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Salary Disputes Harbour Sinister Political Motives

By Ofwono Opondo

 July 26, 17

The on-going agitation for salary enhancement by a cross-section of public servants among them public prosecutors, judges, magistrates, medical workers, lecturers, non-teaching and support staff at public universities, local government leaders, and others yet to pronounce themselves points to a sinister and dangerous political direction.
These choreographed threats to hold government, and President Yoweri Museveni in particular hostage could be part of the wider political scheme to bring down his term prematurely as some opposition elements and their backers have been promising.
The confrontations are in spite of the several and clear efforts already implemented by government to enhance their salaries and other terms of conditions of service. For example, not very long ago judges were earning three million which was increased to nine million per month presently. Equally, medical workers and university lectures have had reasonable increments only recently. It is therefore surprising that this educated class cannot appreciate that they are already in a relatively better position compared to what the country can afford. Also, they are well above other public sectors even with the same level of qualification, experience and demand.
This agitation if not checked could incite other equally critical sectors like the army, police, prisons, intelligence services and mainstream civil service to also down their tools on account of the very miserable pay and hard working conditions they endure every day, and one wonders what the immediate consequences would be.
Uganda today faces new challenges than fifty-five, or even thirty-one years ago when NRM came to power and found a broken country which has now been lifted from the pit. Unfortunately, some people especially the educated elites, schooled on privileges, believe that it is not their patriotic duty to make the much needed sacrifices for the country to move forward without causing disruptions. The situation is made worse by the glaring, even obscene disparities when a few selected public employees are given preferential salaries usually without very clear justification.
For three decades, Makerere University staff and students were the ones on the lead holding government hostage over demands for higher and better pay because they argued they were most educated and deserve to skim the cream of the nation. Following their perennial strikes, government last year gave public universities a block sum which they didn’t apportion equitably and hence the new threat of strike.
The democratization of the government has engendered elected politicians especially in parliament who believe they must be accorded special and exceptional treatment. Each round of parliamentary elections has produced aggressive, often inconsiderate MPs, and nobody dares touch them because they have become a house of tyranny.
Brandishing threats of public strikes by elected leaders in the local governments, teachers in public schools, public prosecutors, judges of courts, magistrates, and other judicial officers smirks indiscipline and insubordination to the Public Service Standing Orders, which if left unchecked will take this country down.
Last year at the cabinet ministers’ retreat in Kyankwanzi, President Museveni directed the Head of Public Service to work out a harmonization plan to remove duplication of public offices, which hasn’t come to fruition. Last week the president again directed the establishment of a Salaries’ Review Commission to expeditiously harmonise public service pay structure to make it more equitable.
Years back, government permitted the unionization of public and civil servants which consequently produced the Public Service Negotiating and Consultative Forum, a framework for collective bargaining and negotiation between public servants and government. In 2005, parliament torpedoed the proposal to establish a Public Service Remuneration Commission, which would have worked a harmonization plan because MPs believed it would whittle down its power for self-aggrandisement.
When Museveni took office nearly half Uganda’s population was either desperate or destitute, and for West Nile a half million people were in exile in Southern Sudan and DRC. Nairobi, Kenya was the bastion for Ugandan exiles who couldn’t afford going to Europe. Uganda only had three banks, UCB, Cooperative, Barclays, Baroda and Standard Chartered, and investor confidence was broken and the nation as a whole was rudderless.
Ugandans are more hopeful today than ever before, although some of NRM’s policies are shrouded in controversies, and President Museveni has been able and continues to mobilise our collective national will to demand and do better. Remuneration reforms would see the closure of the prevailing wide and obscene disparities in the public sector pay structures even among those within the same profession but working in different government agencies.
The restructuring and harmonization should aim to give public servants a fair or adequate pay based of the requisite qualification, experience and demand. Many agencies that do the same or similar roles ought to be abolished, merged and made lean to achieve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Going just by the demands of the lawyers and doctors working in public service and agencies alone, the cost of public administration will choke our still ailing, although emerging economy, grind public infrastructure projects under construction to a halt which Uganda badly needs.