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Parliament recommends sacking Trade Ministry PS Ssali over funds misuse

Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Permanent Secretary Geraldine Ssali (right) appears before the Trade Committee of Parliament in April 2023. PHOTO/DM

Kampala, (UG): Parliament has recommended the sacking of Ms Geraldine Ssali, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) over the alleged misuse of a supplementary budget for the Financial Year 2021/2022.

Ms. Ssali, among other things, is faulted for approving huge cash advances for suspicious transport-related activities.

Parliament’s Committee on Trade opened an inquiry into the matter while going through the Ministerial Policy Statement for the FY2023/2024 and the annual budget performance report for the FY2021/2022 of the ministry.

The probe was triggered by a finding that Shs5 billion budget for renting new offices in their supplementary budget was instead used to renovate Farmer’s House.

During a Tuesday plenary, MPs adopted a report of findings from the committee (but with amendments) which recommended Ms. Ssali’s sacking and further investigation.

“[She should be] investigated, with a view [to] prosecution by the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions),” said the Committee Hon Mwine Mpaka (Mbarara City South) reasoning that Ms. Ssali as an accounting officer for the ministry failed to ensure the proper use of money appropriated for her docket.

The offences against Ms Ssali were justified under Section 79 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 2015 and include negligence of duty provided for under Sections 26 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) Act, 2003 and Section 45 of the PFMA, 2015.

Other recommendations were made in line with the alleged contraventions of Section 95 of the PPDA, 2003; disobedience of statutory duty under Section 116 of the Penal Code Act, Cap.120; abuse of office, causing financial loss to the government under sections 11 and 20 of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009, among other offences.

“The committee further established that Shs570,939,000 was spent by the PS MTIC, Ms Geraldine Ssali on transport-related expenditure,” Mr Mpaka said.

The House also heard that while a contract to buy office furniture was on June 15, 2022 awarded to Footsteps Company Limited at a contract price of Shs1 billion, the ministry never received the items.

“The PS MTIC, Ms Geraldine Ssali, while appearing before the committee informed the committee that although fully paid [for], the furniture has never been delivered,” Mr Mpaka said.

He added: “An accounting officer, in respect of all resources and transactions of a vote, [must] put in place effective systems of risk management, internal control and audit.”

Also at issue was the money spent to buy laptops for staff to use while working from home.
“Ms Geraldine Ssali quoted Shs200 million for procurement of laptops, which leaves Shs8 million unaccounted for since the contract price was Shs191.9 million, tax inclusive. This further creates doubt as to the authenticity of her work plan,” Mr Mpaka informed legislators.

The committee also found her liable for the suspected inflation of the estimated cost of renovating Farmer’s House, the current home of the Trade Ministry, from Shs4.6 billion to Shs6.2 billion.

The legislators also advised that a former accounting officer at the Trade Ministry, Ms Grace Adong Choda, should also be investigated by the Inspectorate of the Government and DPP with a view to prosecution.

Speaker Anita Among acknowledged that there were indeed a number of issues at the Trade Ministry given the findings in the report, including lack of performance security, tax evasion, the lapse of internal controls and impunity, and that some MPs acted as mercenaries during the probe.

During the heated debate about the report, MPs overwhelmingly approved the recommendations and even suggested sterner action.

“All these people must be interdicted,” Ms Sarah Achieng Opendi, the Tororo Woman MP, said.
The Amuria Woman MP, Ms Susan Amero, agreed, adding that Ms Ssali should be sacked with immediate effect so that she does not interfere with further investigations.

Mr Muhammed Nsereko, the Kampala Central MP, said public officers who notice dirt beneath their belts should always step aside before being pushed.

Asked for comment, Ms Ssali told Daily Monitor last night that: “Let them recommend. Political decisions are political decisions, but the reality is different. Those people came and even saw the furniture. They even sat on the new furniture. Now they are saying there is no furniture”.

However, Ms Ssali said she is confident of her reputation and integrity.

“We have been investigated for the last two years. By the way, money came late. In good faith, if they had wanted me to utilise…, don’t bring money at the end of the financial year, then, blow the whistle on me that I have not followed procedure. But all these things they don’t want to look at,” she said.

“There was not even a single sentence in that report of the savings I was trying to make,” Ssali added.

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