OPINION: Injustices And Human Rights Violations Mixed Up In The Uganda Pension System


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By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

I have been a pensioner of Makerere University since 2009. Almost 13 years later I have not been paid all my retirement benefits. For decades I was one of the hundreds of pensioners of the East African Community who suffered denials of access to their retirement benefits with Public Service Pension Scheme.

Richard Byarugaba-E.D NSSF Uganda

Many deprived pensioners of the East African Community have passed on in poverty. The few still living are in their 70s and 80s and in abject poverty, almost 46 years since the collapse of EAC. Tanzania and Kenya paid their former workers of the EAC way back in 1980.

This means the Uganda Government has been insensitive to the suffering of former workers of the East African Community. May be their money was swindled by officials in the Ministry of Public Service or Social Services, whatever the case might be, or invested in Government projects that collapsed or yielded nothing.

My research on other available retirement benefits schemes (funds) in the country has revealed to me that the majority of the beneficiaries of these schemes that constitute the Uganda Pension System have almost persistently, consistently and perennially suffered pension denials, human rights violations and injustices for decades.

As expected they are old and elderly. Many, deprived of access to their pensions, have ended up dying prematurely due to being neglected by the Government, pension schemes administrators and their relatives.

Loneliness has combined with abject poverty, lack of social, economic and health security to precipitate a high death rate among former workers of Uganda and the East African Community. Not that their money is not there, but because of the insensitivity of those in charge of the pensions, who are yet to experience the challenges of being out of work when you are old or elderly.

Frequently, the purpose of post-retirement social and economic security for retirees is violated as the cost of administering the schemes rises almost supersonically. The same schemes maintain their policy makers and administrators as the supposed beneficiaries suffer poverty, ridicule and uncertain futures.

Most live below poverty line as their money is held up in the schemes, with high potential of being abused, in activities such as investments and loans to even foreign countries, or government borrowing from the schemes for activities such as road building in and outside Uganda, that have nothing to do with post-retirement social, economic and health security of the retirees.

This article seeks to establish whether the pension idea has worked effectively in Uganda, by benefiting the absolute majority of beneficiaries. Success is seen in terms of people accessing their retirement benefits as and when they need them.

Failure is seen in people not being enabled to access their benefits as and when they need them, and instead all sorts of roadblocks being erected to prevent justice, while the money is used for other purposes.

For a long time the Uganda Pension System had no Regulatory Authority. But almost eleven years ago Government of Uganda, by an Act of Parliament, established the Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA). This has brought order where there was disorder in the Pensions subsector.

However, in his article “Advancing Social Protection in Uganda: an Examination of the Uganda Retirement Benefits Sector Legal Regime: Challenges and Opportunities”, Ngabirano (2018) noted that inadequate protection of retired workers was still prevalent, high administrative costs were draining the effectiveness of pension schemes, with high potential for corruption, and liberalization of the retirement benefits sector was drawing funds away from the beneficiaries to causes that do not benefit retirees.

Besides, the pension system of Uganda still suffers small coverage, inadequacy, sustainability challenges, insecurity (risks of misappropriation and diversion), inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

In its paper “Uganda economic Update: Reducing multiple vulnerabilities – why Uganda should improve its pension system”, the World Bank (2014) noted that the current pension system of Uganda covers only 5% of the Uganda workforce, of which only 2% are 60 years and above. In fact with plummeting healthcare in the country our population is losing many of our senior citizens to the cruel hand of death. And the population is getting younger.

The World Bank (2014) suggested that a more efficient pension scheme will help Uganda’s elderly better support themselves after retirement, as well as help the country avoid the financial pressure that normally arises as the number of public pension recepients rises.

The Bank also noted that the story of retirees has remained the same: long periods without pension, and travelling to and from pension schemes offices chasing for an ever distant animal: pension. It is not lying. I saw this with my own father, the late Charles Afunaduula, and father-in-law, the late Dawson Egulwa, both of whom worked in the medical corps of the Kings African Rifles (KAR) during and after the Second World War II.

