Within a month, Labour Minister John Munyes has single-handedly laid to waste NSSF efforts to redeem its image.
A consistent public relations campaign by NSSF (National Social Security Fund) in the past several years had succeeded in changing Kenyans’ perception of the state-controlled pension fund.
By the middle of this year, NSSF was winning awards for good performance. For the first time in history, the Fund published its financial reports in the press. Also for the first time, an Annual General Meeting was held, bringing together workers, trade unions, the government and the media. In short, the Fund had recovered from the legacy of past corruption.
Then along comes John Munyes. With one sweep of his ministerial powers, Munyes has sucked NSSF into the political black hole. Since dismissing Managing Trustee Rachel Lumbasyo, and replacing her with an acting Managing Trustee, things have changed at NSSF. Decision making has been hindered as two antagonistic camps have emerged within the Fund.
Politicians have joined the fray as billions of shillings contributed by Kenyan workers present easy pickings. Not forgetting the possibilities of jobs for relatives and lucrative procurement tenders.
The ODM-PNU coalition tussles have reared their head at NSSF as either side is claiming the post of Managing Trustee as its fair share of the 50-50 Grand Coalition deal.
This month alone, NSSF has received lots of damaging publicity thanks to Munyes. As any marketing strategist will tell you, it takes a long time to build trust but only a few minutes to tarnish a reputation.
By the mid 1990s, NSSF was virtually bankrupted by extortionist deals made by well-connected personalities. Individuals would use their proximity to President Daniel arap Moi to get public land almost for free. Within days, the same plots of land would be sold to NSSF for hundreds of millions of shillings. Considering the political climate at the time, NSSF had little choice over the matter.
That explains why NSSF ended up purchasing abandoned quarries at Embakasi. However, the Fund managed to sell the plots to city residents eager to invest in housing.
Prominent lawyers made millions of shillings by providing legal services to the Fund. Whether by design or accident, the lawyers were assigned cases related to fellow well-connected individuals, mostly from Moi’s KANU party.
During the late 1990s, with the Fund facing a financial crisis, the government decided to employ professional managers in a bid to secure workers’ contributions. Individuals such as David Masika and Jos Konzolo played a key role in stabilizing NSSF finances. From the year 2000 until the present moment, there was a dramatic reduction in financial scandals at NSSF. The only major scam was a Shs250 million deposit with Euro Bank which led to the dismissal and prosecution of former Managing Trustee Ben Mtuweta.
With time, NSSF has improved its payment record and retirees get their cash within days from district offices. Information Technology capacity has been enhanced, though there’s room for progress.
The Fund’s financial situation is vastly improved with steady income from its investment in shares, real estate and government securities. NSSF is a significant shareholder in Kenya Power & Lighting, National Bank and other well-known companies.
Recruitment for a new Managing Trustee is underway but with the Labour Minister itching to exercise his powers, whoever gets the job will continually be seeking approval before making key decisions. For millions of Kenyan workers painstakingly saving for retirement, developments at NSSF cannot be good news.