Lawmakers grill Minister Amongi over Shs6b NSSF budget

The Speaker of Parliament Anita Among has formed a select committee to investigate claims of corruption and infighting at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

“The names of five people on the select committee will be out next Monday,” said Among on Thursday afternoon.

The Speaker said she would carefully identify key lawmakers who would not be compromised.
“We need to restore public faith in NSSF,” said Amongi, adding, “There are many people rotting in jails because of workers’ money,” she emphasized.

The Speaker’s decision came after a heated debate during which Gender Minister Betty Amongi was quizzed about claims that she piled pressure on NSSF Managing Director Richard Byarugaba to give her Shs 6bn for her activities to promote the Fund.

During the plenary session, Hon Naome Kabasharira wondered how Amongi could defy a presidential directive and board of directors on the reappointment of Byarugaba as NSSF MD owing to stellar performance of the Fund. 

Amongi reappointed Byarugaba’s Deputy Patrick Ayota and deferred Byarugaba’s, saying she needed to conduct more consultations. 

“Ministers should respect authority,” said Kabasharira.

“We have a Minister who has refused to take the authorities’ directives. Hon Nabbanja is a Prime Minister. She wrote a letter based on directives from the President. Why don’t we trust the Prime Minister?” wondered Kabasharira.

She wondered why Amongi’s deferral of Byarugaba’s reappointment occurred after denying her access to Shs 6bn.

“When the Shs 6bn matter came up, that’s when Richard Byarugaba was asked to step aside. There is the deputy (Ayota). If anything happens (alleged mismanagement), we are jointly liable. Why retain the deputy Ayota and send away the MD? Then let all of them step aside until investigations are completed,” said Kabasharira.

On her part, Amongi said she wanted Shs 6bn set aside within the NSSF’s operational budget to support efforts to mobilize various associations, industrial parks and diaspora to contribute to the Fund. 
She said out of 17 million workers, only 1.5 million save with NSSF. 

However, MP Joan Okia (Madi Okollo) wondered whether the government was providing any support to the businesses where Amongi expected employers to remit workers’ funds.

“We have just come from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Businesses are struggling to break even. They may not have money to make contributions. What support can the government give companies to keep these jobs and remit workers’ funds? As you try to expand contributions, what are we doing to help limping businesses to keep workers?”

In industrial parks, workers earn about Shs 3,000 - Shs 5,000, making them unable to contribute to the Fund.
Speaker Among challenged AmongI to explain why she defied Museveni’s letter directing her to appoint Byarugaba as NSSF MD. 

Amongi had reappointed only Ayota and deferred Byarugaba’s appointment. 

Museveni told Amongi that “it is better for one to consult before making these appointments. The present group at NSSF seems to have done a good job.”

Museveni said Byarugaba’s team had raised NSSF’s portfolio from Shs  1.7tn to 17tn where it is as of now and that good performance was not a common practice in parastatals.

Museveni said “good actors should be appreciated.”

Another meeting was later held during which Museveni directed Nabbanja to write to Amongi to reappoint Byarugaba. 

However, Amongi wrote to the NSSF board saying she had received petitions from whistleblowers and ordered fresh investigations into claims of corruption at the Fund.

Asked to table her letter to the board of directors, Amongi said she was unable as it was an “internal letter.” But Speaker Among reminded Amongi that she had actually tendered the document to the office of the Speaker. Under pressure, Amongi agreed to have the letter tabled.