Uganda: Minister Amongi Speaks Out On Disagreement With Nabbanja, Byarugaba Interdiction and the Shs 6 Billion

Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Betty Amongi Akena speaks to NBS Television’s Canary Mugume about her suspicions regarding the management of the National Social Security Firm (NSSF) that have led to the parliament probe.

The board recommended Richard Byarugaba to be re-appointed despite him clicking retirement age. Why did you not go by the board’s recommendation?

I did not accept the recommendation of the board because I wanted clarity on some of the allegations that I had received from several sources. So the number of issues that are contained in my letter related to financial impropriety undertaken under the former MD Richard Byarugaba actually came from the staff of NSSF, some of whom are very close to him, they gave me briefs. And beyond reasonable doubt, I know there has been mismanagement but as a Minister, I don’t have the mandate to determine that, that is why I requested to defer the re-appointment (of Richard Byarugaba) and allow investigations to go on.

Is that the same reason you rejected or disregarded the letter from the Prime Minister re-appointing Richard?

Article 117 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states very clearly that the minister shall be answerable to the President. This is a very important matter. I annexed all my evidences. I also went to sit with the Right Honourable Prime Minister. I discussed with her the evidence that I had, and she agreed with me that an investigation should be conducted. However, her position was that investigation can continue while Mr. Byarugaba is in office, however, as a lawyer, I must do something legal. I had to step in to interdict him.

But the Prime Minister is your boss. You still did not follow her directive, you never listened to her.

Yes. She is my boss and as a boss she can give you me directive. But I must exercise that directive within the legal framework.

The President wrote you a letter saying that before you make a decision you should consult quietly but we now see letters authored by you, out there on social media. Did you intentionally leak them?

When Mr. Richard Byarugaba realised that I was no longer going to re-appoint him until the investigation is conducted, upon receipt of the a copy of my letter, deferring his appointment, he started a smear campaign against me, including using people to leak my letter and I got the intelligence report, and I want the people out there to know that every single plot and smear campaign and the plan that was going on, I was briefed on a daily basis by intelligence.

Let’s talk about the 6 billion shillings request, was it by you? Did you have personal interests in it?

The actual truth is that when the new law came into force in February 2022 and the budget got to my table, the statistics were very clear that these are the same activities that NSSF has been undertaking. Then Richard himself wrote to me, indicating that these activities have been undertaken by the fund, I called for a meeting for budget approval, and we agreed with him and the management team that since we are now going into voluntary, it would require us to go to reach out and register 75% of the total working population in this country, therefore, I used their figure of 5.6 billion which was budgeted for, in the previous financial years to implement the new law. The only activity I added was the one related to diaspora and that is why in all the committee sittings, Richard has been asked to produce a letter where the Minister wanted this money for her ministry. He has failed to produce it, and no nobody has produced, why? Because all of them know that it is the truth. It is legal. It is activities for the fund, and to be executed by the fund, and they know that it is right.

What are your specific issues with the management of NSSF? What concerns do you have about pension towers, Temangalo, the project in Lubowa, NSSF’s investment in the Kenyan securities?

There has been misrepresentation of fact; How people package misrepresent facts and facilitate them all the way through and process money, huge sums of money until it is approved through all the system and they want me as a Minister to approve because I’m the final person to approve, and they want me to approve without questioning or without conducting due diligence. That is my major problem.

In the case of pension towers. I found that they already made a conversion of shs.76 billion, but when I visited to the site by now the Pension hours should have been concluded and should have been handed over. It was not over, so I discovered that there was a crack. Upon inquiring from the board whether they were aware there’s a crack, the board said they have heard about it but they had not been allowed to visit. So I gave the board a task. They never got back to me on what they had concluded. If they had come back to me, I will not have put it as one of the issues today. Before I ordered for that investigation, I asked the board to investigate first because management they had asked for an additional shs.42 billion for pension towers, that money is lying there on their desk waiting for the investigation.

Richard told me about the invitation of the President to launch Lubowa housing estate with 303 units. I told him I cannot attend that event as a minister before I tour it. He organised, and I visited the project with him. During the tour, I was being shown houses and apartments; two bedroom apartments that cost shs.800 million, a bangalow of 4 bedrooms about shs.1.7 billion. etc. The money was not adding up. So, immediately I toured, I refuse to go for that launch. I delegated by Minister of State to go because I knew there was a problem.

Actually, the biggest biggest fallout for me, is not about the shs.6 billion in media. It’s about three things which I did not put in the budget, the shs.400 billion which I rejected to put in the budget, the $1 million for corporate social responsibility, and the shs.112 billion for Yusuf Lule road. Those are the only three things that made former MD Richard run mad and I’m glad he repeated it even in the committee probe.

Is the money in NSSF safe?

When they brought the budget they asked me to approve money that pays fund managers. Now what they do, they get money from NSSF and transfer it to the account of a private person whom they call a fund manager. And they tell you that fund manager to now sources for stocks and equities from Kenya, UK, Tanzania yet these people have been sitting on this money and making profit out of it. And I know so. So, when I got to know, I got my intelligence briefing. Sometimes they put money in dormant accounts and they give to money lenders in town.

What is the role of Kapeeka and General Salim Saleh in all this? You wrote a letter where you mentioned Kapeeka 8 times.

Kapeeka is an industrial park, as a minister in charge of labor, I requested to visit the industrial park but when I reached there, I found that workers were not registered with NSSF. So I asked Gen.Saleh why his team was not registered? I have actually asked NSSF to come and register them. We discussed with Gen.Saleh how Kapeeka industrial Park can be an example.

Canary Mugume:

Minister, thanks for speaking to us.

Minister Betty Amongi:

Pleasure is mine.