Can’t MPs fight for all workers besides NSSF?

Special Correspondent

Workers’ MP Sam Lyomoki has issued a passionately combative statement in support of paying 20% of NSSF savings to savers who have attained the age of 45 years, and also calling on members to be ‘vigilant’ as parliament debates the amendment of the Fund’s Act which is before the House. Different observers have also weighed in on the subject. But it is Lyomoki’s statement that I find quite revealing about Uganda’s economy and political representation.

Less than 1% of the workers

Quoting an audit report, Dr Lyomoki explains that NSSF savers who would benefit from the 20% payout proposal are only 150,000 – just a small fraction of the NSSF membership of 1.5million. Looking at Uganda’s workforce which is estimated at 19 million people, the 150,000 become an even tinier fraction, less than one percent of the workforce.

Whether one supports or opposes the proposed 20% NSSF payout becomes a peripheral issue in this perspective. It is indeed pathetic that in a crisis that has seen millions of workers failing to work, Parliament can be asked to look at the savings of less than one percent of the workers as an important measure to solve the predicament of 19 million workers. Posho and beans for Kampala’s downtrodden we have heard, but I am not aware of what financial solution the parliament is proposing for the workers.

Other are paying everybody

Could it be because the grounding of airplanes and closure of borders worldwide has made the popular bench-marking trips overseas impossible, that Ugandan MPs have missed hearing about the stimulus packages in other countries? Very quickly, let us bring ourselves up to speed with a couple of them. In the US, every adult was entitled to $1,200 (sh4.5million) and $500 for kids. In Britain, while the civil servants are getting their salaries without working, the self-employed are to get 2,500 pounds (sh12.5million) per month of lockdown. Of course, every country should pay according to its ability. So can parliament discuss Uganda’s ability to help workers who are not working instead of being obsessed with dismantling the savings of an unlucky less than 1 percent of the workers?

And this is not to say that there are no Ugandans who have suggested this. It is in fact just another revelation about Uganda’s economy and political representation – the disconnect between academia and policymakers. For MUBS’ Professor Wasswa Balunywa went on record and suggested that the government puts (a one-off) free fuel in every boda boda’s tank as stimulus and also give something like 100k to every small scale enterprise. This he said at the PSFU e-conference that was ‘attended’ by 15 million Ugandans. So while we commend the MPs for being so concerned about the 150,000 NSSF contributors aged 45-55, it would be noble for them to seek financial relief for all the 19 million workers.

There is nothing wrong for the government paying out cash to the 19 million workers. It is already paying full salary to about half a million workers of its own when they are not working. It is about 150,000 of the government’s workforce who are on duty. But the 400,000 – 450,000 others who are not working are being paid. The private sector workers including the self-employed are not sitting at home out of their wish, they are grounded by the lockdown. The people who got maize and beans in from the government are less than a million.

How to pay all workers

Parliament should be consulting experts on how best every Ugandan worker should be given a cash relief, more urgently than how to pay out a 45-year old’s 20% savings and deprive them of all the compound interest they would be earning over the next ten years from it! Uganda’s government is not rich enough to pay a million shillings per worker. But it can pay 100k for example. This is better than zero for someone who is not earning, being worth 50kgs of maize flour for instance. That would work out to two trillion shillings, about the total of supplemantaries in a year which the speaker indicated are questionable and invited the public to question them.

If two trillion was paid to the workers, at least it would be known where it has gone and the speaker need not be worried. And let nobody suggest that there is no way of identifying the recipients, unless they want to argue the elaborate, expensive databases in NIRA, NITA, UCC are a sham. If some recipients spend their 100k in one day, that will be good for the entrepreneurs around them who would receive the money.

Is it reckless to pay all workers a stimulus when they are out of work in lockdown? It is only moral. After all, it is their taxes which they pay when they are working that pay the half a million government workers who are not even working now. If the government is looking around for the money to pay the grounded private sector/self-employed workers, one of the logical sources would be cutting from the public sector workers’ salaries by half or three quarters, so that those who pay the government staff salaries can also get something. Isn’t it just fair? Those are the things that MPs should be discussing, rather than dismantling a few people’s savings.

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