The big interview BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
An audit report exposing deep-rooted corruption at the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) has angered many Zimbabweans, who are demanding action against those implicated.
Former Tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira, who is in remand prison over allegations that she misappropriated $95 million belonging to NSSA, features prominently in the report compiled by BDO Zimbabwe Chartered Accountants on behalf of the auditor general.
The report revealed how millions of dollars were abused by politicians and the pension fund’s senior employees.
Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza (SN) told our reporter Jairos Saunyama (JS) she was already taking measures to strengthen systems at NSSA.
She denied accusations that delays in the release of the audit report were connected to Mupfumira’s arrest. Nzenza said action would be taken against those implicated in the report. Below are excerpts from the interview.
JS: What is your response to the allegations of corruption raised in the recently released NSSA audit report?
SN: I was not there in the past. I started with NSSA as the new minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and my major responsibility is to maintain an oversight role at NSSA.
My first priority was to ensure that I have a new board so that we can have good corporate governance.
What has emerged, particularly with the NSSA forensic audit report, it’s covering the past, it’s covering the period between February 2015 and February 2018.
What we have seen in the report shows the amount of work that needs to be done.
I want to assure the public that the turning point for NSSA is that we are going to practice transparency; we are going to be accountable.
We will work towards developing trust, that is absolutely crucial going forward.
I will not dwell in the past, unless there are good lessons to be learnt or drawn.
My main aim is that we move forward, to do what is right for the people who entrusted us with their funds.
JS: Do you have the right characters in the board that will change the fortunes of NSSA?
SN: Within the NSSA board we have representatives from the employers and the platform that is created by board members will then discuss how we can ensure that companies are able to contribute to NSSA and in return NSSA will maintain accountability and transparency.
JS: Pensioners are now earning a paltry ZWL$57 in this current economic environment. Do you have any plans to review the benefits?
SN: This past month we have given a bonus, the announcement was made last week, a monthly bonus to all pensioners as a cushioning allowance.
This is a temporary measure we did with the board this past month, but going forward we intend to review the amounts that the people are getting.
I am hoping that this is going to ease the economic burden on them.
However, I am moving towards developing mechanisms for people who are travelling to far places to access their money so that they get it closer to their homes.
My responsibility is that we provide them with timely support.
Together with the board and management we need to review the current processes.
The major thing is to find ways to best get to the people rather than the people having difficulties to access the nearest NSSA office.
We have pensioners who have no idea where to start to access their benefits; some do even need to travel to the city, which is a burden.
JS: The audit report was made public just after the arrest of Tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira, who is accused of abusing NSSA funds. Was the timing a mere coincidence or it was planned?
SN: I cannot say that, but the forensic report was finally ready by Wednesday last week and I was able to present it, that is, the three big annexures and the big document that is the NSSA forensic report and what is in there requires legal experts to unpack.
However, I can say that we are working closely with Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commision chairperson Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo and Tabani Mpofu (the head of anti-corruption in the president’s office).
That is their responsibility to unpack and look into it.
But the work that is ahead of us is mainly on how we can ensure that those who have been entrusted NSSA to look after the pension funds do it responsibly with accountability and transparency and, above all, ensure that they practice good corporate governance.
JS: Parliamentarians and others accused you of taking long to release the report. Was the delay justified and did you release the report due to pressure?
SN: I realised that there was some serious work to be done especially issues to do with corporate governance.
The board that was there had its term expired, so the first important thing I did was to reconstitute a new board whose numbers are almost complete with two last members joining us this week.
The new board and myself sat down and reviewed the NSSA report that was commissioned by the auditor general.
Four issues emerged immediately and these include irregularities regarding ICT, investment, human resources and labour.
The issues were rather complex for one who is not a lawyer.
I, therefore, decided to get a team of expert lawyers to unpack the report and that took some time.
It took some time to release the report in that hiring those expert lawyers required serious due diligence and, as per procedure, it took us two months to secure the experts.
I can understand the impatience by the parliamentarians and those who have the right to know — the general public — those who entrusted us to look after their funds.
I am pleased to say the NSSA forensic audit report is out and within it there are elements that require internal processes.
If they are to do with mismanagement, misconduct those will be dealt within the legislative labour framework.