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Is Richard Byarugaba’s Fight Pointless?

Is Richard Byarugaba’s Fight Pointless?

Former Managing Director of National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Richard Byarugaba on Sept. 27 made his latest attempt at getting back his old job: petitioning the High Court to quash the appointment of his successor and former deputy Patrick Ayota.

Through his lawyer, Byarugaba argued that Ayota was holding a substantive statutory position of deputy managing director on a fixed 5-year term when he was appointed as MD on August 18.

Byarugaba made a new legal challenge through his lawyer Anthony Bazira where he also wants his contract as NSSF MD renewed. Earlier in August, Byarugaba had sued the Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka and the Gender Minister Betty Amongi demanding the latter to complete his re-appointment process as recommended by the NSSF Board. The High Court then granted his wish for an amendment to challenge the appointment of Ayota.

High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana asked Byarugaba to make Ayota a party to the case so that the latter can have a right to respond. Justice Ssekaana said it was in the interest of natural justice for Ayota to be heard as serious matters were being raised that could affect his position. The case is up for mention on Oct. 12. The court decision means that NSSF is bracing itself for a courtroom drama after months of a long-running political saga that held the savings body at ransom.

“That I am in possession of documentary evidence that demonstrates that the purported new amendments were made in a manner where the board was not exercising its independent mind as envisaged by the law,” an affidavit sworn by Byarugaba states.

It is an escalating fight that started in November 2022 when Amongi refused to renew Byarugaba’s contract after a fallout that included high-powered players like Gen. Salim Saleh, President Yoweri Museveni’s brother and kingmaker in government.

In his battle, Byarugaba has found himself caught up in some contradictions: fighting hard to get back into a government he accused of witch-hunting him and being the pension manager who is clinging onto a job after hitting the retirement age of 60.

A week before he went to court, Byarugaba got a reprieve when the Inspector General of Government (IGG) Beti Kamya cleared him of illegally approving a Shs5bn payment to two NSSF board members and staff who retired voluntarily.

However, the IGG’s clearance did not seem to mean much for Byarugaba’s quest to get back at NSSF since what he was being probed for was like a holding charge. The IGG had earlier cleared Byarugaba of more damning allegations of financial impropriety that a parliamentary select committee investigating NSSF matters had referred to the government ombudsman.

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In spite of these triumphs, the NSSF ship seems to have sailed from its former MD of more than ten years in two stints based on the latest developments. As Byarugaba launched his latest salvo, NSSF was holding its annual AGM where it was announcing 10% interest for its savers a leap from what was paid out to members last year at 9.6%.

The former banker turned pension manager has fought a relentless battle to get back at NSSF since he was booted late last year. In August, Byarugaba filed a petition in court to have Minister Amongi appoint him as the NSSF MD as recommended by the Board and required by the law.

Amongi vs Byarugaba

As the impasse of Byarugaba’s contract came into public view, Amongi acting on the orders of Gen. Saleh, emerged as one determined not to renew Byarugaba’s contract. The former MD has been perturbed by Amongi’s decision to stall his contract even after the NSSF Board gave him a green light.

After the board gave him the go-ahead, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja wrote to Gender Minister Amongi on December 7 to reinstate Byarugaba but the minister did not budge. “In my assessment, a consensus has emerged that we should agree with the board recommendations to give a five-year non-renewable performance contract to Mr Richard Byarugaba and Mr Patrick Ayota as Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director respectively,” Nabbanja wrote. The Prime Minister wrote the letter after a meeting chaired at State House by President Museveni over the matter.

Byarugaba was further disturbed by Amongi’s decision to appoint Ayota as Acting MD on December 1, 2022, and leave him hanging. On the same day, Nabbanja wrote to her, Amongi had also written to the NSSF Board Chairperson Peter Kimbowa explaining her decision to defer Byarugaba’s appointment pending a host of allegations she raised against him.

