KAMPALA, Uganda. The battle to have the Finance Minister Matia Kasaija kicked out of the Finance Ministry has kicked off in earnest. The Investigator can reveal that the war has been opened up by the leading workers body, the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU).
NOTU that has close to a million workers registered under its mandate is not impressed by the failures by the Finance ministry headed by Matia Kasaijja to protect their members’ monies under NSSF. They are against the move by the the Ministry to liberalize NSSF sector.
A bill seeking to liberalize the pension sector in Uganda is before the Finance Committee of Parliament. Once passed, theBill will end the dominance and monopoly of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). A closer look at the Liberalization Bill recommends the repeal of the NSSF Act and this is the main point of contention.
Now not sitting back, NOTU top Executive at a meeting held at Eureka Place Hotel in Ntinda today (Wednesday) revealed how they had dragged government and the Uganda Retirements and Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA) to court.
Spitting fire, Peter Christopher Werikhe, the NOTU Secretary General said: “We shall not seat back and watch as learned thieves siphon the hard workers’ money. That is why we have taken them to court.”
He lamented further, “We want withdrawal of that Bill before Parliament and the NSSF docket handed back to the parent ministry in-charge of Social Affairs at Ministry of Gender.” He said the bill should be removed and rather the NSSF Act amended.
“We had a meeting with Hon. Kasaijja on July 23rd and requested that the bill be removed. But he has defied our request and continued to solicit for private companies to handle our money, something we are not ready to accept,” said Werikhe.
He said that as per the law, the Finance Minister has no mandate to appoint the board. The docket of NSSF was transferred from the original Gender Ministry following orders by President Museveni after a scandal that saw the workers’ body lose colossal sums of money in a botched Nsiimbe Estates low cost housing project.
Chairman Werikhe noted that the mafias at the Finance Ministry whom he described as ‘learned thieves’ are orchestrating plans to steal the workers’ Shs7.6 trillion savings currently into the NSSF accounts.
He urged the judges to maintain respect and judge fairly so that justice can prevail. “But if they (courts) don’t rule fairly, we shall resort to our own justice by invoking article 40 of the constitution that allows us to strike,” he said.
President Museveni seems to concur with the NOTU executive since he has always insisted that NSSF is not mismanaged. “Having one player has one good advantage that we have money available for any useful capital development projects,” President has always said in public fora.
On his part, the NOTU Chairman General, Usher Wilson Owere sounding rather tougher, said; “Ministry of Finance deals with issues of Finance and not social related issues. As we talk the Ministry has not even set up a desk to deal with workers’ issues and, it’s not mentioned anywhere in the law regarding handling of workers’ issues in Uganda.”
Owere said that the economy was shrinking to low levels due to poor mismanagement of the finance by Matia Kasaijja. “We want a system which works, not a system that is politically controlled. There is total lack of leadership at the Finance ministry and that is why we are demanding that NSSF reverts back to Gender Ministry.”
Owere also called upon the appointing authority to immediately remove Matia Kasaijja from that docket if the country is to survive the economic storm. “We ask government to bring out people on board. I appeal to President Museveni to remove Kasaijja from Finance to save the economy. If he doesn’t, we the voters will not forgive him,” he warned.
His last statement probably makes President Museveni somewhat right. The architects of the Bill seek to repeal the NSSF Act and allow other private players to compete for those savings. However Finance state Minister David Bahati, said that the Bill seeks to reform the pension sector and grow the pool savings in this country.
The Bill, in its current form, does not address the issue of regulating competition. For instance, Section 14 that refers to trustees is considered too generic. Trustees, according to the provisions of the Bill, Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA) has the responsibility of governance of retirement benefits.
The Bill, in its controversial form, has been in and out of Parliament since 2011. Some of the issues that NOTU is against is the proposal by URBRA to have firms that are looking to compete with NSSF for the 10% or 5% to be registered as companies. The regulator is looking at setting minimum capital requirements to work as a buffer that insulates workers’ savings.
The Bill was read for the first time on September 19th 2014, and referred to the committee for further scrutiny. This same Bill was first tabled in the 8th Parliament and was never withdrawn yet the government brought another draft in the 9th Parliament. According to the proposals in the Bill, members who have been saving for at least 10 years can use about 50 per cent of their savings as collateral for a mortgage.