The end is rarely a good one. This is what has become like working at the top of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Compared to other government agencies that enjoy stability at the top, being a top dog at NSSF is a tough calling.
As Mr Richard Byarugaba, the outgoing MD seeks re-appointment on competitive basis with two others, it could be another story had he been chief at other government agencies like Bank of Uganda and Uganda Revenue Authority.
Mr Emmanuel Tumusiime, the current governor of Bank of Uganda was appointed on January 11, 2001. Thirteen years down the road he is still serving in the same capacity, while Ms Allen Kagina the commissioner general has been boss at Uganda Revenue Authority since 2004.
Trouble at NSSF started in 1998. Abel Katembwa, then Managing Director of the Fund was fired. In between, other managers of the Shs3 trillion worth fund have courted similar controversy. Yesteryear, it was Chandi Jamwa, today, it is Mr Richard Byarugaba, who while ago the Inspectorate General of Government (IGG) report pinned for turning a deaf ear to professional advice in the sale of a plot of land. People familiar with the workings of the Fund and scholars talked to said the problem is not Fund.
Mr Byarugaba says there is nothing wrong with serving at the helm of NSSF but adds that the problem is the impression created by the press. “The fund is run in the public’s eyes. Every happening is hyped and conveyed to the public by the press,” he explains in a calm tone.
“Investigations or audit queries are done in all other organisations - like Uganda Revenue Authority - and results are reached showing faults by managers. But the results in these other organisation are not carried in newspapers like is the case with NSSF.”
So when people read news articles about NSSF they think there is a lot of “dirt” and the “dirt” only takes place at NSSF, he says. “This is not true. So anyone can successfully work there as an MD. It is an okay employer,” Mr Byarugaba states.
However, IGG Irene Mulyagonja, disagrees. She says the problem is the lack of a good moral compass by some of the managers.
She says managers should continuously behave like the money in their control is not their own and acknowledge that they are merely stewards.
“If you do not have such a moral compass, you stray. Otherwise, how do you explain that an accountant like Chandi Jamwa who is aware of how credit cards are keenly monitored could abuse the card given to him by NSSF in a casino?
“How do you explain that Byarugaba could ignore the Board’s recommendation and hurriedly sell off the land in Bakuli in which he is alleged to have caused a loss of Shs100 million?”
Ms Mulyagonja further explains that when an individual is managing an organisation with sums of money as massive as NSSF’s, the small components of the colossal sum come off as negligible. An individual starts treating amounts like a billion shillings as petty cash. Mr David Nambale could afford to accrue a telephone bill of Shs1.5 million talking to his spouse because of that, she says. That clarifies the reckless losses worth billions of shillings that have been made by management. “This makes the managers feel they can get away with the losses. Trust me it starts small and before you know it they are abusing billions,” she remarks.
In the public eye, it is the influential politicians to give NSSF a break. People believe that politicians cajole the management into taking career detrimental decisions like was the case of former MD Chandi Jamwa who alleged that he acted under pressure to buy the Temangalo land at an inflated price.
Mr John Baptist Kakooza, a former corporation secretary of NSSF says however, “As a good manager, if the politician is asking you to do something wrong, you have the choice to refuse.
“Let’s assume it is true that pressure was piled on Jamwa to undertake the Temangalo deal, did he survive because he had done what was asked of him? No.” Mr Kakooza adds that one does not need to be an angel from heaven in order to successfully work at the helm of NSSF; “All they have to do is to run the fund according to the law governing it which is the NSSF act, follow board decisions and any other rules and regulations. There is no way one can fail if they do this. They also have to steer clear of greed,” he cautions.
Dr Timothy Kyepa, a partner at Development Law Associates points elsewhere when asked where the root of the trouble is.
“The problem stems from the corporate governance structure challenge,” says Kyepa. “Aspects like transparency and independence of the Board are not catered for in any legal framework. Consequently you realise that most of these problems are internally generated,” he offers. “The NSSF Act for example does not comprehensively spell out the functions of the board. This leaves a lot of powers in the hands of the technocrats and the corporation secretary. Decision making is to the two. They have no systems checking them. And you can guess the impact of this.”
The law scholar adds that the NSSF act gives overwhelming powers to the Minister
“In such an arrangement the appointed person fears taking certain positions because the security of their tenure is determined by the Minister.”
The persons talked to all agree that choosing to work at the helm of NSSF is not the problem. Granted. Perhaps, effort should henceforth be focused to addressing the Achilles heel they highlight.