If only Ugandan MPs read a bit more!

By Joachim Buwembo – SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

If you are one of the 1.5m savers with NSSF, you have probably already received in your inbox the letter from the MD about the Fund management’s support for payment of midterm benefits. The amendment to the NSSF Act seeking to make this possible has been around in bill form for some three years. Members of the relevant committees should have been conversant with it for that long and been working towards making the rest of the legislature appreciate the purpose of what it proposes. Understandably during those three years, MPs have had other urgent amendments to handle including removing the presidential age limits. But if they had perused through the NSSF amendment proposals, we wouldn’t be having the current confusion, including people going to court to sue the fund for not doing what it has been seeking legal provision to do, while MPs concentrated on other matters.

You have probably read a ‘popular’ racist essay which says that if you want to hide something from Africans, just put it in writing because they will never read it. The proposals to enable the NSSF to payout some benefits to members when they are still working before attaining retirement age have been in writing, and where never read. It is even suspected that the racist essay purported to have been written by an Apartheid champion was actually written by a frustrated black African to cajole his ‘brodas’ to start reading more if they are to be fully emancipated.

A young assistant this week drew my attention to an extract from my little book which I published in commemoration of Uganda’s Independence Golden Jubillee in 2012 – nearly a decade ago. In the chapter about social security, I sought to explain that while the name NSSF includes the words ‘social security’ the NSSF membership is less than one percent of  Uganda’s population, and provision of social security to all Ugandans is the duty of the government. Focusing on NSSF and mixing it up with the entire concept of social security is what encourages politicians to dodge their duty and emotionally whip sentiments about NSSF, a single player in the wide arena. In the case of Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the government tried to give food relief to the urban poor as part of delivering social security. When it comes to financial bailout for workers who are not working, the attention must be on helping all 19 million workers, not making 1.5 million to dismantle their retirement savings. By Uganda standards, my ‘ka-book’ “The Ugandan Paradox was well circulated and at least a few MPs should have read it if they are a representation of the society and not many books are published in this country for a year.

The long and short of this is that a small module to sensitize all our MPs on the concept of social security is urgently needed. Possibly the Labour-Gender ministry or the Retirement Benefits Authority should organize this. In this day and age, you still hear MPs mixing up terms like pension with NSSF. Someone should explain contributory retirement schemes, providence funds, related insurance policies, and non-contributory terminal benefits like the hefty but little-talked about one the MPs enjoy or what government employees get from the taxes paid by especially NSSF members.

If I were in a prospector or exploratory mood, I would propose to write a brief manual spelling out these things for the MPs. But there are more qualified persons who can do this, and whose job it actually is, to do it. What is left for me to do is to quote my own book,  in Tamale Mirundi style , and recommend MPs to pick a copy at Aristoc.

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