President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has gone on record condemning the power franchise holders UMEME, of conning Ugandans via inflated tariffs. Before then, the president had on several occasions lambasted the South African investors for subjecting the country to ceaseless load shedding.
Yet before UMEME can get over the bad PR brought about by the unfavorable power rates, disgusting news hitting our investigative desk indicates how the power investors have been,for a staggering seventeen years, tossing up and down its workers pursuing to be deservedly paid gratuity.
We understand how UMEME hasn’t actually been paying gratuity to workers ever since they hit town in 2005! At the present, the investors are thought to be owing workers close to UGX40Bn in gratuity! Fearing that UMEME is packing up ahead of leaving the country at the end of the three years remaining on their concession, the workers are praying to the authorities to exert pressure on the investors to clear their money.
President Museveni has been vowing publicly how the government is not going to renew UMEME’s concession beyond its waning deadline since they have been giving a raw deal to the country. Such avowal by the president is scaring the workers demanding for gratuity, out of their skins. “UMEME is behaving like a man on departure. Everything they are doing now is typical of a man on departure, be it treatment of their employees, investment on network and poor service delivery,” said one of the senior workers.
To this end, the workers pray to the Ugandan authorities; “we kindly call on your intervention into this matter before Umeme takes off with our rightful benefits as you’re already aware they’ve less than 3 years to the end of their concession.” But just, how has UMEME been able to hold on such colossal sums of money belonging to the toiling workers for a period shyly running short of clocking two decades…?
After amassing billions in gratuity, thanks to non-payment of the same, UMEME in 2015, tricked the workers by converting the debt into a PROVIDENT FUND scheme. The new arrangement saw the interest chargeable on gratuity slashed from the previously agreed 30 percent down to five percent. “This meant that all employees who had served up to Dec 2015 would be party to gratuity claims in respect to the number of years they had served since Umeme’s inception in 2015,” a source privy to these matters, confides in us.
What followed were negotiations geared at settling the unsettled gratuity sums. The Uganda Electricity and Allied Workers Union stepped in on behalf of the aggrieved members. Well, the negotiations ended up without the workers’ representatives miserably realizing a single penny from UMEME. The latter was talking of paying UGX5Bn. The workers rejected the condensed figure. They didn’t see the sense in taking the sums UMEME was putting on table, given that they were making a total of 1200.
In any case, inside sources inform us, the workers’ representatives had by this time decamped from UMEME after being compromised by their employers. This would end up escalating the agony of the workers who had by now waited for long, without hearing a word about when the employers were planning to pay them. “They were now speaking in a language we failed to understand. From the look of things, we realized that they were representing the interests of UMEME as opposed to pushing our case.”
Treasury Bills Ruse
Before long, UMEME had reverted to the workers. The employers were now proposing to invest the UGX5Bn it had earlier put on the table, into purchasing the government treasury bills. The investors justified the move by arguing how the UGX5Bn would end up fetching handsome profits for the aggrieved workers. But, UMEME again advised the workers to subject the matter to the industrial court, in the meantime pending maturity of the treasury bills.
“But…this was merely a trick designed by UMEME and its lawyers plus the court itself which ended up adjourning the case from time to time, looking to wear out or resolve to get themoney,” our sources further wail. The industrial court, having sat finally on March 4th 2022, decided that the workers had no claim against UMEME. “But how can that be. We went to court with a claim that was crystal clear. Even UMEME itself had conceded owing us money on many occasions in the past. The only outstanding issue was about how much UMEME owed us… not if they owed us money!”
The workers assert how, what the court arrived at was an injustice of the highest order, given that UMEME talked of even investing the money by buying treasury bills which, if it was done, the billions must have earned interest and grown into several folds. When contacted, Umeme mouthpiece Peter Kauju said his employer resolved to do none but “respecting the court ruling.”
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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