President Yoweri Museveni (pictured) has declined to sign into law the recently passed Parliamentary Pensions Amendment Bill, and asked Parliament to reconsider the contribution Government should make to the savers.
The President’s decision was revealed by Solomon Silwany (Commissioner of Parliament) while speaking to journalists after the conclusion of the business committee ahead of the resumption of parliament from recess.
“We are beginning parliament on Tuesday with the parliamentary pensions bill that was returned by the president to make the assigned correction I think on the contribution of government,” said Silwany.
In his 13th October 2022 letter to Speaker Among, the President questioned why the bill presented to the Ministry of Finance for a report on financial implication proposed to have Government’s contribution raised from 30% to 40%.
“I have been informed that the appropriate quantum for contribution can only be determined by an actuarial valuation of the Parliamentary Pension Scheme. In view of the above, I am returning the bill to Parliament for reconsideration as per article 91(3)(b) of the constitution,” read Museveni’s letter.
The Parliamentary Pensions (Amendment) Bill was first tabled in July by Arinaitwe Rwakajara (Workers MP) with the aim of easing access to the retirement benefits, replace the requirement for a recommendation of the Uganda Medical Board with a recommendation from a medical practitioner approved by the Board, in cases a member or pensioner seeks to use a proportion of their benefits for medical treatment.
Parliament passed the Parliamentary Amendment Bill 2022 on 8th September 2022 and approved a proposal to have the contribution of government increased from 30% to 40% while the savers contribution from 15% to 20% for members interested in voluntary saving.
The Bill approved by Parliament also provided for the benefits of former speakers and deputy speakers that have served from 1980, a walk back from the earlier 2007 position that provided for the benefits to apply to these leaders who had served from 2007.
In the current Act, Speakers or Deputy Speakers who cease holding office after retirement are entitled to 60% of their salary, a car, two security personnel, two domestic workers, monthly utility allowance of Shs660,000, and medical allowance.
Upon the death of the speaker or deputy speaker, the Principal Act required the benefits to go to the spouses of the deceased, however the recent development that saw former Speaker Oulanyah die without a spouse, the lawmakers agreed to amend the provision to have the benefits go to the children and parents of the deceased.
The proposal to allow dependant relatives of deceased speakers to benefit from the retirement package of former speakers was mooted by Geofrey Ekanya (Tororo South) who sought to have the benefits extend to speakers who had served Uganda since 1962.
He said in September, “We have so many Speakers and former Speakers who are destitute, you have former Speakers and Deputy Speakers, their children can’t afford anything and they contributed to building this country and it will not have serious financial implications because they are very few people, they are respected worldwide, they have made this Parliament what it is and we need to leave a legacy.”
The proposal was immediately backed by Speaker Among who reminded MPs of the plight faced by former Speaker Oulanyah’s family who risk not benefiting from the pension scheme, having died a divorcee with no spouse.
“You need to know one thing, Speakers don’t earn pension. We get retirement benefits and I want you to understand one thing, on the issue of the former Speaker what happened, he can’t have his retirement benefits, he didn’t have a spouse, which has been corrected,” said Among.
However, Aisha Kabanda (Butambala DWR) called on Parliament to explicitly define a dependant relative remarking, “It is equally difficult to define a dependant of a person who passed on a long time ago. Unless you want to say including all their descendants, then there you know their descendants, but in the definition of the dependant, the dependant must be dependent on that particular person. Now we are talking about people who could have passed on a long time ago, how are we going to define, who their dependants are?”
In response, Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of Information, Communications and Technology proposed to have benefits of deceased speakers and deputy speakers go to their parents and biological children.
“In my view we limit it to the parents and biological child. The amendment to accommodate previous Speakers I think is good, we only need to agree on how far we can stretch the time. There is a proposal of 1962, there is a proposal of 2007 when this scheme started, we also have a proposal which we wanted to bring of 1980, so we want to stretch it to,” said Baryomunsi.
There were however some MPs like Okot Ogong (Dokolo South) and Sarah Opendi (DWR Tororo) who protested the proposal to have Speakers and former Speakers who served before 2007 benefit from the scheme, yet they never contributed a penny, wondering why Parliament should enact a law that would apply retrospectively, warning it would create legal challenges.
Rwakajara however defended the proposal saying this won’t cost taxpayers much money because Uganda currently has 4 people in the said category adding, “I think we have like three of four retired speakers and the experience we had recently when we lost our own, we found that his family has no benefits at all. So this wasn’t a very good experience, usually we learn from experience. Recently we learnt from experience that was very bad and since they are very few, the beneficiaries need to benefit and I support the amendment.”
The new legislation will allow savers access their savings after clocking 45years for those who will have saved consistently for ten years, a proposal borrowed from National Social Security Fund (NSSF) savers’ mid-term access.
Another proposal borrowed from NSSF Act is the voluntary saving where the savers in the parliamentary pension scheme will be allowed to increase their saving from the current 15% to 20%.