PARLIAMENT- Officials from the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) yesterday said Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka is “the source” of the mismanagement at the National Social Security Fund, one of several accusations she rejected.
The officials also said the acting MD at the Fund, Ms Geraldine Ssali, lied to the ongoing inquiry when she stated that the Fund's board took a vote on the decision to buy extra shares in Umeme, a matter which is one of the sticking points in this investigation.
NOTU boss, Mr Usher Wilson Owere put Ms Kiwanuka’s integrity under spotlight as lawmakers on the Select Committee who are looking into the alleged corruption at the Shs4 trillion Fund sought evidence on nepotism, unfair recruitment, irregularities in the disposal of assets and the disputed purchase of Umeme shares.
“There have been a lot of manoeuvres by the minister [Kiwanuka) to bring people close to her at NSSF and I request the committee to investigate the relationship between the minister and the board chairman, Mr Ivan Kyayonka,” Mr Owere said. When pressed by Ms Ann Maria Nankabirwa (Kyankwanzi, NRM), who chaired yesterday’s meeting to produce evidence; he insisted that committee should investigate Ms Kiwanuka on issues relating to the appointment of the board chairman.
Mr Owere told the committee that Ms Kiwanuka dismissed the former NSSF board chairman, Vincent Ssekkono who he said had "stabilised" the Fund and replaced him with Mr Kyayonka, the former Shell (now Vivo) country manager, through unclear circumstances.
Mr Kyayonka yesterday dismissed the accusations as baseless and challenged Mr Owere to table evidence. Ms Kiwanuka, however, declined to react to this particular charge.
“To the extent that those allegations were not substantiated, I have no comment to make at this point,” she said in an email to response to Daily Monitor.
Mr Owere who tabled correspondences on the Umeme deal said Mr Kyayonka and the minister’s husband used to supply fuel to Umeme Ltd, a power company named in Parliament's investigations into alleged mismanagement at the Fund.
“She (Ms Kiwanuka) dismantled the structure we had put in place to protect NSSF from scandals similar to Temangalo,” Mr Owere said, adding that she also ordered that all jobs at NSSF -- from lower cadre staff to top management -- be re-advertised.
“She has caused a lot of problems at NSSF and she has adamantly refused to meet the workers to discuss what is going on. NSSF has no leadership and it’s this vacuum that has made matters worse. She asked a person who had just given birth and was supposed to go on maternity leave to act as the managing director for NSSF.”
But NSSF’s acting managing director, Ms Geraldine Ssali yesterday also accused the union members of having a hidden agenda to smear NSSF managers.
“There is no leadership vacuum at NSSF, there is no corruption; the workers money is safe and the Auditor General has issued a report to confirm this,” Ms Ssali told Daily Monitor in an interview shortly after the hearing. “At 41 per cent, our investment in Umeme is the best performing in our assets portfolio. Where is money getting lost? People like Owere should stop misleading the public that there is a crisis at NSSF.”
Giving evidence on the disputed purchase of Umeme shares, Mr Owere, accompanied by four other officials, narrated to the committee how NSSF with the backing of the minister in 2012 unlawfully purchased Umeme shares (about 8 per cent). He said the minister disregarded the workers objection, citing gross irregularities and scandals in the power sector and demanded that the Shs31 billion used to buy those initial shares be refunded and those involved be brought to book.
Mr Kyayonka was equally not happy with the union leaders' views. “Is Owere a board member?" he said when reached for comment, "Let him look at the minutes of the board meetings on Umeme investment. The board does not operate like Kikuubo (downtown Kampala trading area); the resolutions are put on paper.”
On the second purchase of 15 per cent Umeme shares, Mr Owere presented letters to NSSF officials from the Solicitor General (May 9), Ms Kiwanuka (May 13) Labour and Gender PS Pius Bigirimana (May 16) and another letter by the five workers representatives on the board (May 20) all of whom objected to the Umeme deal.
“There was no voting on Umeme investment. The board members on May 7 agreed to go and consult, later emails were sent that the chairperson of the board (Mr Kyayonka) had made a decision,”
Mr Owere accused Ms Ssali of telling lies to the committee that there was a casting vote to break the deadlock after a five against five tie.
But Ms Ssali said: “I am a professional, I don’t tell lies and I have a reputation to protect. We have the board minutes showing how members voted on Umeme investment. Some people wanted to create majority situation yet the NSSF Act gives the chairman a casting vote to break a deadlock and the decision is binding to every single person.”
Finance minister Kiwanuka last evening responded in an email through spokesman Jim Mugunga to the accusation that she unfairly removed Mr Ssekono and replaced him with Mr Kyayonka: “The facts are that the board tenure of office had expired and in accordance with the law, a new board, including five worker’s representatives was appointed," she said.
Ms Kiwanuka said that "If the reference to the “mess” is to highlight the investment in Umeme, it should be recalled that the recent share purchase is not the first NSSF investment in the power company. The first took place during the Initial Public Offer (IPO)”.
Mr Mugunga's email also said that the minister has met workers several times at the ministry and through various fora. "On all NSSF matters, she interfaces with the representatives through the board where they have five members and for all other workers issues they interact with the ministry through the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to Treasury. Technically, the PS/ST is their desk officer.”
Ms Kiwanuka who is expected to also appear to deliver a comprehensive response to issues arising during the inquiry repeated previous denials that she has frustrated the appointment of a new MD at NSSF.
“Since the minister gave NSSF management and board to initiate the recruitment, the board was in charge of this process for eleven (11) months. They only handed over their suggestions recently in June. The minister is on record that she is undertaking requisite due diligence and consultations to ensure that the best qualified persons; with appropriate experience and track record are hired. Why is it during this very important and final stage that we hear of cries of sabotage and overdue pressure is exerted?”