Former National Social Security Authority (NSSA) board chairman Robin Vela has said the authority requires experienced management as well as intellectually astute political leadership.
BY NDAMU SANDU
Vela was fired last month by Labour and Social Services minister Petronella Kagonye on the grounds that he was not ordinarily a resident in Zimbabwe.
His critics say the businessman had assumed an executive role at the compulsory pension scheme, allegedly sidelining other board members in the process.
Asked how big NSSA was in terms of assets, Vela said: “Some $1,5 billion, which means it requires competent, qualified and experienced management as well as self-confident, mature and intellectually astute political leadership.”
In an interview with Standardbusiness last week, Vela hit back at his critics saying many of them had “never held a job, let alone corporate [position] of any description”.
“I maintain NSSA has not lost a single investment of a $1 during my tenure,” he said.
“A lot is make-believe. Ask them [critics] to validate their claims and they don’t, they can’t.”
Vela welcomed the proposed forensic audit, but questioned the sacking of executives before the exercise was done.
General manager Elizabeth Chitiga’s contract was terminated on April 6, 15 months before its expiry.
“A forensic audit is meant to happen. I welcome this but even before, and there are wholesale changes,” Vela said.
“Does due process not require that the forensic exercise is complete, report produced, responses called before judgement is made? Why the hurry?”
He said he made enemies as he was “singularly focused on the prize of delivering a living pension to the owners of the funds — the pensioners”.
Vela said the track record of protagonists in the NSSA saga portrayed selfish endeavour and ambition.
“The beauty about the truth is that it cannot be suppressed forever. In our case I am sure it will show its head before the end of August,” Vela said.
The ex-NSSA board chairperson said he had no time to clash with Kagonye and his repeated written requests to meet the minister had yielded no results.
“I met her once for all of 30 minutes and that was on the cancellation of the IT contract,” Vela said.
“She was then never available to meet with me again, but found time to spend five hours with members of the NSSA workers’ committee and to invite junior managers to her office where for them an open door was created.
“I had no chance to clash with her.”
What of Kangonye’s predecessors Patrick Zhuwao and Prisca Mupfumira?
“Ministers Mupfumira and Zhuwao were self-confident, seasoned and experienced stewards of ministerial posts and so not susceptible to the gossip merchants…NSSA by its very nature is always an institution where capture is an ambition of those close to the leadership,” he said.
Vela said his sacking and that of Chitiga were part of a plan “to place more malleable persons in place before the [Zanu PF] primaries”.
NSSA, he said, funded last month’s national disabilities day event, which was held in Kagonye’s constituency.
“The entire board was asked to resolve by round-robin. They did and it was paid as a corporate social responsibility thing,” he said.
Vela said it was the first time NSSA funded an event of such a nature.
“During my tenure, we received various funding requests, but none of this nature and construct,” he said.
“We always sought to remain apolitical and even-handedly support programmes of stakeholders.”
He said the board managed to undertake a restructuring exercise and a culture change under the slogan NSSA by choice, not by statute.
Its profitability rose to $170 million from $19 million while investment income grew to $70 million from $10 million.
Vela said assets grew to $1,5 billion from $900 million while pension payouts increased to $80 from $60.
The cash-rich NSSA has investments which straddle across banking, insurance, hospitals and real estate.
Critics say politicians have milked the institution forcing it to invest in shady deals like the construction of a hotel in Beitbridge.
The hotel was leased to Rainbow Tourism Group, which pulled out due to viability concerns.
Kagonye said she could not be drawn to comment on how the ministry operates in the media. She defended the holding of national disabilities day activities in her constituency saying there is a ward with disabled people and the ministry saw it as an ideal venue.
“I chose that because we are talking about sustainability. It’s a ward with 33 000 households. There are 250 disabled people who built their houses,” Kagonye said, adding the venue was also close to Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre and Danhiko.
She said the ministry rotates among provinces the venue for the celebrations and this year, Mashonaland East was chosen to host the event.