Why I harbor a deep-seated hostility to parliamentary and other investigations into public corruption
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | I promised in this column last week to return to the NSSF saga and shade more light on how public hearings distort facts and purvey bias and prejudice. ( The Trouble with public hearings )
Last week, I demonstrated how the claim that Gender minister Betty Amongi asked that Shs6 billion be transferred from NSSF to her ministry is not based on evidence. I have searched all the documents involved and found nothing to that effect. The only thing close to evidence is a remark contained in draft minutes where Finance minister Matia Kasaija is alleged to have “advised ministries to desist from requesting agencies to finance line ministry activities.” Kasaija denies recollection of this statement but adds that even if he did, it was a general comment based on a letter that had been drafted for him by his ministry where this allegation was made.
There is also a comment in the draft minutes attributed to NSSF board chairman, Peter Kimbowa. The minute claims that Kimbowa requested Kasaija to appeal to Amongi “to reconsider the proposed budget without reallocation of the Shs6 billion since it will be hard to account for it.” This statement is vague but does not prove Amongi asked this money to be sent to the Ministry of Gender. And secondly, Kimbowa has personally told me that that minute is a misrepresentation of his contribution. He said at no one point did the minister ask for the money to be from NSSF to the Ministry of Gender. He said the activities were supposed to be carried out by NSSF.
This brings me to the famous Shs40 billion apparently meant to be pulled out of NSSF and given to the Grain Council. The facts are as follows: NSSF managing director, Richard Byarugaba, and the board chairman, Kimbowa, were invited for a meeting with the coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), Gen Caleb Akandwana aka Salim Saleh in March 2022 in Garuga. The Grain Council officials were present and asked for a couple of things. Saleh turned to Byarugaba and asked him if NSSF could do those things. Byarugaba turned down each proposal Saleh put before him. Saleh said in the middle of the meeting that: “I knew this meeting was going to be useless.” The meeting ended.
This matter was then taken to NSSF. Management of NSSF realised the problem of grain in Uganda does not need money. Why? There is a Protocal in East Africa that does not allow unprocessed grain to cross a border. Kenya is Uganda’s largest grain buyer. However 85% of the grain going to Kenya is unprocessed and both Uganda and Kenya look away. This creates four problems. First is price distortion: a Ugandan or the Grain Council has a contract with a farmer to buy his maize at Shs800 a kilogram. Then a Kenyan comes and gives Shs850, he takes the maize. Secondly you cannot enforce standards and quality because of informality. Third, at a macro level, because most of the grain is taken to Kenya informally, all value chain actors are operating at 30% capacity. Fourth, the byproducts of processing grain like maize are inputs into other industries like poultry – as chicken feed. This makes Uganda lose value, but also lose market for eggs and chicken in Kenya since they get cheap grain from Uganda.
Thus, NSSF management felt government of Uganda should create a national company jointly with NSSF. Initially, the company would be capitalised at Shs 40 billion. It would also be owned jointly and equally by government and NSSF. The investing arm of government is UDC. NSSF management also thought about approaching Centenary Bank and asking them to be part. The company would have the mandate to expand and access markets for processed Uganda produce, ensure fair pricing for farmers, coordinate the standardisation of the crops, create an echo system that supports farmers like equipment, fertiliser, improved seed etc.
The idea was that if Kenya wants to buy grain from Uganda, let them not buy seed from the garden but buy processed grain from Ugandan processors. Besides Kenyan president, William Ruto, had given an open speech where he said since Uganda is selling unprocessed products to Kenya and at cheap prices, his country should focus on processing and export, because that is where most money is. Saleh and the Grain Council were looking at ways in which Uganda can avoid losing this value. NSSF management felt the Fund could play a role in this Grain business and not only make money but also help the country gain more value from her grain. There is nowhere in the discussions inside NSSF where it was said that the Shs40 billion would go to the Grain Council.
The council is composed of grain traders, transporters, processors, warehousing people etc. If they were to benefit from NSSF money individually and/or collectively, it would have been indirectly because this intervention would help Uganda retain most of the value of her grain. There would be more grain for warehouses to warehouse, more grain for transporters to transport, more grain for processors to process and thereby more jobs for Ugandans who would in turn save with the NSSF.
At my office I conducted an opinion poll of my staff and even visitors asking them what they had heard from the parliamentary investigation. Without exception, all of them said two things: Amongi asked that Shs6 billion be transferred from NSSF and given to her for her personal use, or (for those who seemed “better informed”) to be sent to her ministry from whence she could steal it. Again, all of them, without a single exception, said that Saleh had asked NSSF to give the Grain Council Shs40 billion. One of them said the Grain Council is an NGO that was going to take workers’ money.
Throughout my career as an investigative journalist, I have found it strange that public hearings don’t shade light on issues but instead amplify prejudices and biases in the public. Very few public hearings have been conducted with sobriety and produced good evidence. I can only remember two: the Justice James Ogola commission of inquiry into commercial banks in the 1990s and the select committee of parliament chaired by Abdul Katuntu – again on the closure of commercial banks. I opposed the Justice Julia Sebutinde investigation into the police, and later investigation into URA because she conducted kangaroo hearings all aimed at whipping up public sentiment. The same applied to the commission of inquiry into land matters by Justice Bamugemereire.
