The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among, yesterday extended the debate on mismanagement at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to tomorrow after the minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ms Betty Amongi, who is also the political supervisor of NSSF, made no show at Parliament.
Speaker Among had told the MPs that Ms Amongi was on her way to Parliament, but later on changed and said she was not available and would make her defence tomorrow and subsequently adjourned the House.
Busiro East MP Medard Ssegona Lubega had sought the Speaker’s indulgence on the matter and said it would not be appropriate to conclude debate on the issues raised in her absence and only allow the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) to speak. He said by law, once the LoP speaks, the debate is sealed.
“The LoP seals the debate from our end. Wouldn’t it be procedurally right that you find pleasure in suspending the debate until that time when ‘my daughter’ Betty Ongom Amongi comes and makes her presentation on this?” Mr Ssegona said.
Ms Among shortly after said the minister could read the Hansard and get all the records before she makes her statement in regard to the scandal.
“Ms Amongi can actually get the Hansard of today and look at what has been said about her and then she will be given chance to respond on Thursday. Basing on that and since you say he [LoP] seals the debate, I now adjourn the House to Thursday,” Ms Among said.
Amongi’s alleged crime
In its report, the select committee that was investigating the mismanagement notes that whereas the minister was empowered to approve the budget with or without amendment, the request for Shs6b interfered with the discretion of the Board in the budget process and amounts to abuse of office by the said minister since the ministry’s activities she sought to be funded by the Board ought to have been funded from the funds appropriated to the ministry.
“The acts of the minister in this case are illegal and appear to contravene Section 4 (3) of the NSSF Act, which obligates the Board to ensure there is secure, profitable and effective financial management of the fund for the benefit of the workers in particular and the country at large,” the report reads.
The committee said the transfer of funds from NSSF to the Ministry of Gender to undertake the ministry’s activities is illegal since it is not guided by law, highly risky and does not benefit the savers and that it represents wastage of savers’ funds and erodes the beneficial value.
It said the activities of the Gender ministry are financed through appropriation under the Public Finance Management Act and, therefore, the minister should explain the matters for which such funding was required, which are not funded through appropriation.
“The minister abused her office within the meaning of law. Abuse of office is a criminal offence under Section 11(1) of the Anti-Corruption Act, 2009, which provides that a person who, being employed in a public body or a company in which government has shares, does or directs to be done an arbitrary act prejudicial to the interest of his or her employer or of any other person, in abuse of the authority of his or her office, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years or a fine not exceeding 168 sixty-eight currency points or both,” the report reads.
Minister Amongi last week told this newspaper that 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.
On the accusations of provisioning Shs6b in the Fund’s budget without referral to the Board, Minister Amongi said she acted within the law, citing Section 29(3) of the NSSF Act, which provides that “the minister [of Gender and Labour] shall, upon receipt of the annual budget or any supplementary budget, approve or disapprove the budget or may approve it subject to such amendment as he or she may deem fit.”
“I made the adjustment to the budget of NSSF within the premise of the law and the justification was clear: implement the provisions in the amended law to enforce compliance and expand coverage,” she said, noting that about Shs257b potential NSSF contributions remain uncollected.
Finance committee on the spot
Prior to the adjournment of the House to tomorrow, Erute South MP Jonathan Odur raised the issue of soliciting money from the NSSF for a foreign trip to Malaysia for benchmarking purposes. He said Parliament has been clear on such soliciting, which compromises the integrity and independence of its operations.
“Madam Speaker, about the corporate social responsibility (CSR). As Parliament, we want to speak with very clean hands and I beg that you support this. The money meant for CSR was used to sponsor some members of this House to Malaysia and the chairman of the committee, because Madam Speaker, you spoke very strongly about committees soliciting money from outside this Parliament.
Ms Among interjected: “Which members?”
“The members of the Finance committee, when they were processing the Bill, the money they used for traveling abroad was money for CSR,” Mr Odur responded.
Ms Among once again interjected and asked whether Parliament did not pay for the trip, and Mr Odur responded: “If parliament paid, then it was double payment.”
At this point, the Speaker directed the clerk to Parliament to find out whether Parliament did or did not pay for the trip to Malaysia.
Mr Odur said: “And that is why I wanted to fault the chairperson that when you are doing investigations, you must be very fair and diligent. I am on the record that money was solicited and we want that money to be refunded,” he demanded.
Ms Among said she will find the details of what transpired and report back to the House tomorrow on the actions taken.
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