At 85, James Green Serubyale, struggles with absolute poverty, unanswered requests for pension pay cheques and unfinished plans.
Before he slipped into poverty, Serubyale served Buganda government as an assistant superintendent of works in the ‘50s before briefly joining the post-independence central government of Uganda. He was retired in 1967 and has been fighting for his pension for 38 years, writes Yudaya Nangonzi.
He shakily walks towards our reception with the assistance of a male friend. Clad in full scout uniform patched with various badges, scarf and cap that partly covers his greyish hair, Serubyale is dapper and excited. He opens his old briefcase as I gaze at a grimy identity card fixed with a soft pin on blue ribbon slung around his neck.
“We converged in 2013 to receive music teachers from America. They gave me this ID and I treasure it,” Serubyale recalls with pride as he shares a green file full of original and photocopied documents.
“All those who grabbed my land and that of my wife, curriculum vitae (CV), appointment letter and evidence that my pension was paid but they stopped [remitting money] on December 31, 1980 without clear explanations,” Serubyale says.
From first impressions, one may despise him until you peruse through his rich CV. Serubyale is a civil engineer, an architect, deacon, evangelist, master guide, musician, artist, mathematician, quantity surveyor and herbalist. He is also an official guardian of the children of the late Kabaka Muteesa II.
Having studied in Uganda’s top schools then and stayed in the UK between 1957 and 1963, Serubyale is a confident man. He expresses himself very well in both English and Luganda.
He starts with a quote: “You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.”
“President Museveni should come to my rescue. Let him order his people to pay me and as well find me genuine lawyers to fight my land problems,” says the King’s College Budo alumnus (1949-1951).
After serving in various construction companies and the Buganda government as an engineer, Serubyale was on January 7, 1957 appointed acting assistant superintendent of works in the then Mengo government. According to the letter signed by E.H Kamanyi, Serubyale’s starting salary would be Pound Sterling 588 per annum in scale E1, C6-C5 (£ 408 x £ 18 – £ 516 x £ 24 – £ 684).
“You will abide by the terms and conditions (of 1956) set by Kabaka’s government for chiefs and other kingdom employees. You are entitled to all benefits for chiefs and other employees such as pension and others,” reads Kamanyi’s letter.
After nine years, in a letter dated March 24, 1965, he was appointed assistant engineer-in-chief of the kingdom, another pensionable office, under salary scale AP (£ 1,731 to £ 1,791).
The following year, Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote, the executive head of the central government, ordered army commander Idi Amin to attack the Lubiri. Serubyale says during this political turmoil, Obote ordered all engineers in the kingdom to join the central government. While his colleagues adhered, Serubyale declined.
“I was too angry because Obote did not respect my king. Obote also got angry with me,” he says. “Since I was a permanent and pensionable civil servant, Obote respected that and instead sent me a letter.”
He no longer has this letter, though. Serubyale says he suffered two house break-ins by soldiers who stole his property and burnt some of his documents including letters of appointment, promotions, salary scales and retirement. He, however, remembers that the letter went something like this: “I have been directed by the president of the republic of Uganda that you have been retired in public interest with effect from August 1, 1967. You will be given all your retiring benefits including pension.”
Starting August 1, 1967, government started paying his monthly pension until December 31,1980. According to his records, Masaka district administration, which was the paying authority, stopped remitting money on December 31, 1980. He has written countless letters to the authorities, all in vain.
With support from some officials at the district, Serubyale has compiled a list of particulars for at least 124 cheques, including their numbers, dates and years credited to his bank account between December 11, 1967 and May 7, 1980. But when on June 11, 1996, Serubyale visited the Masaka office, he was told his name was not on the list of pensioners.
“I thought the absence of records in their office was an obstacle and I again on August 9, 2005 carried with me a big file containing overwhelming evidence to clear any doubt that I am a pensioner,” he says.
The officials at the district seemed unconvinced even when he handed over copies of his documents. He cites one Ms Kafeero, a senior personnel officer, who asked him to present his letter of appointment. But the two house break-ins in 1982 and 1994 along Salama road and in Bbunga, respectively, had robbed him of those documents.
The thefts were recorded at Katwe police station under reference number CRB 861/82, and Kabalagala police station reference number SD 02/18/03/94.
