Workers’ Members of Parliament have disagreed with a recommendation directing them to refund the 10 per cent contributions from the National Social Fund (NSSF) saying that they were not given a fair hearing.
Last week, the Chairperson of the select committee that investigated the alleged mismanagement of NSSF, Hon. Mwine Mpaka presented a report that recommended that the MPs who were part of the 24 board members of the fund should refund the money within seven working days upon adoption of the report or face prosecution.
According to the report, the fund illegally contributed Shs12. 4 million for Hon. Agnes Kunihira, while Shs37 million was paid to Hon. Christopher Werikhe and Hon. Stephen Mugole received Shs32.7 million during their tenure as board members in 2019.
“There exists no employee-employer relationship between the board members and NSSF to warrant such contributions. The committee further notes that such contributions are not provided as a benefit a member of the board is entitled to, under the Board Charter,” the report read in part.
The Workers Representatives however, presented their responses during the plenary sitting on Tuesday, 07 March 2023 and demanded that their names be expunged from the report.
Hon. Mugole said that he was condemned, unheard by the committee and was not invited to substantiate allegations of illegally receiving 10 per cent contributions from NSSF.
“Had the committee invited me as part of according me a fair hearing, I would have been able to state that I was appointed to the Board of NSSF by the Finance Minister in 2019. The same appointment stated the remunerations as per the board’s terms and engagement,” he said.
He added that in 2011, the board introduced the 10 per cent contribution for all the members who were not public servants and were not above 55 years of age.
“The recommendation that all board members who received and continue to receive the 10 per cent is an illegality was arrived at in contravention of rules of natural justice. Had the committee accorded me that opportunity, they would not have made such a recommendation,” said Mugole.
He said that the recommendation if adopted is susceptible to being challenged before courts of law on grounds of not according him a fair hearing.
Hon. Werikhe said that he received an appointment letter from the Minister of Finance on 04 February 2019 that clearly stated the remuneration of the board members.
“I missed the opportunity to be heard, so I was not able to raise some of the issues,” he said.
Kunihira appealed to MPs to accord them a fair judgement.
Some of the legislators agreed that the accused should have been accorded a fair hearing while others said that the committee’s recommendation should be adopted.
Hon. Fox Odoi Oywelowo (NRM, West Budama North East County) proposed standing over debate of the recommendation saying that the report is critical and must be preserved.
“According to the law, the accused has to get an invitation to be heard and they must be given time to prepare their defence but the MPs were not accorded a fair hearing within the ambit of the law,” said Odoi Oywelowo.
Bugiri Municipality Member of Parliament, Hon. Asuman Basalirwa however, suggested an amendment stating that adopting the recommendation in the current state will affect the entire report.
“We need to establish whether our colleagues were part of these illegal payments or they were mere beneficiaries. If they were mere beneficiaries, how do we handle that?” Basalirwa said.
Bunyole East County MP, Hon. Yusuf Mutembuli advised against adopting the recommendation saying that the current board appeared before the committee and yet the members accused of the illegality are former board members.
“If you make a recommendation and it is going to affect an individual, you must make sure that individual will be heard. We shall debate all these issues and what happens, the matter goes to court and the recommendation will be quashed,” said Mutembuli.
Hon. Emily Kugonza (NRM, Buyanja East County) said that the board members erred in determining their own emoluments and should refund the money.
“Any board member who served since 2011 should be held culpable. The law is clear that determination of board remuneration is to be done by the Minister of Finance,” he said.
Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi (FDC, Budadiri County West) said that the board’s decision was illegal while those who received the money committed a crime.
“There is nothing we should shy away from. We should focus on appointment letters. The one who paid illegaly must be held liable and the one who received should also be held liable,” said Nandala Mafabi.
Hon. Jonathan Odur (UPC, Erute County South) said that the board members should refund the money with interest since the workers’ savings attract interest.
“Inside dealings and matters of corporate governance are very serious. It cannot be left that the board sits and shares workers money. They must be dealt with,” said Odur.
Mwine Mpaka said that the aim of the probe was to recover savers’ funds.
“The current board testified that they received this money and it was illegal. This committee works on behalf of Parliament and if we feel those recommended to refund the money should not, it is entirely up to you,” said Mwine Mpaka.
On 19 January 2023, the House resolved to institute a committee to inquire into the operations of NSSF following reports of corruption and mismanagement of the Shs17.9 trillion fund.