Kampala, Uganda | GODFREY SSALI | Uganda’s Constitutional Court has given National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the Attorney General of Government 10 days within which to respond to a petition filed by a Human Rights Activist Morris Rwakakamba.
Rwakakamba who filed the petition in public interest, wants an interpretation of the NSSF Act which he says “is in contravention of the provisions of the constitution of Uganda on fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Uganda constitution”.
Should the two parties fail to defend themselves in 10 days from Monday May 18, the court may proceed to hear out Rwakakamba, and determine the same in their absence.
Rwakakamba, the founder of Agency for Transformation, argues that the country and the world have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic whose effect has led to various directives issued by the President of Uganda and Ministry of health.
he argues that ” due to the directives, members of the fund have lost their jobs and the situation has forced them to agitate for access of their contributions held by NSSF to support and bail themselves out as they struggle to sustain their families and meet their day today obligations; but cannot due to legal restrictions under the NSSF Act, and yet the fund made a Sh380m contribution to the National Task Force efforts under the Prime Ministers Office.”
They now want a court order directing NSSF “to pay out at least 20 percent to each of its members whose lives have been affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic; and declare various provisions of Section 19 of the NSSF Act unconstitutional especially those that impose restrictions on mid-term access by contributors contrary to the obligations as regards to the rights guaranteed under the international human rights instruments ratified by Uganda.”
They contend that by allowing members to access 20 percent of their contributions; this will justify the purpose and relevance of NSSF to its members since its a social security fund and whose sole purpose should be to help its members in such times where majority have lost income, employment and source of livelihood due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, NSSF has come out and reassured its members that it actually supports mid-term benefits.
“Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with various stakeholders especially the Trade Unions, the Fund strongly supported amendments to the NSSF Act which among other changes provides for additional benefits to the existing age benefits, invalidity benefit and survivors benefit,” said MD Richard Byarugaba in a letter to all members.
NSSF Supports Mid-Term Benefits to Members
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted all economies around the world. The rapid spread of the virus has posed massive health, economic and social challenges to everyone.
In order to limit the transmission of the disease, our leaders implemented measures including the complete lock down of certain parts of the economy. These measures have helped Uganda to avoid the deadly human toll seen in other countries.
However, the unavoidable disruption to economic activities has raised unemployment levels in recent months. Consequently, we have witnessed a heightened level of stress among our members that have lost means of their livelihood.
This has brought to the forefront the role of NSSF to its many members. Understandably, some politicians and sections of the general public have been calling for the Fund to pay out a portion of accumulated contributions to its members.
We feel your pain and understand your outcry.
Following this outcry, we shared with our line Minister our understanding of the worst case scenario of the economic implications of the proposal to pay out an unplanned 20% of the Fund to its members. We owed it to the Minister, our members and all Ugandans to be honest in the analysis to facilitate the process of making the right decisions that need to be made.
Understandably, this analysis may have given a wrong impression that NSSF does not in any way support mid-term benefits. That is far from the truth. In the final paragraph of the letter to the Minister, we reiterated our support for planned mid-term benefits, that are embedded within the NSSF Amendment Bill before Parliament.
We must clarify that the current legislation, NSSF Act Cap 222, that governs the Fund’s operations does not provide for mid-term benefits and regrettably has limited our ability to offer you new benefits.
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with various stakeholders especially the Trade Unions, the Fund strongly supported amendments to the NSSF Act which among other changes provides for additional benefits to the existing age benefits, invalidity benefit and survivors benefit.
The proposed amendments are currently before Parliament.
The purpose of the additional benefits is not only to provide a degree of income security when faced with life’s contingencies such as todays’ pandemic but also safeguard the retirement goals of our members.
Once this bill is passed into law, the Fund will be able to do the following, among others:
1. Extend social security coverage to more Ugandans.
2. Improve the adequacy or value of benefits to our members.
3. Provide mid-term benefits to members during their working life that cover short-term to long-term needs such as unemployment/income replacement, education, medical and housing.
We, therefore, appeal to the Parliament of Uganda to fast track the NSSF Amendment Bill. We also encourage you, our member, through your MP to join us in calling upon the August House to urgently pass this law.
The Fund remains committed to you, our member and will never tire from promoting and protecting your interests.