NSSF flies employees to Dubai for team building
NSSF The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) management late last year flew 83 staff to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, nearly 7,000 kilometres away, for a team building exercise at Shs332m budget.
Details of the trip, which this publication first learnt about in November 2022, came to light last Friday after members of a parliamentary select committee investigating alleged corruption and mismanagement of the pension fund, questioned its executives over the expenditure.
It also emerged that the finance team flew to Mauritius, while the executive went to Mweya Safari Lodge in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Mr Milton Owor, the head of human resources and administration, informed the committee chaired by MP Mpaka Mwine (NRM, Mbarara City South), that on the trip were 83 employees from his department, also known by the moniker people and culture department.
He said the Fund each year budgets Shs2m per staff for team building and the allocation was not spent in 2021, according to other sources due to Covid-related travel complications, and a similar provision meant the per capita team building allocation doubled to Shs4m.
Rather than retreat for the exercise to Mbarara, Kabale or Jinja cities within Uganda as the team had done for years, Mr Owor said his department staff opted to top up the allocation and emulate other departments at the Fund by taking rids on a plane abroad.
In response, committee chairperson Mpaka said he was not interested in knowing whether staff provided a top-up for the trip, but if savers’ money was drawn to bankroll the trip to Dubai.
“That is what I am explaining, chair. The Fund pays Shs2 million per staff per year. So, all the Shs4m came from the Fund,” Mr Owor said, adding, “We were 83, I think, in the entire department. The Shs4 million was per head.”
He told the committee that they contracted Holidayscapes, a tour and travel company, to handle flight booking, airport transfers, accommodation, and other travel logistics.
“NSSF paid Holidayscapes only Shs200 million, which you signed. So, did it [the company] remain with your balances?” Mr Mpaka asked, referring to the Shs132m difference between budgeted funds and actual spend.
Mr Owor responded that the travel and tour firm was paid, but “I know that some money remained in the Finance department because we (human resources department) don’t touch the money”. He did not disclose how much money remained unspent.
It remained unclear if the Shs200m paid to Holidayscape covered all the cost of the trip, which would suggest Shs132m intended for the flight was not used, or whether the firm still demands more cash from the workers’ fund. A Shs200m payout to the contracted tour and travel firm, less than the Shs332m budgeted, suggests there was likely no reason for the travellers to top up.
We were unable to independently confirm reports that the team-building travel to Dubai lasted about a week.
Mr Victor Karamagi, the NSSF public relations manager, told this publication last evening that he was unable to comment on the costs and required consultations with the Fund’s chief financial officer Stevens Mwanje who was unavailable.
A return ticket (economy fare) from Entebbe International Airport to Dubai costs upwards of $600-$800 (Shs2.2m – Shs2.9m), according to multiple tour and travel companies. With bed-and-breakfast accommodation and airport transfers, a week-long trip to Dubai (inclusive of return ticket) can cost $1200-1,400 (Shs4.4m-Shs5m). This excludes $240 (Shs878,000) for visa.
During the last public hearing session on Friday, MP Richard Gafabusa (NRM, Bwamba County) tasked NSSF management to explain how Shs2 million in a past financial year was carried forward to combine with a new allocation yet unspent money in budget cycle is supposed to be forfeited.
“If you have a budget as a department or end user in NSSF and you don’t spend that money, you lose it. Isn’t that what you said?” he said.
Mr Patrick Ayota, the NSSF acting managing director and substantive deputy, said carrying balances forward is a normal occurrence in accounting standards.
Verbatim: NSSF questioned over staff trip
The select committee of Parliament investigating alleged corruption and mismanagement at NSSF last Friday wrapped public hearing, before its members this week retreated to an undisclosed location to evaluate evidence adduced and deliberate on findings and recommendations. The committee, among others, questioned NSSF’s management about its decision to draw millions of shillings from the workers’ Fund to fly select staff for team building exercise in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
Mwine Mpaka (NRM, Mbarara City South), chairperson of the select committe
[Former NSSF Managing Director Richard] Byarugaba and our very good friend Milton [Owor, the Fund’s head of Human Resources], kindly tell this committee how you decided to take your team to Dubai for team building and how much it cost the saver.
