The recent sacking by President Ernest Bai Koroma of three top management officials at the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) generated huge debate among Sierra Leoneans, many of whom are of the conviction that the decision was long overdue, especially when NASSIT investments across the country have been less than successful.
NASSIT has been saddled with numerous controversies ranging from mismanagement, bad investment, poor services among others, but those charged with the responsibility of supervising the efficient management of the institution had kept silent until the recent decision by the president to axe Sam Bangura Jr., Gibril Saccoh and Idrissa Kamara, Director-General, Deputy Director-General and Head of Investments respectively.
This development has caused people to open up and express their frustrations about the state and status of much trumpeted NASSIT investments in Sierra Leone.
Traders occupying the NASSIT shopping plaza in Kenema have bitterly complained that officials of the Trust charge huge sums of money for occupancy without providing the required services; a development which forces them to close their businesses at night.
The building, according to one Fatmata Sannoh, has gone out of electricity and water supply for a considerable period and the management has not been able to address both issues, despite pleas from business owners.
In Makeni also, reports have it that traders are not using the shopping centre because of the high cost of the facility.
Mohamed Kamara, a teacher at Christ the King College (CKC) in Bo, said that since the scheme constructed three houses along the Bo-Kenema highway, the buildings are yet to be occupied.
“NASSIT is just misusing our money simply because they have government support. How can you construct only four houses for the entire people in the southern region,” he questioned.
Mohamed Suma, a business consultant, said it is important for government to take a close look at NASSIT investments and address some of the gaps that currently exist within the organisation.
The scheme is a statutory public trust established by the National Social Security and Insurance Trust Act No.5 of 2001 to administer Sierra Leone’s National Pension Scheme. The Trust was established to provide retirement and incidental benefits to meet the contingency needs of workers and their dependants with core functions of registering of employers and employees, collection and recording of contributions, maintenance of records on contributions and insured earnings, compliance and enforcement procedures and reception and assessment of benefits claims, among others.
However, most investments undertaken by the scheme have been less than satisfactory.
The Auditor-General of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce, while presenting the 2012 annual report to Parliament, made special reference to NASSIT and raised the “red flag” over investments by the Trust.
“There are fundamental problems in processing and paying retirement benefits that need to be addressed….We also noted the following: would-be retirees were not notified by NASSIT prior to their retirement….Members were not well sensitised on how to apply for their benefits before retirement,” she reported, adding that “NASSIT had only validated 13,638 out of 59,442 eligible employees of the Government of Sierra Leone whose past services NASSIT should have validated by 2011.
However, in his response, Project Officer at NASSIT, Khalifa Tejan-Kellah, said the Kenema city shopping centre is managed by the Kamboi Proper Holdings which serves as a link between NASSIT and the Kenema City Council, adding that when the Bo-Kenema Power Services BKPS) was providing electricity for the facility, traders were willing to pay their electricity bills, but the situation became fluid when the building started depending on generators for power supply.
“We only started to get problems with the traders when BKPS shutdown its operations and the shopping centre now heavily relies on the two 500KVA generators installed by NASSIT,” explained Mr. Tejan-Kellah. “The traders were not paying their bills and when the system developed some technical problems, we needed money to fix it and they were not ready to comply.”
He said the appropriate authorities were informed about the continuous power outage but because of the resignation and sacking of some senior officers of NASSIT, they were unable to address the electricity problem at the shopping centre in Kenema.
“The Board of NASSIT approved 250 housing units to be constructed in Bo, Kenema, Makeni and Waterloo in 2010. The buildings were constructed but they were unoccupied until recently when some business enterprises applied to occupy the ones in Makeni and Bo respectively. Though it was a good investment, yet we have got a lot of experience from the previous NASSIT investments. We will now put those experiences into good use for the benefit of Sierra Leoneans,” he said in relation to housing estates in the three provincial capitals.