Museveni orders return of accounting powers to PS Geraldine Ssali

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 | President Yoweri Museveni has issued a directive for the reinstatement of Geraldine Ssali as the Accounting Officer of the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives.

This decision comes following the suspension of Ssali in October 2023 by the Secretary to the Treasury, Ramathan Ggoobi. The suspension had been based on the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into alleged acts of corruption within the Ministry.

In a significant turn of events, Lucy Nakyobe, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet, has formally requested Ggoobi to revoke his previous decision. On October 26, 2023, Nakyobe sent a letter to Ggoobi, urging him to promptly reinstate Geraldine Ssali as the Accounting Officer for the Ministry of Trade, in compliance with the president’s directive, which is dated October 22, 2023.

This presidential order serves as a welcome development for Ssali, who had previously accused Parliament of unfairly targeting her. The allegations against Ssali included her purported failure to exercise control over the proper utilization of funds allocated for renovation works at the Ministry’s offices in Farmer’s House. Furthermore, the House’s Trade Committee had accused Ssali of inflating the renovation costs by Shs2 billion.

However, Ssali’s troubles began when she opted to renovate the existing office space at Farmer’s House in Kampala, as opposed to incurring the substantial expense of renting office space at the Kingdom Kampala Building, owned by businessman Sudhir Ruparelia.

Ssali defended her decision, explaining that it was in line with the Rationalization of Government Agencies (RAPEX) Program, which aimed to reduce government office space rent costs. She also pointed out that there were delays in the release of funds, which had been approved in August 2021 but disbursed in April 2022.

“After careful consideration, we determined that renovating the office space would be a more cost effective solution compared to incurring recurring annual rent expenses,” said Ssali.

“Renting office space at Shs 8Bn would have contradicted this objective,” said Ssali, who joined the Trade Ministry in 2021.

According to her, if the funds were not utilized as intended, they would have been returned to the Treasury, as required by law. Ssali emphasized that the Solicitor General had approved the renovation project, and all relevant documentation was available for reference.

“It is crucial to highlight that if these funds were not utilised as intended, they would have been returned to the Treasury per legal requirements,” said Ssali, adding, “The Solicitor General approved the renovation of the premises and all necessary supporting documents are available for reference.”

Furthermore, she mentioned that an additional Shs 3 billion had been allocated for the fiscal year 2022/23, bringing the total annual rent expense to Shs 8 billion. These funds were intended to enhance working conditions for Ministry staff.

“Additionally, an additional Shs 3Bn was  allocated for FY 2022/23 bringing the total annual rent expense to Shs 8Bn. These funds were intended to improve working conditions for our staff,” she emphasised.