Mr Byarugaba declines to respond, re-directs question to Mr Owor who is responsible for people and culture.
Milton Owor: For the last more than 10 years, the policy and practice at the Fund is that once every year, every employee is allocated a figure of Shs2 million per head [in the budget]. Usually staff use this money to do team building in any places within the country. Over the years, staff decided that if we have a budget of Shs2 million per head, how about if we top up, add another one or two million [shillings] contribution each so that we are able to go, say to [Kenya’s coastal] Mombasa [City] or other countries, at [shared] cost? So, a number of departments have been doing that, God knows for the last how many years!
Richard Gafabusa (NRM, Bwamba County): We have just been here with the Head of Finance (Stevens Mwanje) and his team and they took us through your financial management systems. If you have a budget as adepartment or end user in NSSF and you don’t spend that money, you lose it. Isn’t that what you said? I want clarification on how the Shs2 million per person in your department that was not spent in the other financial year was carried forward to another financial year to make it Shs4 million [per staff for Dubai travel].
Patrick Ayota, acting NSSF managing director: Within the accounting standards, there is something called provisioning where if a commitment is made in the current year, you then provision that you are going to spend it the next year as long as you have enough documentation for that. It is a very common practice and has to pass through your [internal] auditor.
Milton Owor: In our Human Resource Department’s meeting last year, the team agreed that rather than go to Mbarara, Kabale or Jinja like we have been doing every year, let us sacrifice our team building [money] for that year to save Shs2 million so that in the next financial year, when we are allocatedanother Shs2 million, [it adds to] Shs4 million so that we can also go out [of the country for team building] like other departments who can afford to top up. That is what happened. So, during the previous financial year … all departments had their activities of team building except [for] people and culture (HR department) so that Shs2 million was carried forward and in the new financial year, now we all each had Shs4million [in the budget for team building]. Shs4 million is not enough money to take people to Dubai, but as leaders at the department, we had to work with a travel company to find a budget airline which [could] give the lowest airline price and a hotel in downtown Dubai that [could] fit in that budget.
Mpaka asks: Mr Milton, apart from that 2 million that you are talking about and how Members contributed it, there was also money gotten from the Fund for this activity. I am not asking about how they topped up their money, that is up to them but rather I am asking about the money you got from the Fund to take your team to Dubai.
Milton Owor responds:
“That is what I am explaining, chair, the Fund pays Shs 2 million per staff, per year. So, all the 4 million came from the Fund.”
Mpaka Mwine: So, how many people did you take abroad?
Milton Owor: We were 83, I think, the entire department [staff]. The Shs4 million was per head and we [were] 83.
Mpaka Mwine: That is around three hundred something [million shillings] that NSSF gave you?
Milton Owor nods.
Mpaka Mwine: Where did you pay this money?
Milton Owor: The whole thing was organised by a tour company. So, the tour company was responsible for hotels and [booking] tickets, everything … a tour company called Holidayscapes.
Mpaka Mwine: NSSF paid Holidayscapes only Shs200 million, which you signed. So, did it [company] remain with your balances?
Milton Owor: I know that Holidayscapes did not take the full amount [of Shs332m]. I know that some money remained in the Finance department.
Mpaka asks: Where is finance [person inside here]?
No response because the NSSF Head of Finance had left the hall where the public hearing was being conducted after police, on the orders of the committee, seized his mobile phone handset alongside that of Mr Byraugaba. The gadgets were confiscated for forensic examination after the duo offered conflicting accounts to the Members of Parliament regarding Shs1.8b provisioned in NSSF budget for corporate social investment/responsibility.