This directive however sparked widespread public criticism, as some hinted at favouritism of Nytil, which the president said was in the process of making the masks.
Others condemned the human rights/health related aspects of the directive surrounding the possession of just one mask for months.
The relaxation by the president on the supply of face masks to the public is a relief to a number of local entrepreneurs who had invested in the manufacture or importation of the masks.
The President didn’t however clarify whether other companies whose masks had been certified by the UNBS, could be allowed to partake of the public cake and supply masks to government for its free distribution exercise.
A number of mask manufacturers under the Umbrella Body – the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) lobbied the Minister of Trade and Industry Amelia Kyambadde to persuade government to accept their bids to supply masks.
Kyambadde advised the members to remain united in presenting their demands to government.