Trade boss, husband in Shs1 billion mess

Trade PS Geraldine Ssali.PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

According to a Parliament committee report, Ms Ssali used her position as PS to influence payment to a cooperative . 

A  House committee report delving into the handling of cooperative compensation has pointed an accusing finger at Trade Ministry Permanent Secretary Geraldine Ssali and other top officials.

The parliamentary Committee on Trade recommends that Ms Ssali be further investigated and prosecuted. This after making several findings against Ms Ssali’s husband, Mr Victor Busuulwa, who is accused of having allegedly irregularly received some of the money advanced to a cooperative on behalf of his wife.

The 210-page October report, which was received by the Office of the Clerk to Parliament on November 15, is yet to be tabled and discussed by the House. More than half of the 40 legislators on the committee chaired by Mwine Mpaka Rwamirama signed off the report.
The committee conducted the investigation following an August 25 directive by House Speaker Anita Among. The directive was to “conduct an inquiry into the status, governance, resourcing, and value for money for public funds allocated to Cooperatives during the period of Financial Year 2011/12 to 2022/2023.”

In the letter, the Speaker raised concerns that there were queries regarding the budgetary allocations and disbursements to various cooperatives. The queries raised red flags about whether public funds were indeed disbursed to beneficiary cooperatives and utilised for their intended objectives. The Committee conducted visits and public hearings to selected cooperative societies in various regions of Uganda.

In an interview with Monitor, Ms Ssali said some of the details in the House report are not factual. She claimed it was the reason Parliament is yet to adopt it and warned that she will sue anyone quoting its findings.

The report was supposed to be debated on November 14 by the House but it was removed from the order paper. On November 16, it was the subject in Parliament and Speaker Among urged legislators to read and internalise it. She also directed several state agencies, including the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), Inspectorate of Government (IG) and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to take action on “findings of the report [that] border on criminality.”

Bwavumpologoma heist
On November 25, 2021, for example, more than Shs1.7 billion was paid to Masaka Diocesan Treasury on behalf of Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited. The cooperative union received its Registration Certificate on March 4, 2022, yet the parallel verification committee was instituted on March 21, 2022, a clear indication that Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited was paid prior to its re-registration and verification.

The committee found that since its re-registration, Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited did not follow the prescribed procedures laid down in Section 4 of the Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Act, 2020. Its re-registration was therefore deemed irregular.

Ms Ssali, according to the committee, allegedly used her position as permanent secretary to influence payment to Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited after her appointment as the Permanent Secretary in the same Ministry.

Substantial withdrawals
The committee found that there were several substantial withdrawals from the bank accounts of Bwavumpologoma without corresponding requisitions.
On May 16, 2021, for example, Bwavumpologoma deposited on an account held by Wilson Kasule Martin Shs350m and on the same day he withdrew the same amount.  That very day, Shs300m was deposited in Mr Busuulwa’s account in Centenary Bank Kabalagala Branch. Mr Busulwa is Ms Ssali’s husband.
On December 8, 2021, Fr Deus Sekyewo deposited Shs150m on Francis Lwanga’s account and Lwanga withdrew Shs150 million the following day.  On December 9, 2021, Lwanga deposited Shs150m on Mr Busuulwa’s account.

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Earlier, on November 29, 2021, Masaka Catholic Dioceses deposited Shs847,808,000 to Mr Lwanga’s account. The following day, on November 30, 2021, Mr Lwanga withdrew Shs600,200,000. The committee corroborated the withdrawal with Mr Lwanga’s testimony that he withdrew Shs446,000,000 and gave it to Mr Busuulwa. The balance, per the committee, is unaccounted for.

“Mr Victor Busuulwa informed the committee that he received money to purchase machinery, and that he needed time to check his records to verify the amount. However, Mr Francis Lwanga informed the committee in response that they have no agreement with Mr Victor Busuulwa to procure machinery,” the report notes.
The committee established that Mr Martin Wilson Kasule and Mr Lwanga who made several withdrawals from the bank account of Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited were not members of the board or management, but rather agents.

The report further discloses: “That on December 9, 2021 while at Centenary Rural Development Bank (Cerudeb) Kabalagala Branch, Mr Francis Lwanga made a cash deposit of Shs150,000,000 on a bank account belonging to Victor Busuulwa at Till No4019.”

More revelations
While appearing to respond, Mr Kasule was requested to make a call to Mr Lwanga. He duly did and Mr Lwanga, upon asking him to tell the MPs who were present the total amount that was given to Mr Busuulwa, confirmed the two figures. He also informed the House committee of another Shs350m in cash that was given to Mr Busuulwa in Nsambya. He further divulged that the money was sent to Mr Kasule’s bank account, who went with Mr Busuulwa to Cerudeb Kabalagala Branch. They both stood at the counter together, Mr Kasule withdrew the money and it was immediately banked on Mr Busuulwa’s bank account. None of the two left the bank hall with cash.

In total, Shs936m was given to Mr Busuulwa “allegedly as a token of appreciation to Ms Geraldine Ssali.” The committee also said it was privy “to information that the original certificate of Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited had been retained by Ms Geraldine Ssali.”

The report also adds that committee members were “astonished, perplexed and unnerved that of the Shs2,244,520,000, the Union received only Shs1,808,520,000 for its activities, after the deduction of the alleged token of appreciation of Shs936,000,000 to Ms Geraldine Ssali.”
During the committee meetings, Mr Lwanga also revealed that they gave a loan to Mr Busuulwa amounting to Shs150m in cash. This upped the money received by Ms Ssali’s husband to more than Shs1 billion.

“…whereas Mr Martin Wilson Kasule termed the said fee as a token of appreciation to Ms Geraldine Ssali, the committee has since established that the funds were actually a ‘kickback’ …for her role in the re-registration and payment process of Bwavumpologoma Growers Cooperative Union Limited.”
Tomorrow, we will look at more findings in the report including several irregular payments Ms Ssali and others stand accused of.