By Our Reporters
Since the year 2004, hundreds of former ISO workers and spies (that were retrenched in 1995 under RIF) have been fighting to get their terminal benefits through courts of law. Some 13 years ago (since 2005), High Court directed government to pay them Shs39bn as principal (which became Shs80bn plus interest) in redundancy compensation plus the accruing interest because the matter had been in court for an eternity. In 2014, the finance ministry gave a fraction of the money (Shs10bn) but before they could go very far sharing it, the IGG was petitioned by some members of the relevant association (UVETSO) accusing their leaders of misappropriation. The IGG Irene Mulyagonja halted all the payments. This forced the men back to court challenging the IGG’s powers with their lawyer John Matovu. Court them pushed them back to talks with government. Many meetings have had to be held at the OPM chaired by Premier Ruhakana Rugunda to resolve this dispute. Mulyagonja, whose office had to be raided several times by the aggrieved ex-ISO staff, resolved the stalemate at the OPM meetings by suggesting they should be paid by government directly and not through UVETSO. Rugunda and Attorney General William Byaruhanga then wrote letters directing Finance Minister Matia Kasaija to pay them their balance equaling Shs29bn. It was agreed that for operational convenience, PSST Keith Muhakanizi would pay them in two installments spread across two quarters. Presidency Ministry where ISO belongs was designated to be the one to pay upon verification of the claimants’ lists. This requirement came after the IGG got reports that some of the names on the list of 1078 claimants were ghosts meant to cheat government. But how did Shs80bn claim drop to just Shs39bn? It was PSST Keith Muhakanizi who pushed the ex-ISO workers to accept less. On being directed by the President through Minister Matia Kasaija, Muhakanizi told the men the resource envelope was limited. It was in their interest, he said, to accept the principal sum of Shs39bn, be eating on that as they wait for more. That’s how the men agreed to temporarily waive the balance of Shs41bn accruing as annual interest of 10%.
Hajji Yunus Kakande who was acting PS to the office of the president became the contact person to ensure timely pay offs for the men (whose resentment had seen then raid Rwakitura on Christmas and stage a demonstration there to the chagrin of the President). It was agreed that to address the IGG’s concern of possible ghosts, the claimants’ parent organization (ISO) takes the responsibility to verify the lists and confirm the authenticity of the names thereon. ISO DG Gen Kaka Bagyenda created a committee to verify the authenticity of the lists but they took forever to report back until last month when Muhakanizi released the money (Shs10.5bn) to Presidency Ministry for onward submission to the claimants. By this time, Hajji Kakande was out of office having retired (before being hired back as PS replacing Deborah Katuramu). In Kakande’s absence, Willis Bashasha (the ex-Bushenyi LC5 Chairman) became the Ag Undersecretary and PS for Presidency. Bashasha called meetings after getting the release from PSST Muhakanizi. He was shocked when ISO representatives refused to hand over the verified lists. Instead they insisted he should surrender to ISO the money so that they take the responsibility of paying it out. Bashasha refused and even quoted letters of Rugunda and Byaruhanga clearly indicating that ISO’s role was merely verification. At this point ISO representatives said they would only surrender the lists after meeting their line Minister Elly Tumwine who must instruct them on what to do. The claimants then rushed back to Matia Kasaijja who rang Bashasha on loud speaker and confirmed the money had been wired. Bashasha confirmed having the money but said his hands were tied because he can only pay using lists delivered to him by ISO upon verification. “My friend this matter is very serious because it has in the past politically humiliated the President and he wants it out of the way as soon as possible,” Kasaijja reportedly told Bashasha in the hearing of the ISO men. For the men’s assurance, Kasaijja (who is understood to be under State House pressure to pay the politically very troubling men) also rang Director Budgeting Kenneth Mugambe who emphatically confirmed the money was with Bashasha who remains fearful he could get into trouble if he just surrenders it to ISO. Gen Kaka has unfortunately been too busy to give direct audience to the more than 1,000 claimants. In the meantime, the ISO claimants (now in their 60s yet they were in their 30s when the claim first arose) have continued to endure destitute life. Just last week, one of their own Robert Wangaine (65) died in his Kansanga Muzigo after failing to raise Shs1m which Mulago hospital demanded for the surgical operation to tackle his stomach complication. “It had been prescribed that his intestine be chopped to overcome the mild ulcers he was suffering from. His claim off the Shs10.5bn was Shs30m. We went to ISO and even Presidency and begged those officials to release at least Shs1m for his treatment and they refused saying that’s not how government works but it’s these people who brought NRM to power. We tried for five days and there was no money coming out of ISO. In the end Robert died and we had to raise money for the body to be taken to Mbale. During the burial the Bagisu mourners attacked us and our pleas that we are also victims of the same government fell on deaf ears. Mourners were too bitter saying their man wouldn’t have died if he got his Shs30m in time,” said one of the leaders heading the ISO claimants. In a subsequent meeting, group representatives brought all this agony to the attention of Matia Kasaijja who told them much as he shared their pain, he was now powerless since his Ministry did their part and the remainder is now a matter of Presidency Ministry and ISO. “This is really very painful to all of us because we started chasing this claim when we were in late 20s and early 30s and we have lost our entire adult lives chasing our retirement benefits from a government we worked so hard to bring to power. As of now our average age is 65 years and it’s really painful to live this type of poverty when the very government we put in power is still ruling. Many of the colleagues have died in circumstances similar to Robert’s and it’s now their children and widows pursuing the claim yet they too are beginning to give up and bequeathing the role to their own children.” Retrenched under donor-imposed RIF (Reduction in Armed Forces) program, these ex-ISO workers had served as operative officers mostly based at Sub Counties and districts-and some few at ISO headquarters until 1995 when the Museveni government laid them off. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.