Why do NSSF bosses always leave office under a cloud of suspicion?

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Media reports we have been reading this week suggest that all is not well at the NSSF. 

The National Social Security Fund is grabbing the kind of headlines it was hogging in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then its top managers’ names were in the headlines for reasons that had everything to do with corruption or mismanagement — or both. The managers would be interdicted or fired, and those replacing them would suffer the same fate in less than no time — again because of corruption or abuse of office.

When Richard Byarugaba, a former banker, was appointed in July 2010 to head the NSSF, stories of corruption and mismanagement at the Fund were hard to see in the media. He has been in the job for more than 10 years, and although he has reached retirement age — he is now 62 — some felt he should continue as CEO and managing director — proof, perhaps, that he had done well.

But media reports we have been reading this week suggest that all is not well at the NSSF, and what we saw in the 1990s and the 2000s (2000–2009) may be returning. For readers who may not remember, here is how things looked at the NSSF. In October 1998, managing director Abel Katembwe was sacked, and his sacking had something to do with a house the NSSF had bought as his official residence. It cost Shs 200m but after renovation, the total cost had jumped to a hard-to-explain Shs 400m.

There was another scandal: $1.4m (Shs5.1b) had been lost under unclear circumstances as Alcon Construction, which had been contracted to build Workers House, was preparing to start work.
Mr Katembwe’s deputy, Dr Yoram Barongo, took over as acting managing director. But in 2002, the then Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Zoe Bakoko Bakoru, sacked him, along with company secretary (chief legal advisor) John Kakooza, citing mismanagement at the NSSF.

The minister also cited the botched purchase of Udyam House, among other things. Apparently, the price was inflated.

After Dr Barongo’s departure, Leonard Mpuuma was named the new managing director and came in with Geoffrey Onegi-Obel, a former journalist/publisher and banker, as board chairman. Mr Mpuuma was fired in 2005 along with Mr Onegi-Obel. Two years later, he was in court battling charges of soliciting a $350,000 (Shs1.2b) bribe and causing financial loss of Shs 8b and abuse of office, all of which he denied.

David Chandi Jamwa, who took office after Mr Mpuuma was fired, jailed in 2011 for causing the NSSF a financial loss of Shs 3b. He was the NSSF’s youngest boss — aged 36 at the time he was appointed.
Mr Byarugaba is facing allegations of mismanagement and abuse of office, and the IGG, Beti Kamya, has ordered a freeze of financial transactions at the NSSF until an investigation of all the allegations against him is completed. 

The board chairman, Dr Peter Kimbowa, wrote to the IGG requesting the probe. It is backed by a 22-page petition to President Museveni and the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Betty Amongi, and is signed by over 100 NSSF workers.

Mr Byarugaba says he is happy with the investigation, probably because he thinks it will find zero evidence of mismanagement and abuse of office. If he is exonerated, his legacy will be different from that of his predecessors. That said, we still have to ask why many NSSF bosses have left office with scandals — and what needs to be done to ensure that the behemoth that manages trillions of shillings of Ugandan workers is not plagued by corruption.

Musaazi Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected] @kazbuk