6 November 2012

Uganda: City Pastors Enjoy 400 Hours of Reprimand

Four city pastors, a musician and a former State House employee recently started doing 100 hours of community service. Court found them guilty of defaming Pastor Robert Kayanja of Rubaga Miracle Centre, Kampala.

Pastors Solomon Male of Arise for Christ Church, Martin Ssempa of Makerere Community Church and Michael Kyazze of Omega Healing centre were also fined sh1m each.

Others are Robert Kayiira, David Mukalazi, a musician and Anita Kyomuhendo, a former State House employee. They appealed against the ruling, but they still reported to hospitals in Kampala and Mbarara to serve the sentence. ANNE MUGISA paid them a visit.

It is a few minutes after 8:00am and Kyazze is already at Naguru Hospital walking through the wards, praying with the patients and workers. Clad in a casual blue shirt and black trousers, the pastor then rifles through patients' medical forms. Kayiira and Kyazze later settle down in a tent to start a counselling session.

About five kilometres away at Mulago Hospital, Male is directing patients to different sections, including the Mwana Mugimu ward, where malnourished and sickly children are treated.

A young boy who is clearly recovering from malnutrition, stands in the doorway of the in-built kitchen at the ward with a cup in his hand. It is a few minutes to break time, when the boy expects to get a cup of nutritious porridge, but he cannot wait.

As the nurses playfully tease the boy, Male and Mukalazi move about talking to and helping other patients. As Male turns to talk to me, a young mother approaches and requests to talk to him.

"These people have needs, but there is no one to listen to them," he tells me before attending to her. "I know that God brought me here for a purpose. I don't regret it even if the conviction and sentence were unfair," says Male. "After serving the sentence, I will be coming here once a week because there is great need," he adds.

Meanwhile, Ssempa, who is working at the casualty unit, says: "I am enjoying every minute here. I am exercising the gospel of a good neighbor physically." He says he will serve another 100 hours after the sentence. Mukalazi, however, says he was not comfortable because he is innocent.

"My first day in the children's ward was traumatising. I held onto Pastor Male, but he encouraged me to be strong," he says.

Supervisors hail pastors:

The hospital spokesperson Enock Kusasira commended the men for the work. "We oriented them and assigned them work. They are expected to direct patients and advise them on where to find various services.

They are doing it perfectly," he said. Their supervisor, Faith Karamagi, is expected to write a report on their performance to the commissioner in-charge of community service in the internal affairs ministry.

What is community service?

It is a penalty given by court to a convicted person to work for the community without pay and at their own expense, but without locking them up. The programme, which started in Uganda in 2003, is partly intended to solve the problem of congestion in prisons.

According to the law, community service is also intended to help in reconciling the victims with the offenders.

Margaret Makune, the officer-in-charge of community service in the internal affairs ministry, says authorities consider skills and competencies of the offenders in deciding the punishment.

She cites some of the challenges affecting the community service programme as staffing and funding.

Consolate Nyesigire, another community service officer, says offenders who have no practical skills can be asked to do something in their abilities like planting trees.

Male says he is following Jesus' example as he serves the sentence and waits for the appeal. "Jesus did not refuse to serve the wrong sentence. We are not criminals, but because of the cause we have against moral decadence, our legacy will remain," he said.

Kyazze says the programme is good because it offers a better option to utilise the human resource instead of locking them away in prison.

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