How prejudices have eclipsed facts in the NSSF investigation leading to unnecessary confusion
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | When the speaker of parliament, Anita Among, established a Select Committee of Parliament to investigate NSSF, I knew the battle for the truths about the Fund was lost. This is because when public hearings are called, especially in parliament where legislators are eyeing public opinion, then political grandstanding takes precedence over facts. This distorts the investigation. Thus, the reports of such committees are a representation of the interests of key players – the rest is a collection of prejudices. On this score, the committee has not disappointed in its “findings.”
Of course, journalism would have been the corrective eye, but its investigative arm in Uganda is dead. First, the commercialisation of the media has focused media owners on profits than journalism. Second, the birth of social media has taken gas out of investigative journalism. Now every Tom, Dick and Harriet on Facebook and Twitter or with a blog or YouTube channel can purvey their biases and lies as they wish. In trying to play catch-up, even responsible journalists, editors and media owners find themselves in a bind: you don’t capture the attention of the audience without pandering to the whims of the already prejudiced and biased public. Sadly, this is how democracy is increasingly becoming mobocracy.
Take the example of the claim that Gender Minister Betty Amongi, asked NSSF to give her Shs 6 billion. If you read the press, watched Tv and listened to radio, you would be led to believe that she wanted this money for her personal use. Yet the facts are that NSSF management drew a budget for this financial year. It was approved by the Executive Committee and the board. Then it was taken to the minister for approval.
Amongi did something the Ministry of Finance (which used to supervise NSSF) had never done: she went through the budget, line-item by line-item asking questions. NSSF management could not answer all her queries. Instead, they asked for more time to answer, and she gave them three weeks.
During that same meeting, Amongi said she needs NSSF to provide for four things: first, increase the Fund coverage especially of industrial parks; second, tap into the savings of the diaspora especially Ugandan workers going to the Middle East; third, that NSSF builds a whistleblower platform; and fourth, NSSF should utilise the resources in ministry of Gender, especially labour inspectors, to improve compliance. In that meeting, she did not put a price on these proposals and neither did she suggest that NSSF should send any money to the Ministry of Gender for these activities.
Secondly, Amongi did not know that some of these activities were already being done by the Fund. And neither did the management or the board inform her of this fact. After three days, NSSF management went back to her with their response to her budget queries. She went through their responses and asked why her four proposals had not been included in the budget. At this point, the Managing Director Richard Byarugaba, addressed each issue and allocated money to it. The total came to Shs5 billion.
After this meeting, Amongi wrote a letter approving the budget but defered the purchase of land saying the specific land NSSF sought to buy had issues. Then she suggested that the budget for the initiatives she had suggested should be increased from Shs5 billion to Shs6 billion. If you look at the minutes of the board meeting on the budget, it approved the Shs6 billion and tasked management to come up with activities.
The NSSF board, management and the minister met at Serena Kampala on November 24. The meeting tasked management to fine-tune the activities and present them to the board for approval on January 5, 2023. Nowhere in the discussions was it suggested that these activities would be carried out by the Ministry of Gender. Neither did anyone in management or the board object saying they are already being carried out by the Fund. On the contrary, the activities are important for improving both coverage and compliance for NSSF – the very role the Minister is supposed to play.
So where did the claim that the minister wanted this money to be transferred from NSSF to the Ministry of Gender come from? It turns out that someone at the Ministry of Finance drafted a letter for the Minister, Matia Kasaija. The letter was admonishing Amongi for trying to transfer money from NSSF to the Ministry of Gender for her personal use. Kasaija called Amongi on phone and said: “my daughter, there is a draft letter here on my desk for me to sign.” He then read her its contents. It alleged that Amongi wanted to transfer Shs6 billion from NSSF to the Ministry of Gender for activities that would benefit her personally. Amongi then explained to Kasaija the details. Kasaija dropped the matter.
However, when Kasaija travelled abroad a few days later, he left Henry Musasizi as acting minister. Again, people in the Ministry of Finance, colluding with someone (or some people) in NSSF, took the same draft letter to Musasizi to sign. Like Kasaija, Musasizi called Amongi and asked her the same questions. Amongi told him that she had spoken to Kasaija and she again explained the matter. Musasizi realised that the draft was misrepresenting the issues. He promised Amongi that when Kasaija returns from his trip abroad, they call a meeting of all parties to iron-out this issue.
While watching the proceedings of the select committee, I was impressed by the sobriety of the Committee’s chairman, Mwine Mpaka. He came across as well informed, impartial, firm, fair and balanced. This misled me to believe the report would reflect the facts. I do not know what transpired in the writing of the report. What it finally came out was a repetition of the distortions contained in the draft letter to Kasaija. What happened?
In her long missive on this matter, Amongi constantly referred to discussions with Gen. Salim Saleh in Kapeeka regarding the Grain Council. Being a powerful brother of the president, Saleh invites a lot of negative attention. It is claimed that the Minister wanted NSSF to invest Shs 40 billion in Grain Council, an organisation close to Saleh. This raised political temperatures. In my column next week, I will give details of this Shs40 billion demonstrating that what has been presented to the public is totally different from the facts. For now, lies and prejudices are ruling.