Trade PS Geraldine Ssali powers reduced after Shs 8bn scandal

MPs quiz Geraldine Ssali over sh5 billion for office renovation
The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Geraldine Ssali

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Geraldine Ssali, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Co-operatives, has been relieved of her duties as the Accounting Officer for the ministry due to financial irregularities involving up to Shs 8 billion.

This issue emerged during a parliamentary investigation into alleged financial misappropriation of supplementary funds for the financial year 2021/22. The parliamentary committee recommended Ssali’s removal from her role as the Accounting Officer, citing abuse of office, financial mismanagement, negligence of duty, and other charges. Parliament adopted the committee’s report in August.

The investigation revealed that Ssali had failed to exercise proper control and ensure the appropriate use of funds allocated for renovation works on the ministry’s offices at Farmers House. It was recommended that ministry officials, including Tom Opio, Daniel Kalule, Deo Byaruhanga, and Rosemary Asiimwe, be investigated by the Inspectorate of Government (IG) and the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) in accordance with the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009.

The MPs also suggested the possibility of prosecuting Geraldine Ssali for her abuse of authority. The Committee Chairperson, Mwine Mpaka, highlighted that in the Financial Year 2021/2022, a supplementary request for eight billion Shillings had been made by the then Permanent Secretary, Grace Adong, for office premises rent. However, Parliament granted only five billion.

In May 2022, Ssali, who had become the new PS, requested the Secretary to the Treasury to transfer the allocated funds from rent to renovation. While this request was granted, a revised work plan was demanded for the utilization of the funds.

The committee was astonished to discover that even before the revised work plan could be approved by the Secretary to the Treasury, Geraldine Ssali had already initiated the procurement process for office renovation, as noted by Mwine Mpaka, the committee chairperson.

Further revelations during the probe included Ssali’s authorization of the procurement of four used cars for ministry officials at a cost of two billion Shillings.

Consequently, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury, Ramathan Ggoobi, decided to withdraw Ssali from her role and requested her minister, Francis Mwebesa, to nominate a new accounting officer while Ssali is under investigation for corruption.

In his letter dated October 3, 2023, Ggoobi referred to the parliamentary probe committee’s recommendation, which urged him to exercise his authority under the Public Finance Management Act to revoke Geraldine Ssali’s appointment as an Accounting Officer due to her alleged involvement in illegal and deliberate fraudulent practices that have cost the government 8 billion Shillings.

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Ggoobi’s letter also informed that Tom Opio, an office attendant at the ministry, has been barred from the Electronic Government Procurement System. He stated that management should collaborate with the Accountant General to ensure that the procurement processes are not disrupted.

Opio had been involved in procurement activities with Ssali’s approval, despite his official designation as an “Office Attendant.” Ssali defended his involvement by claiming that he possessed a degree in procurement, even though his designated role did not reflect this qualification.

Ggoobi’s actions were based on the findings and recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives, which had investigated the diversion of 5 billion Shillings originally allocated for rent to the renovation of Farmers House.

Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Budadiri County West MP, recommended the immediate interdiction of the Trade Ministry’s Permanent Secretary by the Head of Public Service.

In response to these developments, Minister Francis Mwebesa stated that his ministry would cooperate with other authorities to take action on the committee’s recommendations in the fight against corruption.