Why NSSF’s Richard Byarugaba should be vindicated and reappointed as Fund’s Managing Director

Richard Byarugaba has undoubtedly done an incredible job in transforming the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) into an indomitable Fund all Ugandans want.

Ever since he was appointed as NSSF head over a decade ago, Byarugaba has been a force to reckon with at the quasi- government agency responsible for the collection, safekeeping, responsible investment, and distribution of retirement funds from employees of the private sector in Uganda who are not covered by the Government Retirement Scheme.

However, in the last two months, NSSF has been in the eye of the storm over tides against the top job management due to the alleged irregularities at the Fund.

The impasse started with questions surrounding the mandatory retirement age limit that had caught up with the Mr. Byarugaba but quickly turned into queries of mismanaging the fund and abuse of office.

The row has since sucked in other top Government officials with the Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja facing off with the Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development, Betty Amongi who flexed muscles over Byarugaba’s fate.

Byarugaba, 61, was appointed NSSF Chief Executive and Managing Director in 2010. The mandatory retirement age for holders of the position is 60. His contract expired on November 1st, 2022 and he is eligible for reappointment under the new NSSF act.

The NSSF board of directors led by Dr. Peter Kimbowa had initially recommended for his reappointment on short term contract but the decision was overturned by Amongi.

President Yoweri Museveni had also cautioned Amongi against asking the top Fund managers to leave on the account of age, noting in an August 6 letter that “it is better one consults quietly about these appointments before deciding.

“In the case of NSSF, the present group seem to have done a good job … good performance is not very common in parastatals. Where it occurs, the actors should be appreciated,” he noted before calling for a meeting to discuss the matter.

On the basis of the endorsement and a presidential directive for the same, on 7th December, 2022, Prime Minister Nabbanja asked Minister Amongi to proceed with the appointment “as recommended by the Board to avoid any managerial gaps which can put the workers’ funds at risk”.

Nabbanja, in the letter revealed that the Minister had already proceeded to re-appoint Patrick Ayota (as Deputy Managing Director) who like Byarugaba had clocked 60 years which is the retirement age as provided for in the NSSF Act. Ayota is now the Acting Managing Director for NSSF.

She said that the reappointment of Byarugaba and Ayota on non-renewable performance contracts of five years was to put them in position to lead the Fund’s new strategy following the amendments to the Act by Parliament.

However, Minister Amongi has since protested the move and instead called for an investigation into the former MD’s conduct while at the fund, accusing him of abuse of office and mismanagement of the entity’s investments, among other issues. Amongi says the investigations must be done within the shortest time possible after the resolution by the Board to conduct the process.

Last Month, the Speaker of Parliament said they cannot sit on and watch when the savers’ money is being put in jeopardy by clashes between top government officials and allegations of mismanagement before resolving to institute a select committee to investigate the matter.

Announced by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the select committee chaired by Mbarara City South legislator, Mwine Mpaka, this week kicked off the probe.

Nonetheless, when you critically look behind the curtains,  you will probably know that there’s foul play against Mr. Byarugaba. WHY?

Amongi is vehemently against the former NSSF Managing Director getting a new term of five years because sometime back, the latter allegedly refused to illegally allocate her Shs6 billion for an activity [sensitisation on voluntary saving].

According to a top officer inside the NSSF, Amongi’s insistence that Byarugaba leaves office is not about the retirement age as she has been arguing within government and media circles.

“As you can see, there has been constant harassment since we refused to allocate the Shs6bn to her. She even asked us to hand over to Patrick Ayota [Acting NSSF managing director] who was older. So, it was nothing to do with age.”

It was also been established that upon realization that the board wanted to maintain the status quo of leadership at the fund, Amongi swung into action running to several high-profiled individuals accusing Byarugaba of mismanaging the fund which allegations the board rejected telling her why she didn’t bring such before the issue of contract renewal came up and since she is the political supervisor of the fund why she hadn’t invited the investigative arms of government to probe the fund.

“She is the complaint through Sam Lyomoki who has been drafting these allegations under the pretense of workers union and for that, we have rejected her allegations against us (board members and top managers). We are also concerned on why those alleging mismanagement at the fund are only interested in Byarugaba and yet he had a Deputy Managing Director in the name of Patrick Ayota among other top manager?” asked one of the board members.

The NSSF Board chair, Dr. Kimbowa indeed confirmed that the Minister requested for the Shs6bn from the fund to facilitate activities to expand the fund. He however said the request was irregular.

He made the revelation while appearing before the select committee investigating allegations of mismanagement of NSSF on Wednesday, 01 February 2023.

Kimbowa said that the board declined approval of the Shs6 billion because the fund’s governing body is not fully aware of the intended purpose of the requested funds.

“The board 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,” Kimbowa said.

The chairperson of the fund’s finance committee, Silver Mugisha, also explained that when the proposal was tabled before his committee, the NSSF management resolved to evaluate whether it aligns with the fund’s budget strategy.

“When we sent the budget for approval to the minister, the feedback was that it is approved but there was an idea that we allocate Shs6 billion for certain activities,” said Mugisha.

Byarugaba’s performance at NSSF commendable:

Due to Byarugaba’s exceptional leadership, as of December 31, 2022, NSSF was worth Shs17.9 trillion (from Shs1.7 trillion in 2011). Monthly, the fund receives Shs130-140 billion in form of contributions from its membership of over 1.3 million working Ugandans. It has seen a spike in in the monthly benefits paid out to its members of about Shs110- 120 billion following NSSF amendments to allow mid term access to contributions for its members aged 45 years and above who had saved for a minimum of 10 years.

Under his reign, The NSSF as a model public institution underwent annual audits and inspections by the Office of Auditor General , Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority, COSASE , IGG  which entities confirmed the compliance by NSSF to the policies and procedures and the laws of Uganda.

Meanwhile, in less than 2 years of transferring the NSSF back to Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, corruption, influence peddling and delayed decision making scandals are back to haunt the savers. This is impacting negatively on the fund’s reputation at a time when the law has been amended to grow the savers base.

To avert reputational damage to the fund, it would be prudent for the Minister to re-appoint Mr. Byarugaba as the Managing Director on the basis of the board recommendation, Prime Minister’s guidance and the President’s directive. This should be done as investigations are ongoing.

Parliament should also consider the removal of the dual supervision of the fund as this has proved to stifle decision making and may lead to corruption practices and lack of accountability.