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Judges left Hanging by the Breeze over Salary Increase

By Ofwono Opondo

Sept, 1, 17                               

There is latent revolt from sections of public sector workers over pay rise citing huge gaps and inequalities, some of which cannot reasonably be justified, but as the saying goes, if you are not big enough to lose, you are not big enough to win. Many believe that judicial officers, who have been on strike for two weeks demanding salary increase, did so to blackmail the public, and shouldn’t take Ugandans hostage. As the shepherds in the ‘temple of justice’, they have better means to make their case heard, instead of choosing the path usually taken by sugarcane plantation workers.
The judicial officers, including Judges, magistrates, courts registrars and clerks, under the Uganda Judicial Officers’ Association (UJOA) on Wednesday called off the strike after government promise to handle their issues under the impending comprehensive public sector pay reforms slated in October, and so we could say they were left hanging by the breeze. Like professors at public universities they had compared themselves to drivers, tea servers, and messengers at Jennifer Musisi’s KCCA, and Allen Kagina’s UNRA, and found it hard to appreciate why they earn ‘peanuts’ compared to those they consider minion s.
In a half-clever ploy to appear genuine, UJOA, listed vehicles, personal security, decent office and residential accommodation, and salary increase as tools they need to function efficiently, which shouldn’t be in dispute. However, as they began their strike, a new poll, consistent with previous one, ranked them and police as most corrupt public institutions in Uganda, and many doubt they can enlist public sympathy. Also, judicial officers enjoy better pay than most public servants.
Judicial officers don’t seem to realize that the struggle for better working conditions should be part of a democratic struggle, in which they ought to work with others in similar situations, and so they think that as special professionals, asking for a nickel-in-the-pay envelope is a right.
Most Judicial officers at the High and magistrate’s courts, are known to live largely by extortion of their clients, regardless of status, have amassed unexplainable, and live lavish lifestyles. Many in the public doubted if some judicial officers in lower courts could sustain the strike for long without entering their offices to extort which has become part of their occupation. While court premises were ostensibly ‘closed’, the small gates and windows remained open with people were seen sneaking in, evidence of low-key activities.
We believe that the proposed comprehensive pay reform is long overdue and if handled well and with equity in mind, is the most rational approach to sharing national prosperity. Free citizens, competent management, and an effective government all working together in non-confrontational have a glorious opportunity in creating and sharing abundance         
The reason CEOs in government agencies were given huge perks was ostensibly to reward performance and hopefully shield them from undue pressures since they control ‘critical’ sectors and huge budgets. Now with everybody demanding higher pay, it is time parliament asks for the performance contract of each of the special CEOs.
Previously it was official policy to hold pay packages of government officers as confidential matters. So I believe that now that they hold government at gun-point, this should no longer be an option for them. In the spirit of transparency, these bosses of government agencies should to declare what their overall package is so that we know how bigger it is than the pay of the average Ugandan employee.
Official wage inequality is symbol of something fundamentally wrong in Uganda’s public service. Too many offices are competing to achieve the wrong results in the wrong way, led astray by perverse incentives that produce bad outcomes. And the excessive rewards for those at the top like MPs among others have become a disincentive to public service.
If we were all patriots working to transform Uganda, we would appreciate that our duties to the country in which we are shareholder include among others to act in ways we consider, in good faith, most likely to promote success for all fellow citizens in the long term. We would appreciate the desirability of our collective responsibility to build and maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct and the need to act fairly between and among our citizens. Unfortunately, our education and democracy seem to be producing egoistic leaders and elites who believe they should be the privileged few and don’t worry about other citizens.
Public servants who fly abroad ought to learn something about the patient, long-term support for investment and continuous improvement that helped build most powerful world economies including Japan and German from the ruins of World War Two. For the educated elites serving in government to change their ways, it will take courageous leadership to look them in the face and say that current plans for growth cannot deliver exciting returns and secure our country if we continue the same way. Some of those who argue how critical their services are, which may indeed be true, should remember that aren’t forced to work for government, and in any case, the scientists who discovered penicillin, insulin and polio vaccine never got paid that much.