Trade Ministry Justifies Procurement Record, Ensures Legal Compliance

The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Co-operatives has reiterated its adherence to legal guidelines for all procurement activities it undertook. Dismissing allegations of work plan modifications and resource diversion, the Ministry finds itself under scrutiny following its engagement with the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry, and Tourism.

The committee’s discussions primarily revolved around the renovation of office spaces and the procurement of ministerial vehicles. During the proceedings, witnesses, including Principal Assistant Secretary Everest Ahimbisibwe and the former head of procurement, accused Geraldine Ssali, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, of canceling the procurement process for five new ministry vehicles and engaging in fraudulent practices to secure an alternative supplier.

According to the witnesses, the five vehicles obtained by Ssali were described as outdated and priced at Shs600 million each, surpassing the approved rate of Shs500 million. Additionally, the committee’s findings suggested that the Ministry redirected Shs5 billion from relocation funds to renovate the existing structure, contrary to the original plan of Shs3.1 billion.

In response, Ssali, the Permanent Secretary, released a statement explaining that the Ministry received a supplementary budget of Shs5 billion to acquire new office space due to the deteriorated state of the current premises. Initially, the Ministry had estimated that an additional Shs3 billion would be required for partitioning, along with Shs2 billion for furniture.

Ssali emphasized that the Ministry carefully evaluated available options and opted to renovate the current office space, thereby incurring significantly lower costs compared to annual rental expenses. She also highlighted that the Ministry had obtained clearance from the Solicitor General regarding the procurement process and, as per legal obligations concerning non-absorption of funds, any unused amount had to be returned to the Treasury.

Regarding the procurement of new vehicles, Ssali mentioned that Shs2.8 billion had been allocated in the 2021/2022 fiscal year for the purchase of vehicles intended for top management at the Ministry. She asserted that the existing vehicles were obsolete, prone to breakdowns, and occasionally caused embarrassment to ministers and the Permanent Secretary. Ssali refuted claims of fraud and resource diversion, asserting that the procurement process for the motor vehicles followed open domestic bidding and complied with the PPDA act and other government procurement regulations. She stated that the contract was awarded to the best-evaluated bidder within the stipulated procurement budget, ensuring transparency.

Ssali assured the public that the Ministry is receptive to all concerns and is readily available to provide information to government bodies seeking updates on the developments. She underscored that the Ministry’s objective is to enhance the well-being and working conditions of its staff. The decision to renovate deteriorated office spaces and acquire new vehicles for top management is driven by a commitment to improving working conditions and aligns with the government’s aim to streamline government agencies.

Ssali expressed the Ministry’s willingness to collaborate with relevant government entities, offering them the necessary information required to effectively carry out their duties.

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