KAMPALA: The minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development has asked Mr Richard Byarugaba, the managing director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), to leave office on the basis that he has attained the retirement age.
Age has caught up with Mr Byarugaba, whose contract, as of today, is due to run out in a week’s time.
In a July 22 letter, Ms Betty Amongi, who is the co-political overseer of the Fund alongside her Finance counterpart Matia Kasaija, noted that under the Public Service Standing Order and NSSF Human Resource Policy, Mr Byarugaba, like his deputy Patrick Ayota did, should have automatically retired on clocking 60 years.
“… I note that the deputy managing director heeded to the law and retired, and I have appointed him on [a fixed two-year] contract. You have, however, not officially retired although, by law, your retirement is mandatory and automatic upon attainment of the retirement age of 60 years,” the minister wrote.
She added: “Note that all actions you take now, on behalf of the Fund, are not protected by any law and can be challenged. This is dangerous for the operations of the Fund and I cannot continue to put the Fund at risk without addressing the matter.”
Minister Amongi asked Mr Byarugaba to hand office over to his reappointed deputy.
The NSSF boss declined to discuss the minister’s letter and the demands for him to leave office, saying “I don’t have anything to say”.
Byarugaba at the helm
Mr Byarugaba, a professional accountant and master’s in business administration degree holder from the United Kingdom, was named the managing director of the workers’ provident Fund on August 1, 2010. Under him, NSSF’s asset base has grown from about Shs8 trillion to Shs17 trillion today.
Up until this year when the Fund members got 9.7 percent interest on their savings, a decline from the previous year’s 12.2 percent, savers had become accustomed to walking away with double-digit and above-inflation interest credits on their accounts.
Management attributed the muted interest to mid-term access payout, which had grossed Shs440b by September, to thousands of members aged 45 or older and had saved with the Fund for at least a decade.
This followed Parliament’s amendment this year of the NSSF Act to, among other things, provide for mid-term access, expanded voluntary savings and enlistment of all private sector employees, as well as informal sector workers as contributors.
Mr Byarugaba has over the years received compliments from honchos at Finance ministry, his previous solo supervisors, for the Fund’s overall buoyant performance, including withstanding Covid-19 pandemic shocks.
The managers hope to grow the Fund to Shs20 trillion by 2025, a target which appears within reach if lucrative investment choices are made over the next couple of years.
A financial elephant in town, NSSF is also the biggest investor on the local securities exchange and significant equity investor on bourses in Nairobi [Kenya], Dar es Salaam [Tanzania] and Kigali [Rwanda].
Shortly after his inauguration as Kenya’s President, Mr William Ruto told pension sector leaders there to decide if they want their jobs or not because it was inexplicable how or why workers in Uganda have higher pension savings when Kenya’s is the largest economy in East Africa.
Despite these feats, Minister Amongi, in her letter, which was written three months ago but only became exclusively available to us now, said she had been alerted by the Fund Board chairperson Peter Kimbowa that age had caught up with Mr Byarugaba, whose contract, as of today, is due to run out in a week’s time.
Mr Byarugaba, however, could upon retirement be rehired for a fixed two-year contract, the minister noted, if determined that he, as a “pensioner”, possessed special skills or was the only qualified person for the job at hand.
The NSSF chief executive has vast experience spanning executive leadership in banking and telecommunications, as well as sitting on boards of charitable and commercial organisations.
Without first retiring, Ms Amongi noted that Mr Byarugaba would not be eligible for consideration for reappointment.
Three months after the minister’s marching order letter, dozens of signatories, who identified themselves as leaders of workers, trade unions and NSSF staff and savers on October 20 petitioned the President to cause investigations into allegations of corruption and abuse of office against Mr Byarugaba.
Mr Kimbowa yesterday told this website that his board separately commissioned inquiries into questions, repeated by the petitioners, about contracting out of the construction of the Fund’s Pension Towers on Lumumba Avenue in Kampala. Investigators, he noted, found no evidence of wrongdoing with the tendering of the works or integrity of the structure.
“So, we did not find any culpability with the Pension Towers,” he said, speaking in the presence of Minister Amongi.
He also exonerated the minister over claims that she fell out with Mr Byarugaba because the latter failed to provide Shs6b from NSSF kitty to bankroll Fund-related activities run by Gender and Labour ministry as its co-overseer.
Instead, Mr Kimbowa said the money had been provisioned to finance execution of expanded NSSF mandate under the revised law, and the board, not the line ministers, superintend the allocation.
In an interview yesterday about her decision to exit the Fund chief executive, Ms Amongi said the Solicitor General, the technical head in the Office of the Attorney General, initially advised in writing that Mr Byarugaba’s case be handled under NSSF Human Resources Policy.
However, she said, Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who is the government’s chief legal government advisor and political supervisor of the Solicitor General, later verbally informed her that the initial advice was in “error” and a new legal opinion would be tendered. That remains pending.
In a rejoinder to inquiries by this website, Mr Kiryowa said: “I am sorry I can’t discuss whether and what opinion I am going to issue to the minister regarding the NSSF managing director. Kindly call the minister and ask her if she has not already received new guidance.”
Earlier in the day, Ms Amongi said other than the Solicitor General’s guidance that the Fund’s Human Resources Policy, which provides for automatic retirement of a staff on clocking 60 years and a possible re-engagement under sector 23.3.1, “I am waiting for the new legal opinion from the Attorney General or Solicitor General”.
Mr Byarugaba has remained in office and appears on course to finish his current contract that runs until the start of December, despite Ms Amongi ordering in writing that he should have left by July 26.
Neither he nor the minister could explain the hang onto the job.
The minister said she had written to President Museveni, notifying him that the law requires Mr Byarugaba, at 60, to retire, although he is conditionally eligible for reappointment.
It remained unclear if the President had responded to Ms Amongi or not.
The Milton Obote II government established NSSF in 1985 as a provident fund for workers in private sector organisations employing five or more people, and its founding law obliged individual employees and employers to remit a combined 15 percent of a worker’s monthly salary to the scheme.
That enlistment has under a revised version of the NSSF Act been expanded to smaller private sector employers, as well as informal sector players besides opening up voluntary savings to any individual.
The Fund’s Shs17 trillion value has turned it into a financial elephant in town, leading to brutal fights for its top jobs due to notable influence of the officers-in-charge.