However what stood out for those following the developments at NSSF was the minister referencing a meeting at Kapeeka, Gen. Saleh’s station in Nakaseke. It then became clear who really wanted Byarugaba out of the pension’s body. “This is on top of issues raised by the OWC Chief Coordinator during our meeting on 6/12/2022. This has constrained me from renewing the contract of the MD,” Amongi wrote to the Board. Saleh is the chief coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation.

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Saleh and Amongi’s issue with Byarugaba was a refusal by the latter to grant a request for Shs6 billion for obscure projects Amongi wanted to oversee. Kimbowa the NSSF Board chair while appearing before a parliamentary inquiry into NSSF matters said the Shs6bn was not approved by the board because it did not have a work plan further exposing Saleh and Amongi’s motives.

As Byarugaba set off on his new quest, some pundits wondered whether he was not flogging a dead horse because of who instigated the regime change at NSSF.

In his court filings, Byarugaba argues that even before his second contract could run its course, Amongi attempted to prematurely end it by stating that he should have retired upon reaching 60 years of age. He adds that only with the intervention of the Attorney General was he able to complete his second term of office.

Byarugaba argues that Amongi ignored the February report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the state of affairs at NSSF where he was cleared of financial impropriety allegations. He said therefore the decision not to renew his contract was illegal, irrational, and procedurally incorrect.

He also cited in his court petition his clearance by the IGG where he was being accused of a number of corruption allegations as more reason why he deserves his old job back.

Byarugaba served for over 12 years as NSSF MD. He first served as the NSSF MD from 2010 until 2013 when left amidst a dispute over his reappointment. He bounced back in 2014 until his contract ended in November 2022. The first time he left NSSF, his fight was not as bold as the current one. As of now, Byarugaba is the longest serving MD of NSSF and had a stellar record of growing the Fund’s size to Shs18trillion and to 2million members.

Ayota’s time

For Ayota who has embarked on a five-year term, the jury is out on how he will treat peculiar requests like the one by Amongi and her godfather Saleh as it will be a matter of time before they land on his desk.

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Patrick Ayota

He will be under more scrutiny steering NSSF and he will perhaps be more careful playing his cards. Ayota has risen through the NSSF ranks with a better understanding of the politics surrounding the embattled body. He was Chief Financial Officer (CFO) when then Deputy MD Geraldine Ssali was fighting the battle of her life to keep her job. After Ssali was forced out, Ayota was tapped to replace her. As fate would have it, Ayota succeeded Byarugaba in a similar fashion.

In her maneuvers, Amongi drove a wedge between Ayota and his boss Byarugaba after what looked like a dream team running NSSF. Having been witness to the acrimonious circumstances in which two of his immediate former bosses left NSSF, Ayota will be stealthily watching his back.

The highly coveted job of NSSF MD has over time become a poisoned chalice for those who scoop it. From long winding court cases, corruption allegations, and jail terms, it never seems to end well for those running the workers’ savings scheme.

In October 1998, managing director Abel Katembwe was sacked, and his sacking was triggered by a house the NSSF had bought as his official residence. It cost Shs200 million but after renovation, the total cost had jumped to a hard-to-explain Shs400million.

In 2002 NSSF was involved in another scandal where $1.4m (Shs5.1billion) had been lost under unclear circumstances as Alcon Construction, which had been contracted to build Workers House, was preparing to start work. Dr. Yoram Barongo was sacked due to the botched purchase of Udyam House, among other things.

In 2005, Leonard Mpuuma was fired as NSSF MD for causing a financial loss of Shs 8 billion and abuse of office. David Chandi Jamwa, who took office after Mpuuma was fired and jailed in 2011 for causing the NSSF a financial loss of Shs3 billion. Jamwa also got into trouble for NSSF’s decision in 2008 to buy chunks of land in Temangalo from then security minister Amama Mbabazi at Shs11bn; what many considered an inflated price as a result of political pressure from Mbabazi.

The NSSF ‘curse’ also forced then Gender and Labour Minister Zoe Bakoko Bakuru into exile in the mid-2000s owing to similar troubles.

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