The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party is trapped in a precarious situation after its staff turned hostile, accusing the party leadership of not caring about their plight in preference of populist politics in light of the Shs 380 million donation to the national Covid-19 taskforce.
For nearly two years, the party’s staff both at the headquarters and in the districts has not been receiving a salary.
To their surprise, Hajji Moses Kigongo (1st National Vice-Chairman), in the company of Justine Kasule Lumumba (secretary general) and Rose Namayanja Nsereko (treasurer), on April 19, 2020, handed over Shs 380 million to Prime Minister and head of the national Covid-19 taskforce, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda as the party’s contribution to the government’s efforts against Covid-19.
Far from the intended publicity benefits, the donation instead won the party leaders criticism from both outside and within the party.
While they thought of how to respond to social media commentators who mocked the party on Facebook and Twitter, internally, the staff, through their various WhatsApp groups wondered whether the party leadership cares about them.
It is understood that the secretariat staff, especially those deployed in each of the 142 NRM district branches, have gone for at least 15 months without pay.
Each district administrative secretary is entitled to a monthly pay of Shs 1 million which brings the total bill for salary arrears to Shs 2.1 billion.
There is another group of 117 former staff that was laid off in June 2018 after the party failed to pay their arrears amounting to Shs 46.1 million each. This group tried to pursue the matter through the courts but a labour rights NGO that they had engaged mysteriously went silent on the matter.
Lumumba meanwhile promised better work conditions – including prompt payments to the newly recruited staff but she could only live up to this promise till February 2019.
“The explanation has always been that there is no money, and, because many of us took these jobs out of love for the party, we have always believed what they tell us until the shocker came – we could believe that a cash strapped party – as they always tell us, could raise Shs 380 million to donate to the Covid-19 taskforce,” a party employee who preferred not to be named said.
When President Yoweri Museveni announced a lockdown late in March to forestall the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NRM secretariat asked its staff countrywide to close the offices and stay home.
“Not even a coin was given to us, no one even bothered to speak to us about our salary arrears, we only saw them handing over money to Rugunda. The picture they painted for us is like of a father buying food for the neighbours and leaves his household to starve,” an employee said.
When the WhatsApp rants intensified, Lumumba sent Shs 50,000 to each of the district administrative secretaries with a hope that it would calm them but it instead ignited more fire.
“Giving us Shs 50,000 on mobile money is like mocking us when you have just donated Shs 380 million,” the staff hit back.
“That is how they mistreated us last year during the delegates’ conference at Namboole. We spent four days sleeping on the tarmac at Kololo [Independence grounds]; they called us to Kampala but failed to provide accommodation and meals. On the final day [of the delegates’ conference] is when they gave each of us Shs 300, 000,” a party employee from one of the upcountry districts told The Witness.
At least 40 of them reportedly missed their allowances.
“I think the secretariat takes pride in humiliating us. How do they expect us to survive? We have information that the top managers at the secretariat are promptly paid their salaries and allowances,” the staff said.
The secretariat’s publicist, Rogers Mulindwa refuted claims that some of the secretariat’s managers quietly get paid.
“The issue of salary cuts across. We have all not been paid, even the topmost officers at the secretariat. Truth is, as staff, we need money, but we must also appreciate the efforts the party leadership has put in to find money to clear the arrears,” Mulindwa said on Friday.
So, how did a party trapped in debt get money to donate? We asked Mulindwa.
“That money was mobilized from members and friends of the NRM. Covid-19 created an emergency; we are in a situation of saving lives. While it is easy to fundraise for such a cause, it may not be as easy to fundraise for purposes of paying staff salaries,” Mulindwa said.