Trade Committee chairperson, Hon. Mwine Mpaka
Officials from the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Cooperatives led by their Permanent Secretary, Geraldine Ssali are in the eye of the storm over an office attendant who is reportedly conducting procurements on behalf of government.
The Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry has been investigating procurement irregularities at the ministry where one Tom Opio, an office attendant has access to the Electronic Government Procurement (EGP) system and has been reportedly carrying out multimillion procurements with the knowledge of the ministry’s top officials.
In particular, members of the committee were shocked to hear that the said office attendant whose job description is to receive and dispatch mail and ensure the safety of office property and equipment, is the one who initiated the irregular procurement process of a contractor for the renovation of the Farmers House that houses the ministry at Shs6.2 billion and procurement of five second hand vehicles at a cost of Shs600 million each.
Geraldine Ssali (R) appearing before the Trade Committee with officials from her ministry
When Ssali was summoned by the committee chaired by Hon. Mwine Mpaka on Tuesday, 18 July 2023, she admitted that indeed Opio had user rights to the EGP system.
“Mr. Tom Opio, like any other users in every sub-department can all raise requisitions. Tom Opio might be an office attendant by title but he holds a degree in procurement,” Ssali said.
Ssali said that the decision to give Opio access to the system was informed by the limited staff in the Department of Procurement and his academic qualification.
“…This office attendant is a graduate of Makerere University in procurement and supplies and also has a diploma. This is a man who had potential but only that he did not find a job in his profession. So you may demean him but he actually qualifies to procure,” Ssali said.
However, she disclaimed that despite giving him the user rights, she did not authorise him to do procurement as his day-to-day work.
“Those rights were given to Tom Acwera, [the then procurement officer],” she added.
Her remarks infuriated MPs who wondered why the accounting officer would abuse her office to that extent.
“Is the Permanent Secretary in order to confuse the House [meeting] that because the person has some books then he is right to be a procurement officer yet his job description is very clear?” Hon. Gaffa Mbwatekamwa (NRM, Igara County West) said.
Hon Mbwatekamwa (in bowtie) was unhappy that the PS defended the office attendant’s involvement in procurements
Mpaka ruled Ssali out of order adding that Opio still has access to the system and continues to make procurements on behalf of the ministry.
Opio again denied conducting any procurements despite agreeing that he has user rights.
However, Alfred Lapyem, the former Head of Procurement Officer pinned Opio saying he was ‘involved in everything’.
“When we disagreed on procurement [for the renovation of the building], I was struck off the procurement system. So all the procurements including the purchase of vehicles were done by Tom Acwera and Tom Opio,” Lapyem said.
The committee also continued to query why the ministry flouted procurement laws, ignored guidance from the Ministry of Works and Transport and irregularly resorted to restricted bidding to procure a contractor to renovate their building at Shs6.2 billion.
According to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) Act, an agency or ministry can only use restricted bidding in procurement of services whose contract sum does not exceed Shs500 million.
Restricted bidding is the procurement method where bids are obtained by direct invitation without open advertisement.
Acwera said they resorted to restricted bidding and not the required open bidding due to time restrictions.
The MPs also asked the ministry to explain what informed their decision to revise the contract sum from the initial Shs4.6 billion as assessed by Ministry of Works to Shs6.2 billion.