Last week, news filtered in about the purported sacking of the country’s largest social savings fund, the NSSF’s Deputy managing director Ms. Geraldine Ssali. Her crime – being ‘abrasive’ her name became prominent in the media when she took over management of the Fund in acting capacity back in 2014.
Hard evidence shows that, the very year of 2014/5 when Ms. Ssali was the lady in charge , the Fund announced and paid the highest interest of 13% on the saver’s money for the fund’s last six years performance, including this years’ where they announced a paltry 11.23%. When the search for a substantive Managing Director job started, it was obvious that she would take the job, alas, the search was characterized with movie like twists and turns and in the end, Mr. Byarugaba had his way, and this is irksome enough.
Consequently, Ms. Geraldine Ssali’s tenure under “Byarugaba II” has played out in court and now the latest episode is that of using the new board that arrived while Ssali was on leave to finally “fix” her. Suddenly, finally the Board under the Chairman she took to court and was found in contempt of court has put her on the chopping board.
Which begs the big question: “How did the board handle issues of conflict of interest when it came to deciding Ssali’s performance against that of her two colleagues who had caused financial loss to the Fund of billions in compensating her? Sadly, even the Corporation secretary who is supposed to be the sanctity of Law, also joined in by going on National Television to stop his boss from accessing her office despite a court order has also been rewarded 5 years’ contract. Are we saying the board of a public body rewarded their impunity and are punishing people who run to court to defend themselves against injustices?
The Board’s decision smacks victimization to say the least. I am hardly alone in this realization. How do you convince the public that the same Deputy Managing Director who presided over record high return on savings all of a sudden falls below your performance expectations? I recall no moment in public space when the same board put it on record that it was playing its role in solving the acrimonious relationship between the top executives at the fund, why then, should we, the public believe the board for this collective condemnation of Ms. Ssali as being abrasive?
One may vividly recall that during 2014 Parliamentary investigations into NSSF’s investments in UMEME, live on national Television when the committee asked Byarugaba if he would work with Ssali again if he was given an opportunity, to which he replied; “Certainly, not!” So why do we then get surprised at the current happenings at this 8 trillion Fund? This is all premeditated revenge on his deputy.
For students of corporate governance this may be a case study of failure of a board to handle top executive conflict and resort to the main stream political trickery where a crash in political ideology sends a principle to fix his opponent, a case in our recent politics is one where the former secretary general of a party after expressing his appetite in his principles position was hounded out of his substantive job by fixing at a national delegates conference. His end was legal but illegitimate.
By the board of NSSF choosing to fix Ms. Ssali through character assessment rather than management performance they set a dangerous precedent for our sisters and mothers who aspire for top executive jobs. This will be a case of gender bias however hard one may try hard to mask it. Before reading Lean In: Women, Work and the will to lead, I didn’t think I agreed with Facebook Chief Operation Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s take on the difficulties of women at work place. As a male, I took most of these obstacles faced by our sisters for granted.
In the case of Ms. Ssali, I know that legally the ultimate mandate of renewing her contract lies with the minister of Finance. The Board has already crossed the Rubicon in endangering gender at the fund, now it’s up to the minister and the collective government of President Museveni which is heavily credited for putting women empowerment to stand up once again and prevail in this case.
Sacking Ms. Ssali at this time when our young girls are searching for role models in the highest offices of corporate governance, is to renegade on our gender equity commitment. Even for the ladies at the fund in middle level and frontline desks, it sends a message that there’s a limit to how much you can aspire.
I have not cared to study the gender balance of the board, but going by this decision it’s easy to tell that decision is based less on the performance and more on the finding a way to please their Board-mate , who ‘certainly does want to work with his deputy’ . The evidence is not even far to find, the same report forwarded to the minister, the Board also proposes extension of Mr. Byarugaba’s statutory term of office from 3 years to 5 years. Who knows if the next move will not be to declare him a life Managing Director?
My message to the NSSF Board is that over the years, the Fund has been a punching bag of bad publicity engineered by causes where there could have been lack of curative advice. On this one, the public is raising a red flag to say it’s not too late. Ask yourselves, when 20 years have passed, was our decision based on merit? And I would argue that for now it’s something different.
Let Hon. Kasaija, the minister of Finance redeem the face of the Fund. Put an end to this debacle of personal biases and prejudices whose only reason is to purge Ms. Ssali.
AGABA RONALD BILLS – Team Leader at Leadership Square Africa @Billsra