Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pastor Ssenyonga sex scandal deepens...

Interesting goings-on in the land of M7 from our UG correspondent...

KAMPALA - As the child molestation scandal involving Kampala Pastor Jackson Ssenyonga, who is alleged to have committed the crime during a flight last Wednesday, continues to unfold, the general feeling among members of his Bwaise-based Christian Life Church (CLC) is that the man of God is beginning to be haunted by curses former workers have been directing against him over the years. A big-name Pastor--with a congregation of about 100,000 believers--Senyonga employs over 300 people in his different companies and projects. He is being embroiled in such a sex scandal for the first time in the 24 years of his ministry.

Living in America since February this year, Senyonga is currently being investigated by the FBI on allegations that he fondled a 13 year old girl who sat next to him during a flight from Denver to Oakland in the US on the night of Wednesday August 20. The incident took place at 11 pm and forced the inconvenienced girl to call in-flight marshals, who helped her to another seat. “She was only scared to be in company of two black old men for the first time in her life time. That is why she was very scared,” Ssenyonga says in a recorded response his aides, led by Ronald Mubiru, availed on Saturday morning.

A Christian who has flocked with Ssenyonga’s Bwaise-based CLC church for the past 10 years said: “We shall defend him to the last drop of our saliva. Pastor Jackson isn’t the type of man to do such a thing to a kid of all people! But what we won’t defend him about, as the CLC congregation, is the fact that the curses by ex-workers have started to work on him. Because he is always away, managers in his numerous companies have been mistreating workers and sacking them unfairly.”

Towards December last year, for instance, over 24 workers at his now-defunct Guardian Newspaper asked to meet him (Ssenyonga) after they had gone unpaid for six months. He had just jetted into the country to prepare the National Celebrations Prayer rally which took place on December 31 at Kololo Airstrip with President Yoweri Museveni and First lady Janet Museveni in attendance. They went into Christmas empty handed after Ssenyonga snubbed them at the last minute, referring them to General Manager Maggie Serunjogi, against whom they wanted to complain to the Pastor. Maggie refused to meet them. Frustrated, they plotted to burn the building housing Top Radio, Top TV, Kampala FM (99.6FM) and church offices. But security was beefed up, making it hard for them to carry out their mischief. They also tried to connive with technicians, who were equally disgruntled, to destroy the Top TV masts at Kololo.

Unable to imagine going into Christmas without any money, the frustrated workers contacted a witchdoctor who advised them to buy a goat with which a ritual was performed in a small bush between the Northern By-pass and Senyonga’s CLC Church premises. Though he panicked and began paying, Church officials claimed, things have never been the same for Ssenyonga’s projects. The best sales executives, DJs, news anchors and presenters have since quit for greener pastures in consultancy firms, Vision Voice, Radio Simba and WBS TV among others.

As for The Guardian Newspaper, all staff walked out, leading to its closure. Only accountant Arnold Bukenya and a photographer (whose name we couldn’t readily establish) stayed behind to work with Top TV. “The common factor is that all people who have left have gone cursing after accumulating arrears stretching four months, 6 months and even two years,” said a Church official. “It’s a pity some are homeless as we talk now having had to suffer the embarrassment of being evicted from their rented houses and at worst some have died due to destitution and inability to afford medical bills as was the case for Mr. James Namunga who died [with arrears of Shs 0.6m] two months ago.” Poor Namunga who was buried in Masaka, had worked with Top TV and died of kidney failure at Nakaseke Hospital where he found free treatment. Management only contributed Shs100,000 towards burial arrangements. But Namunga isn’t alone; there are many others whose cases are equally disturbing.

To understand what has exactly been happening--leaving staff members no option but curse the pastor--we take you through names of different people who have left cursing after the pastor failed to pay them their dime, after contributing to the profitability of his companies for many years.

Previously, Musisi worked for him (1988-1999). He was the pioneer Top Radio station manager and gave his all.

Information reaching us, however, indicates Ssenyonga treated this man with a lot of contempt. In an effort to illustrate Ssenyonga’s bossy and rude way of treating workers, a long serving Church official recalled how Musisi would be made to open the toilet for Senyonga and carry his briefcase as if he was his driver. “He has this habit of instilling a lot of fear in workers that you can’t ever go to his office to see him. For all his commitment and hard work, Musisi left cursing in 1999.

He left with arrears for 2 years and has never been paid. "Where can peace come from?” wondered a Ssenyonga confidant who has been with CLC since its inception.

For three years he was a news anchor on Top radio until he left with 6 months salary arrears. Today he is a leading news anchor on Radio Simba where he went after quarreling with General Manager Maggie Serunjogi. When Senyonga asked about Tenywa’s departure, the GM deceptively told him the young man wanted a salary increment and when it wasn’t as much as he needed, he left the station.

She was the only English news anchor on Top TV before she acrimoniously left for greener pastures on WBS TV over a year ago. She has gone on to become a celebrity news anchor on WBS TV. She is doing so well that she has even since given up on chasing the several months’ salary arrears she had with Senyonga’s Top TV.

