Ministry of trade PS Ssali implicated in alleged fraudulent govt car deal

Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • By the end of July 3, 2023, PS Geraldine Ssali had become a subject of Parliament investigation in at least two separate issues with the committee going on to issue fresh summons against her.
  • In a holding statement dated July 2 but shared on her Twitter overnight July 4, Ssali insisted that “Shs2.billion was utilized to procure –all- brand new vehicles.”

An office attendant at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) was named during a Monday probe by the Parliament’s Committee on Trade for having spearheaded a scandalous procurement of five old vehicles for Uganda’s ministers. 

The former MTIC head of procurement Alfred Lapyem alleged that Opio was controversially handed the responsibility after his removal from the position. 

Lapyem told parliamentarians that his removal was effected after he asked the MTIC Permanent Secretary Geraldine Ssali to secure clearance for purchase of the vehicles at an inflated price.

“When I asked Ssali that we write to the Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury (PSST), she rejected and said she is the accounting officer,” Lapyem claimed.

By the end of July 3, 2023, Ssali had become a subject of Parliament investigation in at least two separate issues with the committee going on to issue fresh summons against her.

In the first issue, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Katerera County in Rubirizi District corroborated July 3 assertions by two witnesses, chasis numbers and information given to the committee to conclude that Ssali sanctioned the purchase of old cars for ministers at an inflated price.  The witnesses are Lapyem and Everest Ahimbisibwe.

“Even a fool can google to find out that all these vehicles are 2019 models whereby the cost price is Shs400 million (each) yet the ministry says it bought them at Shs600 million (each),” Katoto observed.


Still on Monday, committee members were guided that there is a 2003 standing order that obligates government entities seeking to procure old vehicles to first write to the PSST for clearance.

Lawmakers heard that a firm called “Maybach initially won the bid to supply the cars but Ssali allegedly ordered cancellation of the bid, citing inability of the firm to deliver the cars to ministers within a short timeframe for their urgent use at the commencement of a new political term.”

Former MTIC Principal Administrative Secretary Everest Ahimbisibwe informed the committee that Ssali told them that she would have the vehicles supplied within the shortest time.

“That’s how that contract or procurement was cancelled or stayed since it had not been signed and the transport officer was asked to start a new process,’” said Ahimbisibwe.

As controversy grew, Lapyem, alleges that he requested to step out of the procurement and was granted permission- followed by his sacking.

“In the afternoon, I was removed from the system. I stopped being head of procurement that very day,” added Lapyem.

Meantime, when Ahimbisibwe was asked his grounds for saying that the vehicles were old, he elaborated that “a letter was written to the ministry of works to provide guidance on conditions for procurement of reconditioned vehicles.”

The works ministry is said to have responded by providing a comprehensive guidance pointing out parameters to be followed in purchasing government cars.

The committee was also told that the ministry of works and transport presented an inspection report indicating that the price of each vehicle should not exceed Shs500 million.

Apparently, two reports of the contracts committee on the procurement of the vehicles were produced and “the second one by Opio was used to give way for the purchase of the secondhand vehicles from Sumabolt Logistics Limited.”

Parliament on July 3 tasked Ministry of Trade officials to explain alleged fraud at the same ministry. PHOTO/HANDOUT

Parliament trade committee chairperson Mwine Mpaka noted that four of the vehicles with 4500CC cost taxpayers Shs600 million- each.

Additionally, Friday Kagoro, the legal representative of Suma Bolts Logistics Limited which supplied the motor vehicles, said the MTIC still owed them Shs180 million as of July 3, 2023.

Inflated renovation costs of MTIC offices

In the financial year 2021/22, Parliament approved a Shs54.4 billion supplementary budget, part of which was for urgent purchase of at least 5 ministerial vehicles and to allow the MTIC to shift and rent out a spacious facility away from the Farmers’ House on Parliamentary Avenue.

Parliament trade committee chairperson Mwine Mpaka elaborated that Shs5 billion was provided for renting office space, Shs3 billion for fitting and Shs2 billion for infrastructure in the event that the ministry shifted to a new housing facility.

But in a twist of events, witnesses accused Ssali of cancelling the rent plan amidst her preference for renovating MTIC’s current premises at Farmers’ House.

“When Ssali came, she said she was not going to proceed with it because it was a deal for people to eat money,” Ahimbisibwe told MPs on Monday.

Appearing before the Parliament trade committee in April over the same matter, Ssali said that renting Farmers’ House “would save the government spending billions of money.”

Although some committee members welcomed the idea, others raised concern over the 100 per cent viremet which even on Monday was not clearly explained by MTIC members who attended the Monday interface at parliament.

But MP Mpaka observed that “whereas Shs3.9 billion was the initial quoted cost of renovation of the structure, the amount jumped to Shs6.9 billion which was paid by the trade ministry.”

Trade Committee Chairperson Mr Mwine Mpaka presents the coffee report on the floor of Parliament on May 18, 2022. PHOTO | PARLIAMENT

On Monday, Opio and Ssali did not appear before the committee but the PS said she had indicated all the information parliament needed to use, according to her letter to the committee, read verbatim by MP Mpaka.

Ending Monday, members of the committee agreed that Parliament Speaker Anita Among issues summons to Ssali to appear before the commit or face arrest. Ssali has previously failed to appear before the committee in two separate occasions.

Ssali speaks out

In a holding statement dated July 2 but shared on her Twitter overnight July 4, Ssali insisted that “Shs2.billion was utilized to procure –all- brand new vehicles.”

“The procurement of the vehicles was through open domestic bidding and complaint with sections 45, 46 and 47 of the PPDA act (amended),” she said.

She added that: “A contract was awarded to Suma Bolts Logistics as the best evaluated bidder for five vehicles.”

According to her, the solicitor general “properly cleared the contract for the cars as well as cleared the renovation of the Farmers’ House.”

*Additional reporting by David Vosh Ajuna

Office attendant accused of fraud and taking over procurement role at Ministry