For any listener of the Gulu based Choice 91.2 FM, it is hard to tell the agony seated in the hearts of many of the radio’s presenters given the commitment and dedication they have towards their job.
A private chat with the radio staff however uncovers a sad story – a story of distressed young men and women who have to keep the audience entertained much as they sometimes go without food.
The radio is owned by Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu and the Gulu LC-V chairman, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi.
For 22 months, the radio management has not been paying its staff. This came to light after a journalist posted a lengthy statement on the Northern Uganda journalists’ social media group, accusing the radio station which operates under Northern Choice International Gulu Limited of failing to pay the staff over Shs 60 million in salary arrears.
Most of the 14 staff at Choice FM, with the exception of heads department, are entitled to a monthly pay of Shs 300,000.
“As I am typing this write-up, my tears are rolling down because I fed my family with porridge for three days because I have nothing to eat in the house during this lockdown,” a staff at the radio said.
According to the staff, they have only been paid for six months in two and a half years since joining the station. The write-up faults the manager of the station who has reportedly asked members of staff who do not work to leave.
Uganda Radio Network spoke to two employees at Choice FM who confirmed that they haven’t been paid for such a long time but are stuck with the organization with the hope of getting their accumulated pay because management has promised to pay up soon.
According to the staff, they were not paid for unspecified months in 2017, five months in 2018 and ten months in 2019.
“On Christmas, we were given Shs 100,000 and on January 1, 2020, they paid us Shs 50,000 and an additional Shs 100,000 in June. If you total all of this, they gave us advance what they call an advance, but this is not satisfactory” the source told URN on phone.
The source says that they only get small amounts of money, which keeps them going especially on national days and celebrations, which is counted by management as part of the salary. The source says unfortunately, they all don’t have contracts but have evidence of the meager pay that they have been receiving as they are duly recorded.
“The issue is not only with salary, but they are battling with NSSF on remittances of the staff” the source added.
The radio’s manager, Nelson Obol, dismissed the claims as baseless and unfounded, saying they are currently focusing on COVID-19 to see how they can get over it. He said they had paid their staff and challenged those with complaints to come out openly.
“We are taking it as malice, and the directors are going to issue a statement on this,” he said.
Okumu told URN that when they took over the assets and liabilities of the station radio, they didn’t see any salary arrears but only saw bills of electricity and rent among others.
He says the last time he was at the radio station he asked for a list of the staff and their qualifications, adding that he hasn’t been at the radio for so long.
Okumu also said he hasn’t received a complaint from the staff and asked those with issues to approach him if management fails.
“The manager only said you know, we can raise money, the radio can run by its self. So we invested, but for me, I want a better renovation, better equipment, and get better journalists, and my target was not only to stop on the radio but get a TV as well” Okumu said.