By Spy Uganda
An office assistant at the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives, Tom Opio, has been handed over to Parliament Police’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) over his alleged involvement in procurement at the ministry.
The Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry, chaired by Hon. Mwine Mpaka, was on Thursday, 06 July 2023 continuing to investigate irregularities in procurement procedures within the ministry.
Opio, who was faulted by the former Head of Procurement, Alfred Lapyem and Sandra Ageno, a Senior Legal Officer at the ministry, is accused of engaging in procurement activities with the approval of the Permanent Secretary, despite it not being his designated role.
The committee is also examining other issues, such as the ministry’s decision to utilise supplementary funds totaling Shs5 billion, initially intended for renting new offices at Kingdom Kampala Building, for the rehabilitation of their existing offices at Farmers House along Parliament Avenue.
The Mwine Mpaka led committee is also investigating an exorbitant amount of Shs400 million spent on transporting files from Kampala to Entebbe, about 38 kilometres away, during the rehabilitation process and the procurement of five used vehicles at a cost of Shs600 million each.
During the committee hearing, Opio denied his involvement in the procurement of the five vehicles. He stated: “I was simply an office assistant and never handled procurement of the five vehicles as claimed. I only handle other duties as assigned to me, but this does not include procurement.”
When asked about his knowledge of the ministry’s affairs, including procurement matters, Opio explained, “Usually, when I am filling documents, I read them to make sure I understand what I file.”
He emphasised that there was no evidence to indicate his involvement in procurement since he is not part of government’s Integrated Financial Management System.
However, Lapyem countered Opio’s claim and accused him of participating in the procurement process for furniture worth over Shs1.8 billion. “That was his role; his name may not appear, but he was the one who was making the submission to the contracts committee,” Lapyem revealed.
The committee chairperson pressed Opio to explain how he acquired knowledge of the ministry’s operations, including details of huge procurements and contracts.
“When you dispatch mails, you read the documents because you said you write. If you write these documents, how did you know who had signed and cleared the documents?” Mpaka Mwine questioned.
Maintaining his stance, Opio reiterated that he did not engage in any form of procurement. He clarified, “I read the documents to ensure that what I am given to file is the correct document.”
Regarding the procurement process following the retirement of Tom Acwera, the procurement officer, Opio clarified, “When Acwera retired, in October last year, the Permanent Secretary wrote to Finance [the ministry] to request for a procurement officer. The officer delayed to come, and we did not proceed with any procurement.”
The ministry’s senior legal officer, supported the claims of Opio’s involvement. “Opio is known more as a procurement officer at the ministry. The contracts committee, of which I was the secretary, had finalised the process of procuring the five cars from a company called Maybach. However, new instructions came stopping the process, and Opio was involved in this,” Ageno said.