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Trade Ministry PS, Geraldine Ssali Slaps Legal Officer

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New details have surfaced regarding the clash between Trade Ministry Permanent Secretary, Geraldine Ssali, and the Ministry’s legal officer, Sandra Anena Karen, shedding light on a simmering crisis within the Trade Ministry.

Anena made headlines last weekend when she took Ssali to Kampala Central Police Station, accusing her of physical assault. The incident unfolded on April 5, 2024, on the third floor of the Ministry’s offices at Farmers’ House in Kampala.

Following the altercation, Ssali promptly interdicted Anena, citing “gross unbecoming behavior such as using abusive language against me, assaulting, threatening me, throwing items at me, and insubordination, which is irregular for a public officer of your calibre.”

Investigations revealed that the conflict stemmed from Anena’s refusal to cover up suspicious transactions allegedly involving Ssali as soon as she assumed her role at the Ministry. Adding fuel to the fire, Ssali assembled a new procurement team that included Anena’s subordinate, David Mutegeki, who reportedly kept Ssali informed of Anena’s activities to gain favor, leading to internal cliques and intrigue.

During a Parliamentary probe into alleged financial misappropriation of supplementary funds by the Trade Ministry for the 2021/22 financial year, Anena informed the Committee that Ssali had a preference for Mutegeki’s services.

The Committee uncovered discrepancies, including the misappropriation of Shs 8 billion meant for new office premises rent, which was instead used for renovating the Ministry’s offices at Farmer’s House. Furthermore, it was discovered that the draft contract for the renovation works was witnessed by Mutegeki, rather than the senior lawyer, Anena.

These revelations prompted Members of Parliament to question Ssali’s sidelining of Anena. According to insiders at the Ministry, Ssali allegedly denied Anena allowances, fuel, and made provocative remarks during senior management meetings.

Staff at the Ministry suspect that Ssali has been actively working to remove the senior lawyer from her position.

The situation reached a boiling point on April 4 when the head of Human Resources, Lydia Aliwonya, informed Anena that the legal department needed to relocate to accommodate the new State Minister of Trade, General Wilson Mbadi.

Anena agreed to temporarily move and joined other colleagues, such as Julius Kasirye, whose office had available space. This decision was met without objection from Aliwonya.

However, tensions flared the next morning, April 5, when Anena, after a series of meetings with ministers, relocated to Kasirye’s office. She then requested the painters, who were setting up Mbadi’s office furniture in the corridor, to utilize her office space instead.

Eyewitnesses recounted a dramatic scene as a furious Ssali, accompanied by her armed male bodyguard, stormed the office, demanding Anena vacate within the hour. Amidst heated exchanges, Ssali’s bodyguard forcibly removed Anena, leading to physical altercations where Ssali reportedly struck Anena and threw office items in a fit of anger.

Staff members gathered in the corridors, witnessing the chaotic scene. The new minister’s bodyguards intervened to prevent further escalation, escorting Anena to a safe room for counseling. Surprisingly, Hon Mbadi did not make an appearance at the office that day.

These developments have raised concerns about the Ministry’s ability to fulfill its mandate. Staff members quietly accuse Ssali of high-handedness and fostering cliques within the Ministry.

Notably, in October 2023, Secretary to the Treasury, Ramathan Ggoobi, suspended Ssali as the Ministry’s accounting officer following a Parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption. Parliament had accused Ssali of mismanaging funds allocated for office renovation, including inflating costs by Shs 2 billion.

During a committee meeting in July 2023, Hon. Mwine Mpaka highlighted further irregularities, including committing the government to multi-year expenditures without Parliamentary authorization and awarding contracts through direct procurement, bypassing due diligence procedures.

However, President Museveni later ordered Ssali’s reinstatement as the Accounting Officer of the Ministry of Trade, a directive promptly executed by Lucy Nakyobe, the Head of Public Service and Secretary to Cabinet, on October 26, 2023.

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