Back-to-back negotiations with mask manufacturers ended in a deadlock after the firms rejected an offer by the government of Uganda.
Out of 60 companies that applied to manufacture the free government masks, only 10 have been approved.
But the disagreement over the price for each mask is holding back the process.
The Daily Monitor understands that all the bidders who have applied for procurement of 33 million masks in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic have quoted prices above the government offer.
Only one company has the lowest bid at Ush2,000 per piece.
Some companies, according to sources close to National Covid-19 Taskforce, have asked for Ush5,000 per mask, yet others want between Shs2500 and Shs4000 (inclusive of VAT).
The government is in the process of enforcing compulsory wearing of masks for Ugandans aged six years and above but had fixed the price at Ush1,000 per mask. But the bidders have rejected this offer.
In a separate joint petition to Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde, five companies have asked for 2,500 per mask.
Ex-Ken (U) Ltd, Big Concepts, Sigma Knitting Industries, Christex Industries and Winfred Fashion wrote: “We would like you to reconsider the price offered so we can be able to manufacture the required masks. We strongly feel that Shs2,500 net is a fair price per piece.”
A group of 50 bidders have submitted documents to the Ministry of Health and samples to Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) for certification.
For the last two weeks, the companies have held several meetings with Ministry of Health officials but failed to agree on pricing.
The companies have rejected the Ush1,000 offer and made it clear to government that the price falls below their production costs. This has enraged some members of the National Covid-19 Taskforce, who have accused the bidders of being insensitive and using the pandemic to enrich themselves.
The price wars explain the delay in the procurement of free masks.
PULL OUT OF DEAL
But some mask producers have agreed to negotiate but other firms have rejected the government offer and threatened to pull out of the deal.
On Monday, Health minister Ruth Jane Aceng tabled the matter before the Cabinet and requested for guidance in order to side-step the anticipated delays.
In the Cabinet, the ministers had no kind words for the mask manufacturers and some even proposed that the procurement rules be revised to allow businesswomen and other local manufacturers in Kiyembe and other parts of the country to bid on a sub-contract basis.
This proposal was nipped in the bud after it emerged that circumventing the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) procurement rules might invite unnecessary audit queries.
After a long discussion in Cabinet, ministers approved Ush2,500 as the cost of each piece of mask. Cabinet asked the Ministry of Health to renegotiate with the companies before they extended the deadline for distribution of free masks to June 10. They also instructed the Health ministry to expedite the process.
On May 18, President Yoweri Museveni announced that distribution of government-provided face masks would begin on June 2 but this was not possible due to procurement delays.
The President on Monday extended the deadline to June 10 and told those without one to stay home.
Due to inadequate funding for the Ministry of Heath, the government has decided to distribute free masks in phases, starting with the 40 border districts under lockdown.
As Ugandans wait for free government masks, some are making their own out of fabric scraps.
However, health officials have warned that some could be fake and provided the required guidelines for the right masks.