Truth be told, NSSF would be long gone and buried if she was a government parastatal. Way back in the early and mid 90’s after massive divesture and privatization, NSSF became Salim Saleh’s the next target. Saleh was was among those behind the blanket Westmont Asia Bhd, a Malaysian company, that had ‘just bought’ Uganda Commercial Bank 1997/8. The Act of Parliament in 1985 (Act No. 8) that established NSSF had mandated her to cover a wider scope and to provide a range of benefits than those originally provided Social Security Fund (SSF). NSSF started collecting a lot money and ‘became rich’. It caught the eye of Salim Saleh who was then behind Divinity Union (similar to his today’s operation wealth creation). Saleh was also a commission agent/businessman of sorts. That time, his tribe mate and contact (Abel Katembwe) was a CEO of NSSF. So, Saleh felt he could easily access NSSF money and invest it in his Divinity Union, just like he wants it for Grains Processing. Saleh was supported by then minister of Gender Janat Mukwaya. Katembwe, just like Byarugaba, refused. Saleh wondered why NSSF was not privatized and asked how he could buy it. For Saleh, NSSF belonged to government and he was government. Following the refusal, one day he drove to NSSF Lumumba avenue with many soldiers and met Katembwe, his deputy Yoram Barongo, and the head of legal department John Kakooza and insisted on away forward to a buying out. They explained how different NSSF was from other parastatals and he refused the leave until one of the board of Directors Prof. Mondo kagonyera came and explained the impossibility of selling NSSF to Saleh and Co. He assured them he would be back. In summary if NSSF had invested her billions of money to Saleh’s Divinity Union or was the kind that could be sold, it would be no more today.
Again Mwenda tries to pull the wool over those who read his paper/magazine.
while defending both Amongi and his friend Salim Saleh, fails to appreciate the NSSF is whole composed of “poor” savers funds. There is no government dime in this body and the government/Salim Saleh has no business asking or directing where invest. That is the responsibility of the Board of Directors. This is the same Kaguta Family and government that has no good record of managing any public funds and resources. They usually come up with initiatives where “money is poured in” [if it is put there ] and all these initiatives die an unknown death with no accountability – Entandikwa ; Bona Bagagawale; Emyooga; OWC ; PDM ; ETC……
Let me take him back to time before the 1990s – then Uganda had a robust Co-operative unions ; Co-Operative Transport union; Co-operative bank and a fully fledged Co-operative Ministry. The country also had a very active and vibrant public enterprise for marketing grain – Produce Marketing Board.
NRM /Kaguta and his brother saw fit to kill all off them off. There assets were plundered and sold off for pittance to those close to this regime. If they had not, what Salim Saleh was suggesting would have been done by any or all those bodies working together.
With the government’s track record of corruption and mismanagement, what guarantees were put in place to safeguard that Ug 40 Billion from being looted and the whole exercise closed down in its infancy? BUT the main argument is the the government should not be involved in NSSF affairs at all. it should respect the poor workers savings. NSSF is more or less the only thing that NRM started that seem to be working.
Someone wrote recently in The Monitor and compared the NSSF to a fat cow that the hyenas are circling and
and determined to devour after they have eaten nearly everything else worthy eating. I cannot agree more.
Dear brother Andrew M. I’ve always followed your writing and for sure I agree with you 💯 %. Most of these public hearings are led and controlled by hypocritical individuals who seems to have nothing to do with finding real facts of whatever kind of assessments assigned to them.
They care less about the implications and misleading the general public.
Please keep up the good work and the Lord bless and grant you more days on earth.
1.Ugandans are generally not bad people its just of recent that they believe any stupid story flying around about how people create wealth. I hear illuminant; Haven’t you seen property of the wealthy and those they claim are well connected being auctioned? Do they know the amount of loans people have?Some one will just see a building popping up and he claims thats for Muhoozi or Saleh and they believe it.
2.The recent NSSF probe really exposed the lack of seriousness by the Board and its management how could Richard be duped into buying a toy electronic card?Then you travel with 80 staff to approve its use.
3.The category of Ugandans who pay PAYE and contribute towards NSSF is known so why was Betty Among requesting for 6 Billion to create awareness about the benefits of contributing towards NSSF well knowing that most Ugandans are employed in the informal sector and they earn peanuts?
4.Its better for URA to collect NSSF as well what’s the point in URA collecting PAYE and leaving the collection of NSSF to another body yet all these deductions are from the same source?
5.The farming sector in Uganda is not well managed. Ugandans carry out farming not out passion for it but because they are economically stranded so where was the grain that Saleh wanted to sell going to come from and would its market be sustained??This planting of crops on 1/2 an hectare of land and relying on weather patens??To me its better to encourage farmers to open up large chucks of land that they can hire as a community then government sends tractors per district to areas that have potential of producing grains.
3.Public hearings are good because;
(i) We live in an era of transparency where there is no big deal in hiding anything from the public thats if you mean well.
(ii)They engage the citizenry and they make them feel a sense of belonging and there is accountability for their taxes actually it has proven to be the most successful way of dealing with fraud and theft, now with BOU who ever knew that they were competing concerns over licensing Bank operations?
(iii)Guides in formulation of police and reviews.
(iv) You think Richard will dare ask for the NSSF job again?Let him try?
(v) As a lawyer; clients in their private moments who are found unworthy by society really feel bad its actually affects their public confidence and that of their children.
@ Pinto. Just like last week, you have raised very good points. Just one clarification on your last paragraph. NSSF was not started by NRM. It was founded in 1985. NRA took over in 1986.
@Winnie. I really liked point number 4. It is very good idea for our MPs and government to follow up on. I had never thought about it that way. I think it can work and contribute significantly to cost reduction. However, such a good idea would only be assessed and probably adopted in the 90’s. I doubt they can consider it when many of these people are looking for where to eat from today.