He is a cameraman and reporter who was behind most of the work on Top TV where he served for over two years. After months of persevering, he left for WBS TV where a very impressed Wavamunno has since appointed him the cameraman for the very popular Side Mirror, a comically twisted skit which features Amalura family crew members every week. His colleague, Moses Mugenyi, a senior sales executive at Top radio for 5 years, also left with 4 months salary arrears and now works with WBS TV.

He served as senior reporter on Top Radio for over five years until three months ago when he called it quits, after waiting for his salary in vain for many months. Today he works at Vision Voice Radio where he is rated the very best of his kind.

He was Editor In Chief for Senyonga’s on-and-off The Guardian newspaper for a whole year. He left unceremoniously after reporters threatened to beat him up for failing to push Maggie for their salaries. He left with salary arrears of 3 months. “He had his own problems is that when one of the adverts was messed up but that doesn’t justify management’s failure to properly pay such a family man. He left cursing and that institution [CLC] can obviously never have peace,” said a Church official. “The companies make profit and the man [Ssenyonga] is financially doing well but the problem he fills management with friends and relatives who become untouchable yet they misinform him on the situation.” Veteran journalist (now lecturer at UCU), Sam Hadido, served in this post before Kikonyogo came in. He too left grumbling after the Pastor refused to listen to his salary claims, stretching several months.

Being a freelance sports writer at the State-owned New Vision, he thought he would moonlight with Senyonga’s Guardian newspaper and make ends meet. Life instead only became hard. He was chief news editor but went unpaid for many months, till he chased himself in frustration. He is said to be working with his lawyers to drag the Pastor to court for non payment of his salary arrears.

He was lured to leave his lucrative job (of sports editor) at the Rwandan state-owned New Times. On joining Pastor Ssenyonga’s Guardian Newspaper (having replaced Kikonyogo), Menya was made Editor- In- Chief, a job he held till early this year when he led about 23 other reporters to help start the NRM-leaning Movement Times weekly newspaper. Their arrears remain unpaid to this day.

He was office manager at Alive Media but got sacked because he asked for a motorcycle to ease his mobility. “He had tried to push management that during his time, salary would come on the last Friday of the month but the general manager hated him till he was frustrated and left. He has since joined one of the weekly newspapers,” said an insider in Alive Media. “The Pastor to do whatever he wants. He has this ‘seguya’ [I don’t care] attitude whereby he will show you he can do without you however good.”

Along with a woman called Betty Musoke, he was the chief cashier for the Alive Media group of companies until two months ago when money (Shs18m) disappeared and the general manger held them responsible. She sacked them immediately and only notified Senyonga later. The poor Obbo, whose wife had previously died in the collapsed Church premises at Kalerwe, now lives at Tula (Kawempe) near Avis company where he is leading a very sad life; rarely affording a meal and other basics of life.

This is the only category where things are okay today in the entire Senyonga Ministry. Why? A woman only identified as Maama Sam insisted on remunerating them autonomously. The boys get their money on time and they are well motivated since mid-last year when they threatened to rampage when they went unpaid for several months, yet their dime ordinarily comes from offertory/tithe.

Kyomukayisiki, as her fans know her, for many years presented Ekidigidda Kya weekend, a musical programme on Saturdays until recently when she developed irreconcilable misunderstandings with the GM Maggie Serunjogi over facilitation money and her salary arrears. “When she confronted management about her salary arrears, she was abused as desperate and she left in protest. Today she works when she feels like,” said a Church official. “One wonders why reporters can’t get facilitation to go to look for news, yet Mirinda Pineaple sponsors the programme.” To emphasize the GM’s draconian tendencies, another source recalled a recent incident.

“She found a Top Radio/TV reporter talking to her visitors at the reception and chopped her salary by Shs30, 000 saying she was lazy. On another occasion, a camera man had left the camera at the reception to go for a short call and she cut the salary by Shs30, 000 because he was negligent,” the source explained. “You can imagine the pain. If you depend on Shs200,000 for facilitation and everything else and yet someone is going to keep fining you, what do you have at the end of the month really? Those are the curses everybody is reflecting about against our otherwise very good Pastor.”

“Alive Media, which owns all his radios and TV stations, is a very profitable company because of the upper hand it has amongst Christian audiences but workers, who contribute to this success, are always ignored and left to go cursing. These are very poor young people and because they can’t afford to go to court, they appeal to the very Bible verses to curse him,” said another source. “Even something worse could have happened but they forgive because all of them are born again Christians." It’s a pre-condition to get a job in Alive Media and sister companies which also include a Tour & Travel Agency which has over 100 Coasters Buses.

Ssenyonga, who is one of the few Ugandan billionaire pastors, owns high class houses in Kololo, Naguru and Ntinda. He also owns a square mile of land in Seeta along the Kampala-Jinja highway where he has estates for over 1,000 orphaned children. “There are curses here as well because, despite getting the money from donors to allegedly help them, the orphans sometimes go without food because of the GM’s negligence,” said an insider. “There is a time they cried for a whole week without posho and many of them almost died, if it were not for the good Samaritans who kept bringing in food.”

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