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SHOCKER: How Trade Ministry spent shs400m to transport documents from Kampala to Entebbe, PS Ssali speaks out

Ugandans were on Monday left in a frenzy after parliament was told that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives used Shs400m of taxpayers’ money to transport the documents from its Kampala offices to Entebbe.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Permanent Secretary, Ms Geraldine Ssali (Photo?/Courtesy)

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Ugandans were on Monday left in a frenzy after parliament was told that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives used Shs400m of taxpayers’ money to transport the documents from its Kampala offices to Entebbe.

The Ministry as part of renovating its offices at Farmers House needed to transfer files to Entebbe to enable rehabilitation works to go on.

While appearing before Parliament’s Trade Committee on July 03, the Ministry officials told MPs that Shs400m was spent on transporting the documents from Kampala to Entebbe.

MPs tasked the officials to explain how Shs400m was spent on the transporting of files from Kampala to Entebbe and also demanded to know the circumstances under which the price of the renovation of the Ministry’s offices at Farmers’ House was inflated from Shs3.1bn as quoted by Ministry of Works, to Shs6.2bn, later paid by the Ministry of Trade.

According to the Mwine Mpaaka Committee, the same Ministry also spent Shs 26 million to deliver laptop computers to its workers at home when the renovation of the Ministry headquarters was taking place. The delivered computers had been procured at Shs160 million.

The committee heard from other witnesses including; the Principal Assistant Secretary at the Ministry Everest Ahimbisibwe and the former head of procurement who pinned the Permanent Secretary Geraldine Ssaali of cancelling the procurement process for the procurement of 5 new vehicles for the Ministers and fraudulently getting a new supplier.

The Ministry of Trade officials appeared before Parliament on July 03, to explain alleged fraud at the ministry. PHOTO/HANDOUT

According to these government officials, even the 5 vehicles procured by the PS were old and at a higher rate of Shs600 million each instead of the 500 million shillings that had been approved by the Finance Treasury.

The committee was then told that after the Head of Procurement failed to agree with the boss to sign the exorbitant figure, the office attendant, Tom Opiyo was duped and made to sign the documents.

The issue of the Shs5b meant for the Ministry to shift from the dilapidated structure at the Farmers House also generated a serious debate with findings pinning the Permanent Secretary for changing the work plan and diverting the resources to just renovate the structure.

According to the officials, the renovation was supposed to cost Shs3.1bn shillings away from the exaggerated figure of  Shs6.8b.

The lack of information by the Ministry engineer and Lawyer while defending the Permanent secretary made legislators put them on oath.

The Committee also issued fresh summons against Ms Geraldine Ssali, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Trade, after Evarist Ahimbisibwe, the former Principle Administrative Secretary at the Ministry, revealed he was transferred to another Ministry after refusing to sign the contract with inflated prices, and his subordinate was used to complete the signing process.

PS Ssali Speaks out

Ms Ssali speaking on the scandal which has thrown the country into shock said through twitter denied the reports that the ministry spent Shs 400m in moving documents from the ministry’s office in Kampala to its stores in Entebbe.

“The Ministry notes with concern the exaggerated figure of Shs400m, that was said to have been used to transport documents from Farmers House on Parliamentary Avenue to Entebbe,” she said.

Ssali said in a statement that the document transfer cost the ministry shillings 59.3 million, which included disassembling of office furniture, packaging materials, hiring of closed-body cargo trucks, loading, wages for casual labourers and fuel.

She also noted that 38 laptops were distributed to staff during renovations and were picked up from the ministry offices. “The affected staff individually picked the laptops from Farmers House at the ministry offices and not delivered them to individual homes,” she said.

Ssali added that for the renovation of office space at Farmers House, her office as the accounting officer was allocated a Supplementary Budget of Shs5bn for rehabilitation of the dilapidated Farmers’ House. Adding that an additional Shs3bn was allocated for FY 2022/23 bringing the total annual rent expense to Shs8bn, an amount which was intended to improve working conditions for our staff.

“After careful consideration, we determined that renovating the office space would be a more cost-effective solution compared to incurring recurring annual rent expenses. However, there were delays in releasing the funds, which were approved in Aug 2021 but disbursed in April 2022. This posed a challenge when it came to securing suitable accommodation promptly. Nevertheless, we obtained clearance from the Solicitor General for our procurement method of restricted bidding and ensured compliance with the Uganda PPDA Act,” Ms Ssali explained.

“It is crucial to highlight that if these funds were not utilized as intended, they would have been returned to the Treasury per legal requirements. The Solicitor General approved the renovation of the premises and all necessary supporting documents are available for reference. The Rationalization of Government Agencies (RAPEX) Program is currently being implemented in Uganda to reduce costs associated with government office space rent. Renting office space at UGX 8Bn would have contradicted this objective.”

She also spoke on the future of the ministry and how much money the rationalized entity will need for rent every year. “Additionally, over the next three years, MTIC will accommodate three additional government agencies necessitating an additional 3,000 square meters of space and exceeding UGX 10Bn in annual rent expenses.”

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