UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | The use of a USh5 billion supplementary budget allocated to the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Cooperatives during the financial year 2021/2022 was the subject of intense debate among lawmakers last week. The contention comes after Ms Geraldine Ssali, the ministry’s permanent secretary, opted against using the subvention to rent office space at Kingdom Kampala on Nile Avenue, owned by Sudhir Ruparelia.
Instead, the ministry opted to renovate the ministry’s office space at Farmer’s House on Parliamentary Avenue. The decision to renovate its existing premises instead of renting private space at Kingdom Kampala has saved taxpayers at least USh7 billion a year, according to Ssali.
Renovating the Farmer’s House building will cost USh6 billion as a one-off cost, after which the ministry’s monthly rent is only USh11.8m. In contrast, the rent for occupying Kingdom Kampala would cost USh7 billion, Ms. Ssali told lawmakers on Wednesday April 19.
Ms. Ssali therefore defended her decision, stating that the cost of renting office space at Kingdom Kampala was prohibitively expensive. The option to renovate Farmer’s House was more financially viable, adding that the renovation will improve working conditions for staff while saving the government significant funds in the long run.
“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 USh7 billion with all my ministries, departments and agencies. At the moment, I pay USh334 million per annum,” Geraldine Ssali, told the parliamentary committee on trade last week.
“Having considered the above options, management felt it prudent to renovate the dilapidated Ministry Offices / Farmer’s House owned fully by the Government of Uganda under Uganda Property Holdings Ltd an institution which is under The President’s Office. This was based on the premises that the Ministry was only paying a small and affordable service charge of UGX 11,800,000/= per month to Uganda Property Holdings Limited. It was financially viable for the Ministry to stay in its traditional home since the building has always been the traditional home of the Cooperators in Uganda and still achieve improved working conditions to it’s staff,” she added.
Ministry’s Decision to Renovate Instead of Renting Sparks Debate
When Trade Ministry officials presented their ministerial policy statement last Wednesday, lawmakers were preoccupied with the administrative transfer of budgetary funds from one financial account to another for renovating over renting, a virement which was overseen by Ms Ssali in 2022.
“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?” Mr Mwine Mpaka, the Trade committee chairperson, who doubles as Mbarara City South lawmaker, asked.
However Ms Ssali defended her decision, telling the parliamentary committee that “handover notes from the previous accounting officer” did not make the relocation to Kingdom Kampala mandatory.
Ms. Ssali further maintained that her decision was financially prudent and in compliance with the law since she obtained clearance for the virement from the Ministry of Finance
On May 20, 2022, Geraldine Ssali wrote a letter to Ramathan Ggoobi requesting clearance to redirect the USh5 billion to renovate her ministry’s office. Ggoobi, the Finance Ministry permanent secretary and secretary to the treasury, authorised the virement in a response dated June 2.
“Given that renovation of the existing government offices at Farmer’s House is more cost effective in the long run, pursuant to Section 14, subsection 7 of the Public Finance Management Regulations, 2016, this is, therefore, to authorise you to change your work plan to enable you to utilise above funds for renovation of the ministry’s premises as requested,” Mr Ggoobi wrote.
The Renovation Project
A team of engineers from Makerere University, led by Ms. Hidaya Namakula, assessed the Farmer’s House facility at a cost of USh18.43m. The team assessed aspects such as the foundation, columns, slab, load-bearing walls, shear walls, beams, and roof.
Afterwhich Ms. Ssali sought clearance from the Solicitor General on June 10, 2022 to enter into a contract with M/s Sarick Construction Limited to provide repair and renovation of property (office space at Farmer’s House).
Ms. Ssali told lawmakers last week that two topmost floors of the facility were nearing completion of the renovation process before office furniture could be shifted to accommodate staff.
She concluded that, “if you make such a saving for [the] government, it is a good thing and it should be supported by anybody who is a patriot or calls themselves a patriot.”
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