They trekked between their homes in Nawaka and Kananage respectively and Bombo and Kampala in search of their pensions without success. Dawson Egulwa passed on in 2000 and Charles Afunaduula without a coin, after serving humanity with one heart. When I recently sought to know why these people should not be paid their pensions posthumously, I was told that Government closed that ex gratia payment.

I had known for a long time that the British Government had released funds to the Uganda Government to pay the World War II veterans, but my efforts to get pension justice from the Armed Forces Pension Scheme for the two old men proved futile. It is not easy to get justice for the dead. Only God can get justice for them at his own chosen time.

There is no doubt focus is being cast more on Government borrowing from the pension schemes, loaning money to foreign countries and investing in things that do not benefit retirees, than ensuring that retirees improve their social, economic and health circumstances in retirement.

www.independent.co.ug of 27 November 2020 said NSSF was lending mainly to Government of Uganda by buying treasury bonds through the bank of Uganda, and that it was now ready to lend to local governments directly.

AllAfrica.com of 15 June 2012 reported that NSSF was ready to lend to Government of Uganda for roads and railways.

New Vision of 14 October 2021 reported that NSSF lent money to Kenya , Tanzania and Rwanda. This could not be without instigation by the Uganda Government.

The East African newspaper reported that by July 2021 Pension Scheme netted $125m in investment return, and that by end of July that year, The Uganda Pension Fund overall investment stood at Shs1. 847 trillion ($519.8m).

The Observer of of March 2019 asked, “Where do Pension Schemes invest our money?” Most schemes invest in government securities 99%, meaning Government ends up benefitting far more than the beneficiaries do collectively and individually.

This could explain why Government is not happy when the owners of pension demand for it, as we saw during the worst time of Covid-19 pandemic. It also explains the real beneficiary of long delayed pensions payment: Government.

So if URBRA is to be effective and relevant to the retirees, it must cut the long fingers of Government. It is clear Government is uninterested in a socioeconomically secure population of retirees.

By withholding their pensions, Government is not only denying the economy the enterprise of the elderly, but is actually sending them early to their graves. So who took their money, finally?

Uganda’s Pension System is unjust. Increasingly, membership of the various pension schemes (see below) is clogged by workers predominantly from one region, reflecting unequal opportunity for employment. This means that, ultimately, the pension money will flow to one region far more than to other regions of Uganda well into the future.

There will be far more secure social, economic and health security for retirees from the region with the greatest number of workers in both private and public sector. So, if we are fighting to erase sectarianism in Uganda, this will not be a fruitful fight unless sectarianism in employment is conquered.

A situation whereby most pension funds flow to one region is dangerous. It portends social and economic segregation well into the future. The mushrooming body politic of retired people with enormous pension funds will definitely dominate other regions with their accumulated financial power.

Unfortunately, our present leaders are so taken to greed and selfishness in pursuit of personal political, economic and social gain, that they do not see the coming avalanche of financial power waiting to conquer and dominate other regions. This is the price of a Pension System designed predominantly for one region. I don’t know how the country will go about deconstructing the pension system to make it beneficial to all Ugandans.

The main Retirement Benefits Schemes (or Funds) composing the Uganda Pensions System are: The Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS); The Public Service Pension Scheme (PSPS); The National Social Security Fund (NSSF); and the Parliamentary Pension Scheme (PPS). Others exist.

They are not interlinked. All are approved by the Minister of Finance. A good example of such a schemes approved more recently is the Makerere University Retirement Benefits Scheme (MURBS) to which I belong, or belonged, and which for 13 years (from 2009 to present) has not paid all my retirement benefits.

I want to end this article by touching on pension issues in Makerere University in general and on MURBS in some detail for the benefit of the retirees and potential retirees of Makerere University.

I am qualified to do this because as Secretary General of Makerere University Academic Staff Association (1997-2002) I was at the heart of academic staff issues, including pension. Besides, experience is the best teacher, and knowledge hidden from other is useless, even to the one hoarding it.

