By Markson Omagor
Just recovered my pen from a colleague at the printing section. I had told this fella on Saturday labour Parade (a week before) to give me back the pen, a promise he lived not to fulfill. That Saturday morning I had felt a little better having been down with a bout of malaria for the previous 4days, it being the reason I went for the parade. It turned out to be an eventful Saturday.
A list of about 16 names were readout most of whom were Partyless and they were later escorted under tight security R.Ps to their respective Wards to bundle up their possessions for prison farm relocation (this is the most dreaded event in Murchison Bay prison).
The atmosphere got tense and even tenser when all of us from three Blocks were herded into Block C. None of us seemed to know what to expect. Inmates wondered and whispered, tossed around whatever place they sat on, anxiety ruled the air for close to an hour. We sat restless waiting for the Chief Convict to address and instruct. He finally came.
At the start of his speech, he called an interpreter to come besides him. He fired off with a reminder, that successful stay in Murchison Bay Prison required discipline. And that where this element is in absence, prison farm will certainly be an alternative. The atmosphere tensed further.
He reminded us not to get too close to any of the prison warders, cause according to him the higher offices may suspect the end purpose and intent of such intimacy. That at the end, a separation will be decreed and as darkness follows dusk, it will be the inmate to be transferred.
Then there was a new order; that whoever desired to go to the Hospital must wear a Hospital Uniform so must those receiving visitors wear visitation Uniforms. This looked like counselling. I started hearing optimistic whispers. The bell rang for mid-morning lock up, he paused then concluded:
“I have warned you! If anything happens do not blame me. You can now go for lock up”. The feeling of relaxation could be felt everywhere.
“Omusajja tumuwonye” various low voices muttered but with faces glowing with content. I then came to understand even more vividly the reason why I had to part with ‘something’ to be posted to a party “Work”.
This was just another shock absorbed, the Friday before having presented yet another. After labour parade, I had gone to where our chef was preparing “Amukeke” sliced dry potatoes crisps for breakfast while there, our own “Radio” came in a flurry and informed us that there was a massive relocation of those soon to be released to Block D.
Unfortunate for us, Odong, our chef was affected. The implication of this transfer was that we missed a loyal and helpful Ward R.P and chef in the same degree. We were astounded and stood as if hit by a stroke. It was “Radio” who suggested that we see Sergeant Boma before the order was effected. Shortly afterwards, the Block leader came with the list to our Katikiro. We resolved that a plea by the Katikiro was more effective than one by Odong himself. The two went and met Prison Officer Convicts (PO Convicts was in charge of daily management of convicts only) who accepted the request.
Days like this, like valentine, are days when prison life pains. It is a painful contrast between the joyous life one would be enjoying with the loved ones and the pitiful life one suffers in jail.
Determined to force the spin of time to erode the day, I reported to work after labour parade. There we swept and dusted chairs and tables. Fetched water and flushed toilets and moved out one big table used for art work. A one former Town Clerk (names and the Town Council withheld for privacy purposes), an old man of retirement age convicted to 4years imprisonment by the anti-corruption court joined us seated around the Art work table.
We discussed how best we can recover from the lost time; from Juba to agriculture, the plot rotated around self-employment. Had we thought like this before, we wouldn’t have fallen into the unfortunate wagon of civil service represented by Neck Tie, empty pocket stardom. Which as it turned out for us ends into a life threatening fall from grace.
Then he told his story.
He had taught secondary for 23years before he applied for a local government job as a town clerk. He was appointed and was working directly for the upgrading of the town council into a municipality. He was continuously on the move chasing project proposals for street lighting, opening up of road network and water gravity schemes among others.
At this opportune time, an acting Town Engineer with vigour worked on the road network within the Town council. Something consistently happened though! The approved contractual figures were changed upwards. The Engineer would baffle him with all the technical jargon to justify change in estimates. The all trusting Town Clerk endorsed the payments and by the way work was actually been done. The Engineer then became some kind of a money magnate even lending money to the Town Council employees including the Town Clerk himself! Still he did not suspect anything.
Then one day, one of the contractors called him aside.
“Mzee, do you know what is happening?” Off course he didn’t and he answered to that effect.
“Your Engineer is ripping the Town Council off…..”
“How?” He asked.
“Have you ever approved an increase in contractual estimates for road works?”
“Yes. Actually on several occasions.”
“That is it.” The contractor spilled the beans.
“Actually those figures are never changed by us. It is done by your Engineer. The added amount is entirely his money. To ensure that he receives that money, he entreats us to write for him a postdated cheque such that as he presents the Total Value cheque say of 6million, he also presents the postdated cheque say of 4million. In essence immediately our accounts are credited his is credited too.”
TRAP IS SET FOR THE THIEVING ENGINEER
Having received these classified information, the Town Clerk set a trap that involved the contractor who spilled the beans, the Town Mayor and the Bank Manager.
The contractor together with the two; Town Mayor and Town Clerk proceeded to the Bank with the two cheques (the total value and postdated cheques. The contractor presented the two cheques to the Branch Manager.
The Bank Manager signaled and the Mayor together with Town Clerk entered Managers office where the two cheques were handed over to them. The Engineer was waiting unaware of the moose tightening around his neck. He was called too, only to find the two senior town council officials in the office. Had the area been known to have high temperatures, the Engineer would have been forgiven for the sweat break he suffered.
The issue was later tabled before the council. In the council, the Engineer accepted his ways and asked for forgiveness. He later had to spend lots of money to convince the councilors to look the other way. This he achieved. In the latter meeting, the gauntlet was thrown back to the Town Clerk to forgive or not. A decision that became too difficult considering the fact that the guy was a distant nephew. There was therefore home pressure mounting on the Town Clerk as well. He chose to forgive but with a veiled suspension of sending the young Engineer back to Kyambogo for a degree in civil Engineering.
The issue was rested so he thought. Later, much later, when the studying Engineer was about to complete studies, aware that he would be confirmed Town Engineer, aware also that the Town Clerk now having discovered his thieving ways would be a hard nut to deal with, started a scheme- a very dangerous scheme.
Apparently, he co-opted some officers in Accounts and Town Treasurers office. There work was simple; pluck off accompanying documents to payment vouchers. Then the schemer reported to I.G.G that there were irregular payments in the town council.
As expected, the inspectorate operatives swung into action. The first stop was the town clerk’s office. Unware, he simply let them check with the Treasurer’s office. There, they came up with payment vouchers devoid of supporting documents. They had been plucked off. He does not keep records and here was a situation that looked fraudulent.
There was a financial loss and since that ingredient was suspected to have occurred, my good friend was subsequently accused of abuse of office as well.
In court, some of the missing documents were mysteriously discovered, an auditor one of the accused was pulled out of Luzira where he was remanded and made a state witness. In one night, the state witness had come up with an Audit query which had never existed before. During cross-examination, the Auditor was shown payments he had himself sanctioned and proved delivery of service.
The presiding judge even commented that the Auditor was not the Author of the Audit report before court. Yet this same learned judge convicted and sentenced the trio to 4years in jail! To ask whether this was justice is a fruitless effort as there was no resemblance to it at all. Surprised? Yes, that is, if I was not born in Uganda or never grew up in this banana republic.