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New NSSF boss begins to feel heat

People want to bring me down - Byarugaba

The NSSF top job is living up to its reputation as one of the hottest seats in the country, with anonymous emails demanding an inquiry into Richard Byarugaba's leadership, hardly six months after he took over.

But the former Global Trust Bank Managing Director insists he has nothing to hide, saying those affected by his sweeping changes at the Fund are fighting back.

We're absolutely open. If there is someone who doesn't think we are open, our doors are open for any investigation, he told The Observer.

An unknown individual has written to MPs on the parliamentary committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises, asking them to investigate, among other things, circumstances under which Byarugaba secured his appointment.

Elijah Okupa (Kasilo county MP), a member of the committee, told The Observer that when parliamentary business resumes on March 22, the allegations will be examined.

Byarugaba is also accused of upping his salary and allowances from Shs 32m per month to Shs 56m.

But the MD swears that he earns Shs 32m and neither he nor the minister of Finance, Syda Bbumba, has raised - or harbours intentions of raising - his salary.

I forwarded the salary I was receiving at my previous job to the minister and that is what was approved, Byarugaba told The Observer in an interview on Wednesday, explaining that, in any case, the salary increment procedure is transparent.

The dossier alleges that that the right person who won the interview for NSSF managing director was denied [the] job.

The author, who alleges that money exchanged hands, further claims that the former acting MD, Grace Isabirye, was edged out by the board in favour of Byarugaba, even after emerging best candidate in the interviews.

But, the NSSF board chairman, Vincent Ssekkono, who presided over the interviews of candidates for the Fund's top job, told The Observer that such claims were false.

Explaining that the board executed interviews, made recommendations and forwarded the best candidate to the minister for approval, Ssekkono said: It is the minister of Finance who approved the current NSSF MD.

For us, our role was to interview and recommend the candidate for appointment.

Ssekkono, who did not tell us which candidate the board recommended for the job, said that if the MPs summon them (the board) to explain the matter of this appointment, they will appear.

Attempts to talk to Isabirye, who has since left the Fund, have failed since last week.

NSSF's public relations officer, Victor Karamagi, whom we approached last Saturday after our calls to Isabirye failed to go through, told us that the former Chief Investment Officer had changed phone numbers and now prefers to live a quiet life.

On his part, Byarugaba told The Observer that he did not bribe or influence anybody to hand him the MD position.

I didn't bribe anybody. I was not even there. I was just selected after emerging as the best person for the job, he said.

Another accusation against Byarugaba, who joined NSSF last September, revolves around the recent restructuring process at the Fund and the terminations of NSSF staff for no reason.

However, Byarugaba told us the restructuring process was meant to cut expenditure in order to tame wastage of workers' contributions.

Arguing that many branches had between 20 and 50 NSSF staff doing literally nothing, Byarugaba said the Fund needed to reduce staff from that huge number to 18 in busy branches and five in the less busy ones.

In some branches, two officials handled one benefit daily. So, what were the rest doing? There were a lot of staff and we needed to reduce them, and some people were not happy with this change, he said.

Asked whether some of his former colleagues at the Global Trust Bank were given a green light to exploit this restructuring process to join the Fund, as the whistleblower had alleged, Byarugaba denied the claims.

He said that only his personal assistant, Elizabeth Onyas, with whom he has worked since his days at Nile Bank and Barclays Bank, was picked from Global Trust Bank to fill a vacant position.

Apart from her, there is no one from Global Trust Bank here.

What we did during the restructuring process was to advertise the jobs internally, and then externally if we failed to get people internally, Byarugaba explained.

Arguing that it is the board that recruits workers and that he only plays an arbitration role in the exercise, Byarugaba told us: There are people who don't want what we do.

I am a straight forward person. I have a board. Surely, I don't hire people, and I don't interfere. The only time I intervene is when we are recruiting senior people.

Byarugaba added that there are some people within the Fund who want to pull him down, and that such elements are using every avenue available, including Parliament, to orchestrate his downfall.

They don't want us to succeed, but everyone knows that there is progress. I am not one of those people who can be easily cornered by these PHDs - I mean the 'pull-him-down' sorts of people, he said.

The whistle-blower paints a gloomy picture of NSSF and pleads with lawmakers to quickly investigate the Fund.

In its March 13 edition, Sunday Monitor reported about a similar dossier, which they said a whistle blower had sent to Byarugaba through e-mail.

The MD insists that all the allegations are far-fetched.

The dossier comes shortly after Justice John Bosco Katutsi (who has since retired) of the Anti-Corruption Court, on March 9 handed former NSSF MD, David Chandi Jamwa, a 12-year jail sentence for causing financial loss to the Fund.

dtlumu@observer.ug

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