NSSF Probe: Byarugaba Accuses Minister Amongi of Interference

The former Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) has accussed the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Betty Amongi of exceeding her mandate and interfering in the entity’s operations.

Richard Byarugaba, on Friday appeared before Parliament’s select committee investigating operations of the Fund to respond to different allegations of abuse of office and mismanagement of investments leveled against him by the Minister.

The allegations were highlighted in the Minister’s letter to the NSSF Board Chairman, Peter Kimbowa questioning the reappointment of Byarugaba when his contract expired at the end of November 2022. The NSSF Board had endorsed Byarugaba’s reappointment together with his then Deputy, Patrick Ayota for another five-year term and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja asked Amongi to proceed with the appointment “as recommended by the Board to avoid any managerial gaps, which can put the workers’ funds at risk”.

But Amongi protested the move and instead called for an investigation into the conduct of the former Managing Director while at the fund, but she approved the reappointment of Ayota who is currently the Acting Managing Director NSSF. She also accused Byarugaba of abuse of office and mismanagement of investments, directed that investigations be conducted within two months by the Inspectorate of Government and the Auditor General in line with a resolution by the Board of directors.

In his defence to the select committee, Byarugaba said that the allegations against him are baseless and he accused Minister Amongi of disregarding the governing structure of the Fund by seeking to access 6 billion Shillings to facilitate activities in her Ministry.

He said that the activities that the minister sought to facilitate in the Ministry were already being implemented by NSSF. Byarugaba said that according to the Minister, the controversial 6 billion was to among others, undertaking budgeting, monitoring and oversight of key activities of the Fund, media engagements, benchmarking skills for development, developing and deploying an online system for tracking non-complaince of employers, strengthening inspection and compliance of NSSF by employers and technical support to employers.

Byarugaba described the Minister’s action as a clear conflict of interest.

The NSSF Board Chairman, Peter Kimbowa earlier this week said that the Gender Minister’s request for 6 billion Shillings was irregular. The controversial request was made through a letter from the Minister to Kimbowa.

Different reports indicate that Minister Amongi declined to re-appoint the former NSSF Managing Director, Byarugaba after the Fund failed to approve the 6 billion Shillings.

“The Board has not approved the 6 billion Shillings because the Board isn’t fully aware of the initiative,”  Kimbowa told the select committee.  “The Board has requested management to come up with a comprehensive work plan and examine how the various activities are going to be resourced and we also examine the accountability matrix that will be attached to this project. This has not happened.”

Equally, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija on Thursday said that he objected the 6 billion Shillings since the Ministry of Gender received a budget from the Treasury.

But Minister Amongi says that her decision to request for the 6 billion Shillings was guided by Section 29 of the NSSF Act which mandates her to amend the NSSF budget.

Amongi explained that the law provides that the Board may, with the sanction of the Minister make a disbursement notwithstanding that the disbursement is not provided for in any budget. According to Amongi, she requested for the funds after she identified that the Fund’s current financial year 2022/2023 budget did not provide for activities to implement the amended NSSF Act which introduced voluntary contributions.

Meanwhile, Byarugaba contested Minister Amongi’s submission to the select committee regarding the proposed purchase of Nakigalala land measuring 400 hectares. The land is owned by the Muljibhai Madhvani family and is located along the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway. Reports indicate that Madhvani has been trying to sell the Tea Estate to NSSF for three years now.

In her submission to the committee earlier, Amongi said that she blocked the purchase of the land after NSSF requested for 400 billion Shillings while the Government valuer had estimated the cost at 246.1 billion Shillings.

According to the Minister, she got to know about the land in the NSSF budget for the current financial year 2022/2023, when she was asked to approve a block figure of 400 billion which she declined.

Amongi said she could not approve the purchase after the NSSF management failed to provide her with a due diligence report, land title and other documents. 

But Byarugaba told the select committee that the 400 billion was for more than Nakigalala land. He said that out of the 400 billion, only 250 billion was for Nakigalala land, 120 billion for purchasing police land and 30 billion for other ventures.

“The role of the Minister is to approve the budget and not to conduct due diligence which is for the procurement process, this is called interference,” said Byarugaba.

He added that NSSF had been planning to buy Nakigalala land since 2019 and that the valuation of 250 billion was arrived at by the management and the Chief Government Valuer. Byarugaba said that all these reports had been availed to the Minister.

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