5,000 Signatures to compel NSSF Uganda to Release 30% of our savings

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COVID-19 pandemic is currently ravaging the world with most countries on lockdown. In Uganda, the lockdown has led to school closures and disrupted school calendars, led to business closures and massive disruption of programs by non-governmental organisations and other private entities.

The lockdown has been a welcome move that has led to the lowering of COVID-19 spread in Uganda compared to its neighbouring countries. However, it has led to some consequences that ought to be noted with concern. It has led to the loss of jobs for many as companies and organisations try to manage financial deficits to stay in business or in operation – though there are no statistics to indicate a number of jobs lost since February 2020 to-date due to COVID-19 occurrence. Livelihoods have been distorted and reversed with most of the active population lying idle as they stay home. This has sent shock waves across the 42 million Ugandans – most of whom previously dwelt below the poverty line or fence-sitting and now have slipped below it due to the huge challenge of sustaining families  - immediate and extended family members now idle at home.

Though the government of Uganda has selectively provided food items to the population of Kampala and Wakiso – in a move that many views as political and an attempt to soften the hearts of these groups towards supporting the ruling government as it appears to care for them in this time of need, the rest of the country has remained hoping for some kind of rescue from their caring government, yet nothing seems to come by. The few individuals with stable incomes in this country, largely NSSF savers working with small businesses, companies and non-governmental organisations, have shielded government from what would be a massive uproar by taking on additional responsibilities to keep their relatives and immediate families afloat during this season. This most-productive group in our society needs to be rescued from this heavy burden by making the necessary amendments and arrangements to release some of their savings to them.

The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) is a quasi-government agency responsible for the collection, safekeeping, responsible investment, and distribution of retirement funds from employees of the private sector in Uganda who are not covered by the Government Retirement Scheme. The Uganda National Social Security Fund is the largest pension fund in East Africa with assets of USh11.5 trillion (approx. US$3.115 billion), as of November 2019. An appeal to NSSF was rightly made by the Inter-Religious Council, a group of elder’s representing various religious groups and fostering unity among Ugandans, to release some of its savings to its savers to rescue them against mounting pressures, cushion those who’ve lost their jobs or have their businesses failing at this time of critical need. The same appeal has been made by several Mps and workers, but they seem to have landed in deaf ears of those managing and administering the fund.

Though NSSF is doing great with CSR activities like providing 5000 COVID-19 test kits to the Ministry of Health and offering amnesty to some businesses facing economic stress during the COVID-19 outbreak, this petition seeks to amplify the voice of IRC and workers MPs to compel NSSF management and government of Uganda to take on the following measures;

1.    Table an amendment to the NSSF Act, Cap 222 to Parliament of Uganda to allow for partial release of savings (30 %) to its 1.5 million savers. This will be a rescue package that would go to millions of Uganda’s who directly depend of the earnings of these 1.5 million savers.

2.    NSSF to halt mandatory collection of savings during this lockdown period for all companies and organisations making these mandatory payments and allow savers to earn their full pay without deductions during this trying times of COVID-19 pandemic.

3.    NSSF to make arrangements to offer part of its CSR budget to its savers as a token of appreciation for their efforts over the years since NSSF was formed in 1985.

4.    NSSF to look into offering a package to workers who have lost their jobs and need immediate rescue during this COVID-19 period and beyond, until such a time that they have a job and can sustain their livelihoods.

5.    NSSF staff to look in to cutting down their operations budgets and salaries to help sustain the scheme and avoid depleting savings – just like other organisations contributing to NSSF have done so to keep their programs running sustainably.

The petitioners are aware of the issues raised by NSSF management, especially in regards to the lack of a legal regime to release the funds. In his own words, Richard Byarugaba wrote in his letter responding to the public’s concern to release some savings that, “we empathize with Fund members in the face of the uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand the sentiments regarding the need for partial payments from the Fund. However, the fund has no legal basis upon which to make ad hoc payments as being suggested”. This petition, therefore, seeks to have this bottleneck addressed by Uganda’s legislatures and the executive that is standing with us in times of need.

If NSSF is truly a social security fund, a form of SafetyNet to its savers, this is the chance for the scheme to show its intent and purpose of serving its savers. The petitioners herein need a partial payoff and rescue to those who’ve lost their jobs, considering fair terms that will be agreed upon and in consultation with our countries economists to have this work smoothly without incurring unintended consequences for our economy.

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