By Norbert Mao
David Chandi Jamwa is going to jail for twelve years for the offense of causing financial loss. While serving as Managing Director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) he authorized the sale of government treasury bonds held by the NSSF before their date of maturity 145 days away. NSSF had bought the bonds three years earlier. If Jamwa had waited for 145 days he would have earned for NSSF 39.4 billion shillings. Instead, by selling the bonds earlier by a few weeks, he earned for the NSSF 36.7 billion shillings. He thus forfeited 2.7 billion shillings.
The prosecution argued that Jamwa’s decision was reckless and irresponsible since there was no justification for his premature disposal of the bonds. They said that NSSF had enough cash at hand to invest in any other portfolio. Selling treasury bonds before maturity is normal if warranted by circumstances. Even court noted that if NSSF had a liquidity shortage, and it urgently needed the cash, Jamwa would have been vindicated. To the Court, what Jamwa did was tantamount to eating the egg and missing the juicy chicken that would be hatched. The Baganda say “Okulya eggyi, okwesubya omuwuula”.
Crane Bank bought the bonds for 36.7 billion shillings. It only had to wait for a few weeks and earned itself 2.7 billion shillings, after all, treasury bonds have a guaranteed fixed sum (known as the face value) which accrues immediately the bond matures. According to the prosecution, Jamwa knew that his decision was not in the best interests of NSSF and still he went ahead.
Jamwa’s classmates and teachers right from Kings College, Budo to Makerere and beyond have lamented Jamwa’s tragic fate. “What a waste to send such a brilliant mind to jail”, one of his former lecturers wailed on social media. Others said the Court was too harsh in giving Jamwa a near maximum sentence. Some sympathizers have pleaded that on account of his parent’s loyalty to President Museveni and the NRM, Jamwa should be pardoned!
One thing is however certain. After this verdict, fund managers will now be apprehensive in taking risky financial decisions. Jamwa’s tenure at NSSF is lauded for being visionary and for laying the foundation for a modern social security fund. It was only in Jamwa’s time that for the first time NSSF members received returns above the inflation rate. His flamboyance aside, his admirers say Jamwa deserves credit for creating the financial framework that has enabled his successors to move the fund from a 1 Trillion fund to a gigantic 8Trillion.
Any investor knows that the higher the risk the higher the profit. Will the Jamwa verdict not compel fund managers to shy from the bold decisions that promise high returns for fear that a judge’s gavel will send them to jail? Will this verdict now not hang like a Sword of Damocles over the head of every fund manager?
In the Canterbury Tales Chaucer in depicting a painting on the walls of the temple of Mars wrote: “Above, where seated in his tower, /I saw Conquest depicted in his power/ There was a sharpened sword above his head / That hung there by the thinnest simple thread.”
No one knows what is going to happen. The case is headed to the Supreme Court. This is as well because the wide and vague definition of the offense of “causing financial loss”, which was the main point of appeal, demands a definitive statement from the Supreme Court. The presidential pardon if at all will have to await what the Supreme Court says. We can however speculate because such decisions are usually political.
As the NRA battled the government soldiers in the bushes of Luweero, two individuals became notorious for taking extreme measures to buttress the UPC regime. Everybody who was alive then knows Musa Ssebirumbi and Chris Rwakasisi. When the NRM took power, the two were convicted of several counts of kidnapping, torture and murder. They were both sentenced to death. Ssebirumbi was hanged but Rwakasisi was pardoned after several years in jail. Jamwa’s fate will mirror one of the two. I don’t know which.