What you need to know:
- The contractors are in debt because they were not paid after constructing schools and churches.
Agape Sanctuary Ministries International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), recently suspended by the NGO board, is under the spotlight over failure to pay 212 contractors, who were hired to build churches, schools and hospitals in Uganda in 2017.
An offshoot of a worldwide Christian organisation, whose spiritual birthplace is in Brazil, more than 300 churches in Uganda subscribe to this faith.
The ministry, which has a number of churches in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan, is headed by Bishop Monday Wilson Bwambale.
The contractors accuse the church of breaching the terms of contracts and demand Shs17b.
However, Agape ministries accuses the contractors of frustrating the multibillion shillings project due to delay.
Four years later, the contractors say they are choking on debt and have lost property to shylocks and commercial banks.
Ms Eve Kukandakwe, the headmistress of Watoto Junior School, has for the last two years been ailing with a stroke and has no money to seek better treatment.
A creeping depression continues to tear her apart as she and her husband stare at a bleak future.
Ms Kukandakwe says when she got the loan for her husband, she knew he would pay back since he had got a lucrative deal from Agape ministries.
The school is now on the verge of being closed by the bank.
“At that time, I got Shs30m from the bank but the interest has accumulated over time. There is too much pressure from the bank, we have tried to clear the loan but we have failed. We have sold almost everything but have failed, I can’t even get better medication,” she said.
Her husband, Mr Kenneth Muryamenta, the director of Blessed Investment Limited, is demanding more than Shs210m for a church he built in Kashare, Omukabale in Mbarara District.
He had initially gotten contracts to build three churches valued at Shs900 million; two in Mbarara and another in Ibanda. He had only completed one before the donors told him to delay the construction of the other two projects.
“They were supposed to give me the first interim certificate for the work done on January 31, 2018 but they didn’t. They started telling me to wait for the donors to come to Uganda. Even when the donor came, they did not pay me. Since then, they have been claiming they would pay me, I have engaged them on several occasions in vain,” Mr Muramyenta says.
He reveals that sometimes he fails to get money to feed his family and that the school, which used to be their source of income, can no longer sustain their household.
Mr Muryamenta’s story is not any different from that of Mr Yona Wasswa, the managing director of Century Frontiers.
Mr Wasswa says on September 24, 2018, he signed a contract with Agape to construct a church at Katengyeto, Ishongororo Sub-county in Ibanda District valued at Shs426m.
Mr Wasswa, who is a visually-impaired engineer, is now shackled to debt.
“I have sold everything I have to clear the loans I got from money lenders but I have failed. Many of my working partners are equally distressed. Much as I had hope we would be paid, all hope is lost, government should intervene and help us,” Mr Wasswa says.
In June, the NGO bureau, a body in charge of registration, regulation, coordination, inspection and oversees all NGO operations in the country, revoked licences of six NGOs, including Agape for alleged forgery of documents, authorising them to operate and for defrauding their funders and individuals.
In 2016, the church entered into a partnership with the Daniel Africa Project that was founded by Joel Engel, a Brazilian evangelist.
Mr John Kahunde, an administrator at Agape Sanctuary Ministries, says the organisation had an ambitious plan to construct 200 churches, 50 schools and 10 hospitals.
“Records show that of the 212 contracts given out, only 133 churches started, while of the 27 contracted schools, only eight started and out of the eight contracted hospitals, none started,” Mr Kahunde says.
When this phantom project was dangled to contractors in Uganda, it appeared too attractive to ignore.
“According to the memorandum of understanding between Bishop Bwambale and the Brazilian funders, the project sought to build churches, schools, and hospitals and to help orphans in Uganda and Africa,” he says.
Little is known about the donor, Mr Joel Engel but there are reports that he was allegedly arrested in Brazil for fraud.
In 2016, Mr Engel came to Uganda and launched this mega project at Muganzirwazza plaza at Katwe, a suburb in the outskirts of Kampala.
In 2017, he returned to Uganda to launch the second phase of this project at the Mandela National stadium, Namboole.
But during the launch, a group of contractors including some from Tanzania and Rwanda stormed the venue demanding payment.
“The donor was supposed to come and assess the work done before payment can be done. However, some of the contractors started sending the donor threatening messages, some wanted them arrested, the donors got threatened, they cancelled the plans and went back,” Mr Kahunde says.
