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Fires leave angry police officers out in the cold

Beatrice Namutosi checks out her husband's partly-burnt police uniform

Officers who lost property in last week’s fires in Nsambya and Naguru police barracks are enduring long nights on verandas and in corridors. 

Speaking to The Observer this week, several officers complained about neglect at a time when they are most desperate. But the police says arrangements are being made to assist the fires’ victims.

“Since fire burnt our house on Friday [last week], we were left homeless,” said a policeman attached to the Very Important Persons Protection Unit (VIPPU). “We have not got any support from the big officers. We are sleeping outside on verandas.”

The fires destroyed property worth millions of shillings. Angry victims have now criticized their commanders for preventing them from building temporary structures in the barracks.

“We have bought small plots in the barracks at about Shs 600,000 and started constructing temporary houses but they have also stopped us yet we got loans to pay for these plots,” one officer said.

Other officers criticised police chief Kale Kayihura for paying little attention to their welfare, while stocking up on things like tear gas.

“Every financial year police gets a huge budget. But where does this money go if they can’t even buy some tents for us and they just plan for tear gas? Even parliament can’t ask where we are sleeping now but they just pass the police budget,” one officer charged.

They said the police had been recruiting more officers over the last decade without building more housing units.

“They always tell the juniors to rent outside the barracks yet we get very little salary,” one policeman said.

Most affected officers, a source said, were asked to move to Busunju police barracks, which is already congested with three families sleeping in one unipot. The officers say they can’t live in Busunju and work in Kampala daily because they leave work very late in the night and report very early.

“I don’t know why they don’t take our work seriously yet we give security to the whole country and more so protect VIPs,” one policeman said.

Some of the properties the officers managed to save from the fire outbreak

WIVES CRY

A teary Norah Namulembe, 41, wife of a police officer attached to the Mobile Police Protection Unit (MPPU), Naguru, narrated how fire gutted their Kibaati block in Nsambya barracks in Kampala last Friday.

“I am left with nothing because even the clothes I was wearing got torn as I jumped through the widow to escape the fire,” she said. “Even the clothes I’m wearing now have been donated to me.”

Namulembe said her husband James Ogira’s documents, and a passport with a visa were burnt.

“He had completed all the clearance to go to Somalia next month for the peacekeeping mission but his passport and all other important documents necessary for this travel were burnt,” she said.

Namulembe said she lost a big television set, radio, clothes, sofa-sets, cooker, popcorn frying machine and clothes. Two people were injured in the fire, a two-year-old baby and a pregnant woman who failed to flee.

Another wife urged Kayihura to build permanent structures.

“We are tired of living like dogs in these iron sheets housing facilities. We have lost everything including uniforms and we have nowhere to begin,” she said.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the fire was caused by poor cooking habits and lack of vigilance in the barracks.

“We shall provide temporary housing units to officers who were transferred outside Kampala,” he said. “The commandant Nsambya Police barracks is now generating a report to forward it to the director, logistics and engineering, to accommodate officers and provide them with beddings and other necessary equipment.”

zurah@observer.ug

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