I have suffered longest denial of the full package of retirement benefits since 2009. Even as I write I am awaiting to be paid my remaining retirement benefits, which have come in small bits. Since they have been making profit, it would not be far-fetched to ask to be explained how I have gained from the long delay other than suffering denial and injustice.

According to MURBS itself, the scheme was established by Makerere University (the sponsor) and the irrevocable trust with effect from 1st April 2009. It was incorporated under the Trustees Incorporation Act and established in April 2010. It is governed by by a Trustee Deed adopted 10th September 2009 (as amended effective 17 April 2015). It is licensed by URBRA.

At its establishment in April 2010, it did not have a lot of money, but as of June 20 2020, with a membership of 3777, its fund value amounted to UGX 209.6 bn. With a membership of 5984, it constituted a fund amounting to UGX 255 billion as of 30th June 2021. This can only be going up.

Its governance structure, which is self-supporting, consists of a Board of Trustees (Chair, Secretary and three Trustees) and a full-fledged paid Secretariat, consisting of Principal Pensions Officer, Assistant Principal Pensions Officer (general administration), Assistant Principal Pensions Officer (Finance and Investment Administration) and MURBS Administrator.

However, like all other pension schemes in the country, it suffer a backlog of unpaid beneficiaries, inadequacy, unsustainability and ineffectiveness in terms of beneficiaries’ satisfaction.

When many beneficiaries heard that MURBS had an Officer for investment, they got worried that, like was the case with NSSF, which spent time and energy hatching profits from the money saved with it, by investing in government bonds and private firms, and by even extending loans to outside countries, MURBS would ignore settling the claims of its retired members for investment. I am not sure if the fund lends money to Makerere University, but this would make more sense than lending it to other institutions in the country.

Indeed by October 2021, so many beneficiaries of MURBS had passed on without being paid their retirement benefits, even after making trips in search of their pensions. The requirements for one to get one’s pension were prohibitive and injurious psychologically for the old claimants.

I shared my own story of waiting, hoping and in the end seeing many of my plans halted, with Daily Monitor of October 10th 2021 under the title “The Plight of A Makerere University Pensioner” by Joan Salmon.

In that article, I deplored the practice of paying elderly retirees small bits, which ends up condemning them in a sea of poverty, as we cannot do so much with those bits to change our circumstances. It is as if it is a plot against the elderly to send us early to our graves.

There are a few elderly who will be assured of constant, persistent and continuous care from children, relatives and friends. However, as they grow older, they are left on their own. Loneliness, deprivation and poverty will finish them off.

In the article cited above a one Wilber Naigambi, Secretary of MURBS, revealed that the issue of unpaid benefits affected 2178 staff members, of whom 1200 had retired. And in the same article, the University Secretary, Yusuf Miranda, clarified that, though phased out in 2009, the In-House Retirement benefits scheme (IHRBS) , a non-contributory pension fund, was a University initiative to avail to retired stuff with a retirement package.

But as far as I remember, this was after both academic and administrative staff protested that their pension money was being squandered. At the fore of putting sense where there was nonsense in the pension scheme of Makerere University was Dr. Augustine Nuwagaba, whom I used to interact a lot with in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration (SWSA), where I was teaching a Masters Course in Environmental Planning and Management from 1997 -2008).

Obviously we used to have a lot of discussion on staff issues. I was not surprised to hear that he led the crusade for the creation of MURBS to liberate all staff from exploitation by a few greedy individuals.

One thing is true. Retirement benefits schemes of Makerere University have been marred with conflicts, and these begin with and end with government, which never releases funds to the University to pay the elderly former staff, and when it does, it releases the funds in meaningless bits.

This is the reason why, according Wilber Naigambi, MURBS is continually urging the university , even if government committed to pay, over 5 years, to expedite the process because the beneficiaries are old and do not have a long time to wait.