In 2018, one of the firms, Prutaz Construction and Vocation Training Centre Uganda Limited, filed a suit at the Commercial Court division accusing Agape Ministries of breaching the contractual terms and sought specific performance for a sum of Shs198.4m for the construction of a church and Shs222.6m as auxiliary expenses.
The case was dismissed by the DPP after the leaders of Agape claimed that they would pay the contractors.
Mr Kahunde says the donor is willing to pay but claims some contractors who did not do execute their contractual obligations are hindering the process.
“We constituted a team and realised that some of the contractors did not do the work, others had fake contracts and others had never done any construction works,” he says.
However, the secretary general of the contractor’s umbrella body, Mr Godson Turyatemba, demands that the church pays genuine contractors.
“I don’t want any contractors to be blamed for this, if you give me a contract, it’s not my role to find out if others have done the work. Agape should explain to us where the money is for those who did the work. Of the 212 contractors, Agape says only 166 did the work, where is the money then for them?” Mr Turyatemba asked.
He adds that as a result of depression, two of his colleagues have since died and others imprisoned over debts.
“We have received severe cases, over two contractors have died, one in Kasese and another in Mbale, only 10 per cent of the contractors sleep in houses, many have nowhere to sleep. Majority have had their houses taken by money lenders. We have written many letters to Agape and they only responded to one,” Mr Turyatemba says.
When Daily Monitor visited the home of Yosia Rugarama, who passed on in July, in West Bwera, Kasese District, grief envelops the family home.
They believe Rugarama would still be alive if Agape had paid him. The contractors according to copies of contracts seen by Daily Monitor were to be paid in instalments.
The 1st payment was to be made when the project was at the wall plate level, the second payment was to be made after roofing, and the 3rd after roofing while the 4th would be after furniture and fittings were completed.
Many of the contractors have accused government authorities including police of conniving with the church to defraud them.
However, Mr Charles Twine, the Criminal Investigation Department spokesperson, says the matter is of a civil nature.
“We know about the contractors’ situation, even if we interest ourselves in their cases, it cannot be prosecuted. We encourage our people to seek civil redress. I want to encourage the business community to do due diligence. If someone comes, look at the offer first, what kind of establishment does one have here, and in the event where the contract is breached, what’s your fallback position, many of the contractors have worked with government and one wonders how they were hoodwinked,” Mr Twine says.
How they acquired the contracts
Mr Muryamenta and Mr Wasswa say they were contacted directly by officials from Agape ministries.
“When I was signing the contracts, they didn’t tell me that they have funders, they said our money would be deposited on our accounts. Personally, a board member of Agape ministries who unfortunately she passed on, is the one who informed me about the deal. They even wanted me to give them part of the land where my school sit,” Mr Muryamenta says.
However, the contractor’s body says the manner in which these contracts were given out is not in contention.
“Each contract and project comes with its own terms and conditions, not every job has to be advertised. The most important thing is what were the terms and is the contract applicable in the laws of Uganda,” Mr Turyatemba says.
Mr Kahunde adds that there is hope that the donor will release the funds and contractors will be paid if the organisation’s suspension is lifted.
According to documents, Agape is supposed to pay Shs17.2 billion to 145 contractors, who were verified out of the 212 contractors who claim to have been contracted.
“The donor is willing to pay but he has to come here first, now that we don’t have a licence, the situation is more complicated,” Mr Kahunde says.
The contractors also accuse the church of trying to hoodwink them as a strategy to get back in business.
“When you put too much pressure on them they try to make you an administrator. Instead of tossing us here and there, let them tell us that we were conned and we know that there is no money and figure out our next move,” Mr Turyatemba says.
Both the contractors and Agape church are requesting the intervention President Museveni if the current crisis is to be resolved.
“We don’t know what to do next. We have written to the former Speaker [Rebecca Kadaga] and have tried meeting the current second deputy [Anita Among], but it’s like we are being neglected. Government has since compensated traders who lost goods in South Sudan, we also need such kind of help because we are vulnerable,” the Secretary General says.
Mr Kahunde says: “Government should intervene, we as Agape, we have tried and failed. We are equally affected. This project was for the good of the community and not just individuals, it is not a scam as some people are alleging.”