NSSF probe starts off on a wrong foot

MPs probing corruption allegations at NSSF heard last week that the owners of Umeme tapped the Fund as a source of cash back in 2004, a charge the power company has refuted.

Chairman General of National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) Usher Wilson Owere (L) with his Deputy Stanley Kaggwa appear before the NSSF probe committee on Thursday. PHOTO BY JOSEPH KIGGUNDU. 

BY Yasiin Mugerwa

IN SUMMARY

MPs probing corruption allegations at NSSF heard last week that the owners of Umeme tapped the Fund as a source of cash back in 2004, a charge the power company has refuted.

It’s no longer unusual for MPs to receive facilitation from institutions they are supposed to supervise. It’s also true that because most of the MPs are heavily indebted, they receive zero pay. The situation is getting worse, to the extent that some MPs have no time for Parliament. They have turned committees of Parliament into money-making schemes.

A senior legislator told me last week how a group of broke colleagues were frequenting workshops, looking for transport refunds.

On October 29 last year, State House officials disarmed the Public Accounts Committee members who had accused the entity of running a “bottomless pit” by asking for more money for the presidency. Silence engulfed the room when State House officials turned the tables on the begging MPs, accusing them of overwhelming the President with endless financial requests. State House Comptroller Lucy Mbonye Nakyobe stunned legislators when she accused MPs of being part of the problem.

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The demeanour of our MPs disgraces the institution of Parliament. Parliamentary oversight is one of the three core democratic roles of parliamentarians. Unfortunately, ours is a circus. Our politicians have mastered the art of ‘hunting’. This bizarre situation, however, works for the duplicitous accounting officers. They facilitate legislators who are mandated to do the oversight in their dockets.

NSSF probe
The committee probing NSSF started work last week. The acting managing director, Ms Geraldine Ssali, and other NSSF officials defended themselves from the allegations of corruption in the Shs70 billion Umeme deal, recruitment and promised to provide details on the disposal of assets. The NSSF officials said the Solicitor General, the Finance minister and the board were consulted on Umeme investment and that all this was done in accordance with the NSSF Act.

A five-member select committee set up by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga is currently investigating the allegations of nepotism, unfair recruitment, irregularities in the disposal of assets and the disputed purchase of Umeme shares.

The committee chaired by Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja (Kalungu East) started off on the wrong foot. While it is not yet clear whether the whips participated in the nomination of the members in accordance with the rules of procedure, it’s strange that an inquiry of this magnitude and the gravity of the allegations involved can be cleared to proceed without a member who is a lawyer. It’s not surprising that when Kibanda MP Sam Otada (Whip for Independents) complained in the House, his fears were ignored.

Naked report
However, to avoid politicising issues and embarrassing situations where the committee would produce a report similar to the one Justice John Bosco Katutsi (retired) once described as “naked” and “without legal clothing”, the chairperson of the committee and members should accept to co-opt expert members they think can competently help them deal with the situation at hand.

This should not be understood to be an indictment on their part, it’s within the rules. Rule 179 (2-3) of the House Rules of Procedure is very clear on this. The House rules are not static; whips and independent members are free to appoint one or more additional members to the committee.

While there is no evidence that any member of the committee has been compromised in any way, it’s critical that the members open the proceedings of the committee to the public to avoid the temptations. For instance, it’s strange that most of the committee proceedings are closed, yet MPs are dealing with matters concerning workers money.

Why would anyone lockout journalists in a meeting where the former NSSF board chairman, Mr Vincent S Ssekkono, is giving evidence? Mr Ssekkono was a public servant and the Constitution is very clear on the accountability issues. These witnesses should face the public because they owe them explanation. In any case, it would also be in their interest to explain what exactly happened.

Where a witness thinks he or she needs to give “classified” information in camera, such a request should be evaluated to avoid situations where unscrupulous people would want to run away from the accountability or simply chose to mudsling others for selfish reasons. Accountability and oversight cannot be done behind closed-doors. Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that means impropriety.

ymugerwa@ug.nationmedia.com

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