PWorkers’ representatives have attacked Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi, accusing him of breaking the agreement they reached with him to work out a common position before the Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalisation Bill 2014 is presented to Parliament.
Mr Muhakanizi is also the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Finance.
“We agreed that a joint committee be put in place, which was done with the Ministry of Finance. We were surprised when Mr Muhakanizi issued that statement (on Monday). We think he is jumping out. It means they (Finance ministry) have a hidden agenda,” Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman-general of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) told journalists at the organisation’s office in Kampala on Thursday.
Mr Owere said any action outside the joint arrangement is suspicious and would not be accepted by NOTU.
At the press conference were secretary general of Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Uganda (COFTU) and also Workers MP Sam Lyomoki; COFTU chairman-general Christopher Kahirita, NOTU deputy secretary general Oloka Mesilamu, and NOTU trustee David Nkojo.
“We know there are vultures in the Ministry of Finance who want to cannibalise National Social Security Fund (NSSF). The target is Workers’ money, which now stands at Shs4 trillion. But we shall continue fighting until we are sure our money is safe. There is no single coin of government on that money,” Dr Lyomoki charged.
In the Monday statement, Mr Muhakanizi said a lot of “misinformation” had been circulated since the stakeholders’ meeting of February 25 at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala appointed a joint committee comprising ministries of Labour, Finance, Public Service, Workers’ representatives and the Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority.
Mr Muhakanizi denied recommending the shelving or withdrawal of the Bill as reported in the media.
He said the joint committee was assigned to make proposals for submission to the relevant ministers and subsequently to the Finance Committee of Parliament.
He said this meant a one-month delay in the legislative process.
However, Mr Owere refuted Muhakanizi’s account, saying the collective agreement was for the joint committee to make proposals for submission to the Finance ministry, which is the originator of the Bill, for refining into a new Bill.
The Ministry of Finance says the Bill is intended to “improve and grow the pension sector by restoring trust and confidence in the system and to increase savings at individual and employee level for the benefit of the entire economy”.
However NOTU leaders claim the ministry is targeting workers’ savings in NSSF.
Mr Muhakanizi could not be reached for a comment yesterday as our several calls to his phone were neither answered, nor returned.
Bill to stay
However, the Finance ministry’s economic advisor and interim executive director of the Uganda Retirement Benefits Authority, Mr Moses Bekabye, defended Mr Muhakanizi’s stand.
“The Bill is not going to be withdrawn. The minister has no power to withdraw the Bill as it is now the property of Parliament,” he said.
He denied attempting to “compromise” MPs on Parliament’s Finance Committee with inducements of foreign trips to different countries.
At the press conference, MP Lyomoki said the Finance ministry had been given inducements and Workers’ representatives were only brought on board as a cover up.
“Usually when we go for Parliament work outside the country, it is the Parliamentary Commission that pays for everything. But I was surprised to see that it was Mr Bekabye who was doing everything. The money I got for the journey was an EFT (electronic fund transfer) from the Ministry of Finance,” Mr Lyomoki said.
However, Mr Bekabye said it was normal for government departments to facilitate MPs to any place if the result enhances “their understanding of certain things”.
Mr Bekabye, seen largely as the architect of the pension sector retirement benefits restructuring, denied conflict of interest and being an agent of multinational corporations as speculated by the NOTU leaders.
“It is true I worked for the World Bank but now I work for the government of Uganda. Those people (NOTU) are only protecting their own turf,” he said.
MP Lyomoki speaks out on the bill
Under the NSSF Act workers are represented in the governance of the fund.
We are involved in decisions as to where to invest our money. NSSF has been putting money in banks and getting interest on that money but this is going to change.
Under the (Retirement Benefits Sector Liberalisation) Bill, NSSF is going to be like any other new players. You have custodians who will most likely be banks and when you keep your money there, you are supposed to pay the custodian instead of the bank paying you interest for using your money.
Where NSSF has been making its investment decisions, fund managers under the new Bill will be the ones to do this and the workers have no say on this. Currently, you can get your pension in a lump sum if you reach retirement age.
Under the arrangement proposed in the Bill, you have no choice as it the “fund administrator” to decide what to pay you.