A parliamentary select committee has recommended that Gender and Labour minister Betty Amongi resign “with immediate effect” for alleged abuse of office.
It also wants National Social Security Fund (NSSF) ex-Managing Director Richard Byarugaba alongside his deputy-turned-acting successor Patrick Ayota to be investigated with a view of possible prosecution for abuse of office, corruption and conspiracy to commit a felony.
However, Minister Amongi last night said she was going nowhere. “I will not resign. How can I resign when I unearthed the rot at NSSF and the work the committee has done confirms what I have all along been saying; that there has been mismanagement at NSSF for 10 years?” she said by telephone.
On his part, Mr Byarugaba said: “The report is not saying anything new because everything is being investigated by the Inspector General of Government (IGG). I am not working at NSSF; so, how can I step aside”?
“They are still wild [allegations] because when the IGG investigates they will find out I did not [for instance] make the loan for Uganda Clays,” Mr Byarugaba said last night, referring to a finding that providing Shs11b unsecured loan to the loss-making firm was unjustified and illegal.
That money has now ballooned with interest to Shs24b and Uganda Clays has only serviced Shs221m, leaving NSSF with limited recovery options, according to the committee.
This newspaper understands that the report of the inquiries by the Ombudsman done concurrently with the parliamentary inquest, is ready but the details remain under wraps. The contract of Mr Byarugaba, who superintended the Shs17.8 trillion pension fund for 12 years, lapsed on December 1, 2022.
A recommendation by the Fund’s Board that he be rehired for five more years ran into the wall after Minster Amongi, the appointing authority, withheld her signature on grounds that motley allegations levelled by whistleblowers against Mr Byarugaba who, like his deputy Ayota had clocked the retirement age of 60, needed to be investigated first.
The minister, however, signed up Mr Ayota as the substantive deputy managing director and designated him as acting managing director, a decision the committee questioned since impugned decisions happened under the watch of both principals.
In a raft of proposals that handed no victory but punishments to all sides in the contest over alleged mismanagement of the Fund, the committee chaired by MP Mwine Mpaka (Mbarara City South, NRM) asked the NSSF Board led by Mr Peter Kimbowa to be immediately disbanded and replaced.
Mr Mpaka’s team last month investigated claims of corporate, financial mismanagement and structural problems at the pension fund and in a presentation of its findings to Parliament last evening demanded refund – anywhere within seven to 60 days upon adoption of its report – of billions of shillings questionably paid out to staff and board members.
The inquiries were triggered by minister Amongi’s deferral of the reappointment of Mr Byarugaba as the Fund’s chief executive.
After conducting a two-week public inquiry and writing a report away from prying eyes, the committee muted chances of Mr Byarugaba’s return to office by instead recommending that he, Mr Ayota and two departmental heads step aside “with immediate effect” to pave way for their investigation and their “immediate prosecution” by the Ombudsman for provisioning Shs1.8b, ostensibly under duress, in corporate social investment.
“Their justification of succumbing to pressure to commit an illegality is no defence to criminal liability,” the committee noted in reference to the top brass, including Chief Finance Officer Stevens Mwanje and Barbra Arimi, the head of marketing and corporate affairs.
The report adds: “The committee, therefore, recommends that NSSF management that participated in initiation of Shs1.8b budget for donations much as they did not participate in the final approval; MD Richard Byarugaba, DMD Patrick Ayota, CFO Stevens H. Mwanje, Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs Ms Barbra Arimi Teddy, should step aside with immediate effect for investigations by the office of the IGG, for offences of abuse of office, corruption and conspiracy to commit a felony with a view of immediate prosecution”.
The legislators also want the Ombudsman to inquire into the lifestyle of Mr Ayota and Fund top managers, including those in the compliance department.
“I have always said it is okay for the IGG to investigate. For me those recommendations [by the committee] have already been happening to me. The lifestyle audit was already done, maybe you ask the minister (Amongi); she is the one being asked to resign, and the new people who are being talked about,” Mr Byarugaba said.
Mr Ayota was unavailable to speak on the findings and recommendations against him, and he did not reply to short-text messages that our reporters sent on his mobile phone handset by presstime.
In a proposal certain to necessitate revision of the recently amended NSSF Act which provided for dual political oversight, the select committee wants the Fund supervision to revert to Finance ministry with Gender and Labour ministry, under which contributing members fall, retaining only the power to appoint Board members.