Embattled veteran journalist at the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) Tony Owana has written to President Yoweri Museveni grumbling about what he calls loss of morale by workers at the national broadcaster, over a range of issues related to their welfare.
Mr Owana, who says none of his fellow workers disagree with his concerns, complains in the letter that the billions of shillings that government is channeling to the national broadcaster haven’t changed anything about of the welfare of workers.
Government in 2016 committed Shs 20bn to UBC, which was termed as “seed capital,” by ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze; to be used to buy UBC new equipment, pay for satellite, repair facilities, improving the staff’s working conditions among others.
The money, which was followed with an ad hoc revamp committee through the Ministry of ICT, Owana says has had no effect on the toiling workers of the broadcaster.
“This windfall has been seen in some equipment and in the engagement of experts but it has not reflected itself on we the labourers,” he said.
“About three years ago when we, your workers, began praying for your direct intervention, we were confident that any relief you sent would impact directly on our lives in addition to the station we serve,” he wrote.
“Our focus was not on handouts from our employer but from payment of accumulated dues on which our livelihood is hinged. One is GRATUITY and the other is NSSF; we have not received either for about a decade and our NSSF records show no remittances although the 5% deductions on our salaries never fail…”
“Let it go on record that non-payment of gratuity and NSSF did not begin with the present management but dates back to over ten years. However, at every change of regime at UBC, workers always hoped that these issues would be taken as priority but they have been proved to be very near-sighted.”
Mr Owana’s prevailing concerns were captured in detail in the 2015 Auditor General’s report and the subsequent 2016 probe committee chaired by Dr Peter Mwesige, which found that UBC was deeply in debt, operated in breach of laws and that it poorly remunerated its staff ; defaulted on remitting their pension contributions while most employees lacked employment contracts.
UBC Managing Director Winston Agaba, in October 2016, while interfacing with members of the Committee of Commissions on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE), admitted that the Corporation was defaulting staff salaries and hadn’t remitted their NSSF savings.
This, Agaba said, was due to “lack of funds and inability to generate revenue.”
Mr Owana told the president in his letter that to this date, this is still the case.
On 22nd March this year, he said, he received a call from NSSF informing him that since he was turning 55, he was eligible to withdrawing his savings.
The caller, however, went on to inform him that his employer had not remitted his savings for the past seven years. Only three months’ remittances were made to his account in seven years.
The same, he said, goes for the workers’ gratuity, as well as other issues, which he said he couldn’t discuss because they are “way above my pay-grade.”
Mr Owana, who was recently removed from air and sent to head UBC’s Library, warned that workers at UBC are so disgruntled that if President Yoweri Museveni was to stand in an election there, they wouldn’t vote for him.
“I will state that if you came here and stood for LCI elections as chairman of our ‘Radio Uganda Village’ you would be trounced thoroughly!” he said.
“The reason why we would not vote for you is because you, apparently, did not direct that the 18bn/- you sent includes paying what your faithful toilers are owed by Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.”