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The trouble with public hearings

The NSSF headquarters.

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.

*****

amwenda@independent.co.ug

6 comments

  1. Those words ‘some people in the ministry’!? Better say some people in the ministry and not working in the ministry, will.lend the next piece more credence .The trouble with these stories is how much the media has never told the public.

  2. Andrew. The extent to which you sometimes reduce the independent news magazine to a mere PR magazine is quite worrying. When you go to any NSSF offices or check on her website, the first thing they flash on your face is a brochure that details their work i.e what they do, their scope of coverage and the criteria for benefits entitlement. If you believe or deliberately lie to your readers that Amongi did not know about it or was not told about it in the meeting, this can only happen when one is just doing public relations promotion. In the light of the above, your arguments don’t make the basic logic.

  3. The problem with public hearings is that, stewarded effectively, they are likely to uncover the truth. The problem with the truth is that it is likely to embarrass the government. The problem with the government is that problem is the government.

  4. 1. Basing on the NSSF investigations;the Budget that NSSF makes is definately after the Board has been compromised its like i scratch my back and i scratch yours.
    2. The Board is compromsied of inexperienced members for example; what investment idea would Owere of NOTU bring to the NSSF yet in CAA where he worked he had the skill of chasing birds off the runway?Actually most union members are elected to represent workers because they are just bigheaded and when you trace their background they were really weather beaten in that being appointed a Board Member in NSSF is just a psychological healing process to releive them of thier struggle in life.Bascially they are there to just prove a point to their former MDs and family that they have now made it.
    3.Judges can tell that someone is telling a lie when She/He says alot.Betty Amongi with all that lipstick she wears was definately quiltely.I mean how do you request for 6 Billion for sensitization of workers to know the benefits of saving with NSSF to workers in a sugarcan plantation well knowing that most workers are causal labourers?Sensetatzation of citizens works in the Health sector where you can tell ladies to open thier legs sparelingly to avoid HIV or benefits of mass immunization.
    4.How does a company move with 80 staff to Dubai for capacity building as if it a School tour?Just nextdoor in Kenya there are good investment ideas and housing sector that would have inspired the NSSF team.
    5.NSSF is still managed with ideas of the past;there is need to reorganise it with the view to mininise on maintaiance costs for example ;why should a saving scheme have staff and Board members we pay out of savers’s money?
    6.Most companies dodge paying PAYE and NSSF because they are broke;actually if a worker earns lesst han 150k she/he is not supposed to be taxed so how many companies hide behind that policy?
    7.It appears that NSSF funds is just a merry go round fund;where Board members deterrmine their allowances.
    8.Since NSSF deductions are automatically done there is always money that keeps being generated on a montnly basis this raiases the question of the safety of workrers’ funds for example;how often does NSSF carry out investments and what happens to the idle money that is not invested on a maonthy basis?
    9.Richard has really ashamed M7.How do procure redundant electronic cards which are not configured to any ICT interswitch?
    10.With the expensive houses that NSSF constructs who has that kind of money to spend in a home and they even traumatise workers that there are low cost houses for the poor isn’t that being rude?
    11.Since ugandans are so afraid of theives.for purposes of transprency;there should a monthy report on the status of their fund for example; which company has submitted thier workers’constribution and the ones thate have not yet and why?
    12.NSSF needs a team of only 20 key staff to manage the fund,there is actually no need for an MD it should just have 5 Investment consultants ,5 aacountants, 3 Lawyers, 5 ICT staff and cleaners of the office.
    13.Banks always give us instant alerts on any transctaions how come NSSF does not do the same yet they have our emails?
    14.What is special in Minsity of Gender and Finance supervising the fund?Too many cooks spoil the stew; actually thats where all the mother and father of problems are.
    15.Since BOU is a good store keeper of our money;NSSF should be a department under BOU because it appears that there is always redundant NSSF funds that is always acessible and justified with fake budgets.
    16.NSSF gives workers who have retired little interst so if after all this time our money has been invested how come the interst is low?For example; if i invest 100m in Treasury bills for for 182 days at a rate of 10% i get interst of about 12m now mutiply this by 30 years i have worked before retiring?There is somthing just not right in NSSF.

  5. @Winnie
    Point 16:May be you meant investing for 365 days not 182 days.

    Otherwise thanks for the concern about workers.

  6. Mwenda jumps from being a propagandist for autocrats to becoming a conspiracy theorists.

    This whole article is full of nonsense as Mwenda tries to sanitise Ms Amongi. It leaves many questions unanswered

    1- Ms Amongi has had so many opportunities to put her story forward without trying to go thru Mwenda. Why hasn’t she used those opportunities presented to say and provide evidence of this so called truth .

    2- She even fronted a so called “whistle Blower ” whom she gave all information in her possession even in breach of the Official Secrets Act to tell the story. Why couldn’t she supply the Mwenda information above to her Whistle-Blower.

    3- How can Mwenda have access to information that even the Parliamentary Committee did not have ? What benefit was there for her withholding info from the Parliamentary Committee then passing the same to Mwenda.

    We should recall that this lady has been followed with scandals in every ministry she has been posted to .

    But M7 cannot deal with her because He is a weak bully and has lost the corruption battle and war.

    We now wait for the coming week when he endeavours to sanitise Salim Saleh . Another guy with a chequered -history. Remember the Army Helicopters ; UCB ; to mention but a few. And OWC has never been audited . If it was, it would throw up more corruption scandals [ That is what NRM is well known for – corruption ! Corruption

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