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Inside The Shs8bn Scandal At Ministry Of Trade That Cost Geraldine Ssali Her Job

Embattled PS at the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives, Geraldine Ssali

Geraldine Ssali, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives, has been dropped as Accounting Officer to the ministry over financial queries worth eight billion Shillings.

This arose from a parliamentary probe into alleged financial misappropriation of supplementary funds to the for the financial year 2021/22.

The committee called for Ssali’s removal from the role of accounting officer, citing abuse of office, causing financial loss, negligence of duty, and other charges, and the report was adopted by parliament in August.

They found that Ssali failed to control and ensure the proper use of money appropriated to the vote for procurement of renovation works on the ministry’s offices at Farmers House.

It 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 recommended possible prosecution of Ssali over abuse of her authority.

“Ms Geraldine Ssali should be investigated with a view of prosecution by the DPP for negligence of duty, disobedience of statutory duty, abuse of office and causing financial loss to Government,” the report read.

The Committee Chairperson, Mwine Mpaka noted that in the Financial Year 2021/2022, a supplementary request of eight billion Shillings was made by then permanent secretary, Grace Adong, for rent of office premises, but parliament granted five billion.

In May 2022, Ssali, the new PS, requested the Secretary to the Treasury for transfer of the money from rent to renovation, a request Ggoobi granted but demanded a change of work plan to enable utilisation of the funds.

“To the utter shock of the Committee, it was established that 14 days earlier, even before a revised work plan could have been approved by Secretary to the Treasury, Geraldine Ssali had authorised the initiation of the procurement process for renovation of office premises,” said Mwine Mpaka, the committee chairperson.

Other revelations during the probe included the authorisation by Ssali of procurement of four used cars for ministry officials at a coat of two billion Shillings.

Its on the basis of this that the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, also Secretary to the Treasury, Ramathan Ggoobi decided to withdraw Ms Ssali from the role and asked her minister, Francis Mwebesa, to nominate a new accounting officer as the PS is investigated over corruption.

In his letter dated October 3 2023, Ggoobi quoted the recommendation by the parliamentary probe committee  that asked his office to  exercise his authority under the Public Finance Management Act to withdraw the appointment and designation of Geraldine Ssali as an Accounting Officer over her alleged involvement in illegal and deliberate fraudulent practices that have cost the government a staggering 8 billion Shillings.

“The purpose of this letter therefore is to request you as the supervising Political head of the Ministry to nominate a suitable officer, for my appointment, to execute the duties of the Accounting Officer, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives as allegations against Ms. Geraldine Ssali and others are being investigated,” Ggoobi said.

The PS also barred Tom Opio, an office attendant at the ministry from the Electronic Government Procurement System.

“You are also informed that Mr. Tom Opio has been removed from the Electronic Government Procurement System and Management is advised to liaise with the Accountant General to ensure that there are no disruptions in the procurement processes,” he said in the letter.

Opio was accused of engaging in procurement activities with the approval of Ssali, even though his designation was “Office Attendant”. The PS defended his involvement saying that he possessed a degree in procurement despite being designated as an office attendant.

The action by Ggoobi follows the conclusions by and recommendations from the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives into the claims of diversion of 5 billion Shillings, originally allocated for rent, towards the renovation of Farmers House.

Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Budadiri County West MP, recommended that the Head of Public Service should interdict the Trade Ministry PS with immediate effect.

“We all have a duty to fight corruption in this country and my ministry will work with other authorities to take action on the recommendations of the Committee,” said Mwebesa.

-URN

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