Retired in 1992, former Internal Security Organisation operatives Zulu Ssewagudde, 58, and Robert Lwangaire, 47, look haggard, deprived and much older than their actual ages.
During an interview they requested for at a city restaurant on April 14, the two had difficulty speaking audibly. This writer had to lean over to hear what they said. Ssewagudde and Lwangaire are among the over 1,000 former ISO staff who sued government for failure to pay their retirement benefits in 2005, having been retrenched in the early 1990s.
In 2013, the High court ruled in their favour and awarded them Shs 72bn in retirement benefits. President Museveni later entered an out-of-court negotiation with them and the claim was reduced to Shs 39bn of which only Shs 10bn has been paid. Ssewagudde was among the pioneer 1SO staff who joined the organization in1987. He now says the worst decision he ever made in his life was to join the organization.
“We joined when the Director General of ISO was Jim Muhwezi and we never used to get a lot of money but we used to subsist until 1992 when Muhwezi called a meeting and told us that some us were going to be laid off,” he said.
“Look at me, I look as if I’m going to drop and die. I live a very miserable life because I was fired from work unexpectedly and to make matters worse I was never given my retirement package. How I wish I had joined the army instead, may be I would have received better care,” he said.
Ssewagudde, a bush war veteran, said about 300 spies who were retired have passed on without getting their retirement benefits.
“Now I understand why civil servants steal money because after leaving office no one remembers you. It’s such a pity that I fought in the war that brought this regime to power,” he lamented.
Asked if he tried to get himself another job after retrenchment, Ssewagudde said he applied for many jobs but was rejected because of his spying background.
“I tried for example in Posta Uganda but they simply chased me away saying that we know you [as a spy] we cannot give you a job,” he said.
The court case has been a painful process, the former spies said.
“We have been in court since 2005 using various lawyers. Even when we get the money in full, a huge chunk of it will go to the lawyers because we agreed that we shall give them 15 percent of the money. I feel I have done what I can but this world is unfair,” Ssewagudde said.
Ssewagudde’s narration was constantly interrupted by a nasty cough.
“You will forgive me but I have Tuberculosis. Of recent I was on treatment but now I ran out of medicine. I hope the government remembers me because we worked for them,” he said.
Lwangaire, who also said he joined ISO in 1987, has no kind words for the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Irene Mulyagonja. Mulyagonja recently ordered the Secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi, not to pay the former spies their remaining Shs 29bn until the first installment of Shs 10bn has been properly accounted for.
The IGG said she blocked the payment after a tip from a whistleblower. The whistleblower apparently claimed that the Shs 10b was shared amongst only a few bona fide claimants. Lwangaire said Mulyagonja committed an illegality in blocking their money because the High court had ordered her to stay out of the matter.
“Many times [Mulyagonja] has tried to block payments but the court has ruled that this is no longer public money. It’s our money it’s up to us to distribute it the way we want. We are already suffering. Many of our colleagues have passed away. Can’t she see that?” an angry Lwangaire lamented.
Interviewed on Thursday, Ali Munira, the IG’s spokesperson, insisted that Mulyagonja has powers to investigate the ISO payments since the money came from the consolidated fund.
“We made the report [stopping the payments] last year before the High court issued an order stopping us from investigating the money. And after the order by court we stopped investigating the payments,” Munira said.
The spies asserted that the whistleblowers who petitioned the IGG have since withdrawn their petition. But Munira explained that even if the petition was withdrawn, their office has already completed its investigation. Asked if he has children, Ssewagudde said: “During the bush war, in one of the operations I became impotent. So I only take care of the children of my relatives who passed away.”
Separately, on April 17, 2015, 13 former ISO operatives sued government in the Industrial court over unpaid retirement benefits. Through Ruhindi, Aocates and Solicitors they want court to compel government to pay them Shs 1bn since their contracts were unlawfully terminated in 2004.
“The claimants aver that their termination was unlawful in as far as it purported to act retrospectively .The claimants were given the letters of termination on January 28 2004 and it stated that their termination was affective December 3, 2003,” the plaint partly reads.
They contend that under the security organization regulations 80 of 2000, upon termination of their employment and voluntary resignation they are entitled to gratuity, medical allowance, leave allowance, ex-gratia and transport allowance.
Source : The Observer