Serubyale says Kafeero was “adamant and elusive”, which forced him to engage the services of lawyers. As luck would have it, seasoned lawyer Peter Mulira was the counsel in the matter. When he was at Budo, Mulira was in Budo Junior. One of Mulira’s teachers was Serubyale’s brother, Daniel Kesi Kabugo.
“Mulira was too delighted to help without charging me a single cent. He wrote a letter to Masaka [on May 8, 2006] demanding that my issues be handled or he sues them,” he recalls.
Unfortunately, Kafeero informed him that the first file got lost.
“Ms Kafeero said she would go through the file and inform me later. To-date, I have not heard from Kafeero or any other officer from Masaka district headquarters,” Serubyale says.
“She made me move several times until I ran out of transport [money]. I am an old man and I don’t think she will even respect and help me trace that big file again.”
His efforts to engage the ministry of Public Service did not bear any fruit either as he was referred back to Masaka.
“I don’t have money to bribe officers to help sort my issues. If President Museveni can order his people, maybe they will listen,” he says.
Serubyale is forlorn, having lost his “greatest companion” and wife, Nnalinya Victoria Kamuwanda Mpologoma on September 13, 1978. She succumbed to diabetes and hypertension at Lubaga hospital. They did not have children together due to Mpologoma’s poor health.
“She really tried but failed to carry any pregnancy. With her health, doctors advised that I would lose her, the baby or both,” Serubyale says in a low tone.
Stopping his pension makes his loss doubly unbearable. The acting commissioner for compensation in the ministry of Public Service, Victor Bua, told I recently that Serubyale’s matter can only be addressed if he presents original appointment, confirmation and retirement letters.
“We need to establish circumstances under which he was retired, his salary scale and terms and conditions of the job, among others, before we write to the appropriate office to start processing his pension if he deserves it,” Bua said.
As fate would have it, Serubyale is fighting on a second front. He accuses Kabaka Mutebi’s sister, Nnalinya Sarah Kagere, of grabbing his late wife’s property. Due to his undying love for the kingdom, Serubyale says he has chosen not to sue but engaged Bernard Mutyaba of Kinobe, Mutyaba and Turinawe (KMT) Advocates.
On February 17, 2014, KMT wrote to Kagere demanding that she renounces administration of Mpologoma’s estate.
“It is the client’s considered opinion that the law on succession entitles the legally married husband of the deceased to 99 per cent share of the estate. We believe you will find the proposals herein tenable and we, therefore, hope for your positive action,” reads KMT’s letter.
The land includes; Sozi estate on Bugala island-Kalangala, five acres in Munyonyo (FC 17730), five acres in Kitebi (FC 14241), six acres in Kibuye, a square mile at Lwanjiri Ssingo (FC 19846), 159 acres at Wabutungulu, Bulemezi (FC 14143), 10 acres at Nabukalu, Busiro, a castle at Bamunanika, 190 acres (FC 10068) in Butambala Kibuga and six acres that also comprised their matrimonial home at Salama.
Other properties Kagere allegedly took over are shares and stocks in Uganda Breweries Limited, Lake Victoria Bottling Company and Kasujja Farm and Mining Company Limited. At the Administrator General’s offices, his wife’s file number is registered as Mengo A/c 384/79 under the names Victoria Biyatiriisi Namikka Mpologoma Kamuwanda.
The matter remains unresolved. Meanwhile, Serubyale is also looking for a one Michael Kabugo who allegedly works with Lubowa-based Joint Clinical Research Centre. He claims Kabugo stole an original copy of his land title for 1.29 acres located near Bulange, Mengo.
Kabugo is the one who introduced him to Mutyaba. With no child and wife, Serubyale is now at the mercy of well-wishers who provide food at his home in Masajja B zone along Busabala road. He roams Kampala streets each day looking for scrap or bottle tops and gets paid Shs 500 per kilogramme.
At times, he uses the money to pay tithe in his Najjanankumbi church or cover transport costs whenever he is too tired to walk home.
“You may not believe me but I have survived hunger for 38 years because I don’t get my pension. I have been at the mercy of Muslims in town who give me food and another lady, Joweria Namusisi, who stays along Busabala road,” he says. “One time, I decided to count the times Namusisi has given me food and they are 140. Where can you find such a good Samaritan?”