By Nasser Kasozi Akandwanaho
Legislators have accused the Permanent Secretary (PS), Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Geraldine Ssali of violating the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) by causing a virement of Shs5 billion meant for renting of office space.
The PS, together with the Ministers of State for Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives, Hon. David Bahati and Hon. Frederick Ngobi appeared before the Committee on Trade to present the ministry’s policy statement for the 2023/2024 financial year on Wednesday, 12 April 2023.
Parliament approved Shs5 billion in the 2021/2022 supplementary budget for renting office space.
However, the committee learnt that PS and the Secretary to the Treasury (PSST) approved a virement to renovate the ministry’s offices.
The Committee Chairperson, Hon. Mwine Mpaka said that the virement was 100 per cent and yet the PFMA provides for only 10 percent.
“In the PSST’s letter, it was a virement and refers to regulation 14 of PFMA regulations which does not relate to virement and yet the PS says it is not a virement. So even the PSST’s letter itself is contradictory,” said Mwine Mpaka.
Ssali said that the funds were re-purposed for renovation of offices to achieve sufficient premises for the ministry since the office was not on a condemnation list.
“When I looked at the options of renting, especially for the premises that had been shortlisted, they were very expensive. It would have required me to pay Shs7 billion with all my ministries, departments and agencies. At the moment, I pay Shs334 million per annum,” said Ssali.
She added that she did not violate the law in expending the funds since she got clearance from MoFPED.
Mwine Mpaka then asked her to explain how the ministry revised the decision from renting to renovation.
“The Trade Ministry sat and planned to shift and rent. Were you part of that planning meeting to shift or did you find something that was there that you thought was wrong and you decided to reverse it,” Mwine Mpaka asked.
Ssali said that there was no documentation on plans to shift, adding that she only found papers on her desk indicating the need to find fit-for-purpose offices.
“I saw all the handover notes from my predecessor and the objective was that we must find proper accommodation for the ministry and right now, we have achieved sufficient premises,” Ssali said.
This prompted Mwine Mpaka to ask Ssali how the Shs5 billion was included in the supplementary budget.
“We appreciate you [Ssali] are saving the ministry from spending but some money got into the budget without her consent and without a chronology. If the money entered the budget illegally without due process, how did they identify where they were going to rent and to whose interest,” Mpaka said.
Hon. Susan Amero (Indep. Amuria District) questioned why the ministry requested for the budget to shift and caused a virement.
“If you had come in to ask for a supplementary for renovation, we would have approved it. Why did you have to use rent and then end up with renovation and the way the service provider was shopped is what is disturbing me?” Amero said.
Ssali told the MPs that she was not in office during the time the budget request was made, which prompted the lawmakers to ask her to return with detailed responses.