Parliament has passed the National Social Security Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which will among others provide midterm access to the contributors and remove restrictions on access for voluntary savings.
While debating the report of the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development on the NSSF Bill on Wednesday, 24 November 2021, the House voted to amend Section 24A of the principal Act to allow workers who are 45 years and above and have saved for at least 10 years to have a midterm access of up to 20 per cent of their savings, whilst Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) who have saved with the Fund for more than 10 years can have access of up to 50 per cent of their accrued savings.
This NSSF Bill was first passed by the 10th Parliament on 17 February 2021 before it was returned to the House by President Yoweri Museveni and later re-tabled by the 11th Parliament after the lapse of business of the previous Parliament.
During the debate of the Bill, MPs agreed that only mandatory contributors are eligible for midterm access subject to their age and years of contribution, while voluntary contributors will have access to their savings as and when they so wish, subject to the prescribed regulations to be issued by the Minister in consultation with the Board.
The new law under section 13A (7) furthers grants the Minister power to prescribe by regulations and in consultation with the Board, the procedure for making voluntary contributions and benefits.
“The law alone does not allow you to access these funds; we shall put up regulations and the board will determine terms and conditions. So, there will be administrative procedures to follow for those who are eligible for midterm access so that things are not done haphazardly,” Hon Betty Amongi, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development said.
The Attorney General, Hon Kiwanuka Kiryowa guided that whereas voluntary contributors will not be subjected to the terms and conditions under Section 24A as amended, the procedures for them to make their contribution or access their savings will be regulated.
“We need to be mindful that this is a fund not a bank so the money is not sitting there. And every time we make these provisions for quick access, it means we are depleting the ability of the fund to invest,” he said adding that, ‘there will be conditions for voluntary savers to guide them on withdrawals but not as of when they want. In that way you will voluntarily enter into the agreement fully aware of when you can get the money’.
The Chief Opposition Whip, Hon John Baptist Nambeshe’s proposal to have midterm access for both mandatory and voluntary contributors was overruled by the Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah saying, ‘A voluntary contributor is not a beneficiary of midterm access because he or she can access all of it and part of it any time. Midterm access is only applicable to mandatory contributors’.
Hon. Fox Odoi-Oylwelowo (West Budama North East County) however, expressed fears that allowing free exit of voluntary contributors could also suffocate the Fund after he envisaged a situation where the voluntary contributors could save more than the mandatory contributors.
The Leader of Opposition, Hon Mathias Mpuuga cautioned the Executive against enacting statutory instruments that will make it unfavourable for voluntary savers.
“We should not legislate and forget the objective; are we intentioned on growing this fund or making it difficult for people to love to be part of the fund?, Since we do not have a liberalized system that encourages people to borrow, one of the baits is one should be able to access their savings when they need it,” Mpuuga said.
On the supervisory role of NSSF, Parliament also voted that the Ministry of Gender takes the lead role in handling social security matters while Ministry of Finance’s role is limited to handling matters on finances and investments of the Fund. This has been one of the most contentious clauses in the Bill
The new law as passed also clipped the powers of the Managing Director by revoking his or her voting right as an ex-officio member of the board to avoid conflict of interest.
As passed, section 13 (A) of the new NSSF Act will also provide a tough deterrent penalty to employers who deduct a voluntary contribution and fail to remit to the fund. In accordance with the new law (as passed), an employer who offends this section will pay 20 per cent of the amount deducted but not remitted.
The Act of Parliament will now await to be assented to by the President in accordance with Article 91 of the Constitution.