Friday July 11 2014

IGG, Finance minister deny hand in NSSF deals

By Yasiin Mugerwa

PARLIAMENT-Top officials, including the Inspector General of Government and the minister of Finance, yesterday made preliminary denials of conflict of interest and alleged connivance in shady dealings as MPs prepared to open a wide-ranging investigation into the National Social Security Fund.

The House last evening resolved to investigate allegations of “corruption” at NSSF after some MPs accused the senior government officials and certain Fund managers of plotting to “cover-up” the fact that they said had exposed workers savings.

Inspector General of Government, Ms Irene Mulyagonja, Finance minister Maria Kiwanuka, NSSF Board Chairman Ivan Kyayonka and acting NSSF MD, Ms Geraldine Ssali were all named in the allegations.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga yesterday promised to announce names of MPs who will sit on yet another Select Committee that will investigate the alleged corruption at the NSSF on Tuesday.
The Fund has suffered two decades of internal strife with almost all its managing directors being forced out under corruption allegations, some of whom have been prosecuted or remain in court.

Aruu MP Odonga Otto set it off when he told Parliament that although interviews for the position of MD, deputy MD and the Corporation Secretary were concluded and results publicised, internal bickering and lobbying bordering on corruption in the NSSF was holding the process.

Mr Otto tabled documents which he observed point towards allegations that NSSF management irregularly bought shares worth Shs69 billion in Umeme Ltd, a power company, against the advice of the Solicitor General and in “total disregard” of a House resolution.

The Daily Monitor carried a report in May in which the Finance ministry said that it did not authorise this particular transaction which took NSSF’s stake in Umeme to 14.27 per cent, making the workers’ body the third largest shareholder after INVESTEC and Umeme Holdings, with a seat on the board.

Mr Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the Labour ministry, has also separately written to NSSF board chairman, Mr Ivan Kyayonka to “disassociate myself from the purchase”, citing procedural irregularities.

“The board members have complained that they were not consulted on Umeme shares, the instructions from the Solicitor General stopping the transaction was ignored and there is a PPDA report telling the IGG that there is corruption in NSSF but she did nothing because her daughter is working there,” Ms Otto said.

Mr Otto and other MPs also alleged that Ms Mulyagonja helped her daughter, Elizabeth Nabakooza, to get a job at the NSSF without going through formal interviews and that in spite of numerous complaints from unnamed whistleblowers and NSSF workers, “the IGG decided to sit on the matter”.

Ms Mulyagonja yesterday described the allegations as “unfortunate” and said that for Parliament to discuss how her daughter got “a small temporary job” at the NSSF when the inspectorate is waiting for the House to amend the Anti-Corruption Act “is scandalous”.

IGG responds
She admitted that her daughter works at the NSSF but said “she does not have a substantive job”. “She is only 23 years and finished her degree last year. She did her internship at the NSSF and she applied and went back there for mentoring and coaching to gain experience; to see how things are done in big organisations,” Ms Mulyagonja said.

The IGG also denied the claims made by MP Yona Musinguzi (Ntungamo Municipality) and other MPs that because of a conflict of interest, she had closed her eyes to reports about alleged corruption at the NSSF.

“I have not received any complaint from the people who were sacked from NSSF. In any case, every complaint we have received about NSSF we have investigated and there is nothing like a cover-up. Where is the conflict of interest, I think they have another agenda to smear the IGG,” Ms Mulyagonja said.

Workers MP Sam Lyomoki alleged that Mr Kyayonka connived with Ms Kiwanuka to disregard the decisions and recommendations of the board.

Another Workers MP, Mr Arinaitwe Rwakajara, alleged that Ms Kiwanuka fired the former board chairperson, Mr Vincent Ssekkono and replaced him with Mr Kyayonka, the former Shell (now Vivo) country manager, through unclear circumstances.

Mr Kyayonka and Ms Ssali were unable to comment yesterday. The board chairperson said he was in a small meeting and requested to be called later. Ms Ssali, however, was unavailable.

But speaking through the Ministry of Finance spokesperson Jim Mugunga, Ms Kiwanuka said it is not uncommon for any board chairperson to consult the line minister and indeed this should not be overstated in the case of NSSF, which is a statutory body.

“To allege that the minister overrules board decisions amounts to demeaning the authority and integrity of the entire board. It should be noted that the board is not merely picked but is appointed in accordance with the Act of Parliament,” Mr Mugunga quoted Ms Kiwanuka’s response.

The minister is reported to have welcomed any efforts geared at enhancing transparency in the activities of NSSF, adding that “so much pressure from all sorts of lobbyists has ensured that openness, competitions and transparency prevail in the recent interventions to cause top management changes.”

On Umeme shares, Mr Mugunga said: “I see no contradiction when the board notifies the ministry or Bank of Uganda when impactful investment decisions are being made. It was one of the reasons that prompted the relocation of the Fund from its former base (under ministry of Labour) to the [Finance] Ministry.”