Sadly, while government is busy getting pension money to invest in its own projects, and even convincing pension schemes to lend money to outside countries, it continues to say the times are not good and so they can only do so much.

This of course is dishonest. If we can invest heavily in building the roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo, we can use the vast resources of the pension schemes to financially empower our elderly to invest in the economy and sustain themselves.

It is unlikely that the priority of Government is retired people, or in making them participate in the economy. It is not so much concerned about the plight retirees as it is with politics and security.

Otherwise, Makerere University has had bitter rows with institutions it chose to deposit staff pension money with. At one time the bitter row was with National Insurance Corporation Limited (NICL), and at another time it was with NSSF, and the rows were in form of court battles.

In 1996 the university decided to start a special scheme for Senior Academic and Administrative staff, which were then about 3600 in number. It called the Scheme Deposit Administrative Plan (DAP). It was a special scheme, which exempted Senior Makerere University Staff from paying NSSF contributions.

It was a continuation of the Makerere Superannuation Fund and the Retirement Benefits Scheme that was started in 1968 to cater for retirement and death of Senior Academic and Administrative Staff. Under DAP members were entitled to death benefits surrender value if a member left employment irrespective of age, retirement benefits payable in a lumpsum, with an option to convert to annuity and declared interest of 10%.

The University deposited the DAP funds with National Insurance Corporation Limited (NICL). But then on 18th October 2005, Makerere University decided to terminate DAP with NICL, which did not go well with the NICL leadership. Court battles ensued. NICL was furious over UShs14 bn Makerere University Pension money. Somehow the matter was resolved and the University was able to pay it’s 3600 Senior Academic and Administrative staff their DAP money.

Although MURBS was born in 2010, almost simultaneously with the birth of URBRA, it did not get approved by the Ministry of Finance as a Superannuation Fund until October 2018. Prior to this, NSSF sued Makerere University over non-remittance of monthly staff social security contributions between 2003 and 2008.

It argued that MURBS to which Makerere University was making the mandatory 15% remittances for the vast bulk of the staff was illegal (UGX 27bn). This could have prompted the Ministry of Finance to approve MURBS to halt a looming crisis between NSSF and Makerere University.

In her article “Makerere Withdraws 900 staff from NSSF” in the Daily Monitor of 13 October 2021, Damalie Makhuye revealed that Makerere University was determined to have all its staff save with MURBS by withdrawing its remaining 910 staff from NSSF. Indeed during its 153rd Meeting of 6th October 2018, the University Council resolved that Makerere University should effective July 1st start remitting all the staff benefits to MURBS.

This in effect meant workers were no longer eligible to register and save with NSSF. However, unlike what it did when it was creating DAP, by withdrawing the funds on behalf of the 3600 Senior Academic and Senior Staff from NSSF and transferring them to NICL, this time round the university behaved differently towards its junior staff.

It simply stated, “It is the choice of the staff who have been saving with NSSF to withdraw their money and save it by themselves, eat it or transfer it to MURBS”. This was discriminatory, and left many wonder if the University only cares for Senior Staff, yet Senior Staff are helpless without junior staff.

Leaving the junior staff to the corrupt NSSF machinery, which is tiptoeing on mid-term claims for its beneficiaries, and did completely nothing for them during the worst of Covid-19 pandemic, was inappropriate.

We know NSSF is more interested in investing in things and loaning out savers money than helping its savers to overcome social, economic and health challenges. Otherwise, understandably, the University has sought help from the Ministry of Finance and URBRA to pursue an out of court settlement with NSSF.

If You asked me to tell you if the Uganda Pension System is a just one, I would tell you without hesitation that the pensions area is one of the worst theatres of human rights violations in Uganda, where you will be hard put to find justice.

If you asked me whether the Uganda Pension Scheme has been a success or failure story, I would tell you that if a system boasts more of human rights violations and injustices, then the phrase “success story does not apply.

For God and my Country.

The Writer Is a Ugandan Scientist And Environmentalist

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