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[KAMPALA] Uganda's parliament has passed a bill paving the way for the creation of a science ministry, which will spearhead and harmonise the development of science, technology and innovation (ST&I).

The bill is now waiting for President Museveni's assent to become law, and he is widely expected to approve it.

The country is the last in the East African Community to create a dedicated science ministry. Science has been fragmented across several Ugandan ministries and organisations — some of which have been neglecting it, according to observers. The new ministry will supervise, monitor and coordinate research and innovation under a single roof.

The ministry would be a point of convergence for ST&I matters, said chair of the parliamentary committee on science and technology, Denis Obua, as the bill was debated in parliament last month (14 March).

The ministry, he said, should now be established in line with the five-year National Development Plan, which provides for the establishment of a Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation but expires in 2015.

"We have waited for a long time to move in tandem with the rest of the world. It is brilliant and timely," says Monica Amoding, a national youth member of parliament.  

"We need this ministry more than ever before. The country is seemingly recognising the role science can play in its development and transformation," Arthur Makara, the executive director of the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development, an organisation that promotes the de-mystification of science in Uganda, tells SciDev.Net.

Feeding Uganda's growing population will need more agricultural know-how, and the new oil industry requires more Ugandan scientists and engineers to flourish, says Zerubabel Mijumbi Nyiira, state minister for agriculture. These needs should be coordinated by the science ministry, he adds.

Obua told parliament that most ST&I affairs currently fall under the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, which pays little attention to them. Other responsibilities lie with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, which legislators say should be merged with the ministry.

Scientists argue that President Museveni has already endorsed the ministry, as well as acknowledging the importance of scientists and promising them a pay rise.

"We are not reinventing the wheel, the commitment is already there," says Obua.

But not everyone agrees Uganda needs a science ministry. Michael Niyitegeka, an ICT consultant with Makerere University, says that another ministry may end up duplicating efforts made by other existing commissions and authorities in the field.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.