Of recent, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge regarding poor pay, particularly among the teachers in Uganda and the industrial action that nearly paralysed the entire education sector in the country.
The problem has been worsened by the biting inflation now standing at over 21.4 per cent. The food inflation is actually around 43 per cent. This means teachers and all other salaried workers have either to dig deeper into their pockets if they want to purchase the same basket of goods or else they have to cut their budget.
Actually, majority cannot even cut their budget any further because they are already surviving marginally. They are actually on life support! Otherwise, how do you explain the means of survival for a person whose salary is Shs260,000, yet, a sack of charcoal is Shs80,000? One wonders where people get money from. This is why there is high absenteeism, stealing of public funds because it is about survival.
Unless the teachers are shopping from different markets, it defeats any understanding that one can work and survive on such meagre pay. Talk of patriotism; show me a more patriotic person and I will show you a teacher. Many a person have left Uganda for greener pastures but teachers have worked through thick and thin to serve our motherland.
Notwithstanding the current high cost of living, there is a disturbing phenomenon where everyone in Uganda has been made to set their own emoluments. The first are members of Parliament. These are sacred and they determine their own remuneration. Others are Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) where a salary of Shs43 million has been proposed for its chief executive. Imagine someone giving you a blank cheque! How much would you write on the cheque? Many other agencies in the country also set their salaries.
It is known that primary teachers, nurses and police constables are the critical service providers and they spend most of their time on job. What is glaring is the selective pay across Uganda's public sector. In some cases, some public servants earn more than 20 times higher that their colleagues of similar qualifications. Paradoxically, sometimes, those who are highly qualified and even experienced earn just 5 per cent of what their colleagues earn. Members of Parliament, for instance, earn more than a cool Shs20,000,000 per month!
If this scenario is allowed to continue unabated, it can breed discontent and it is not surprising that we are currently witnessing a spring of industrial action among teachers and lecturers which has resulted in the unfortunate closure of Makerere University.
In case some people are mistaken, let me put the record very clear: there is no one who is interested in having industrial action as means of solving grievances. Who can be happy to close Makerere University and have our children seated at home? But at the same time, who can be happy when there is pretence that students are being taught? What is obtaining is that there is rampant unfairness in remuneration structure in Uganda. A medical doctor who has studied for a good six years is condemned to earn Shs705,621 per month yet, he/she works 24 hours in very difficult circumstances. Imagine our good and nationalist teachers and nurses earn Shs205,913 per month! Even the senior ones earn not more than Shs260,000.
Just like university lecturers continue teaching multitudes of students without even being able to pay fees of their own children; can you be happy teaching other people's children when you left yours at home? Let's face the reality.
In 2010, I was contracted by the Ministry of Public Service to produce a policy paper for the Transformation of the Uganda Public Service. Among the major recommendations I made was a establishment of a Salaries Commission whose main mandate would be to streamline the salary structure in Uganda. This commission should be an independent body with powers to determine the remuneration of all Ugandans who are paid from consolidated fund. Short of this harmonisation, we shall continue to witness a spring of industrial action from different groups of workers as they cannot sit and yawn while watching others eat. It is just simple logic. The writing is clear on the wall.
Prof. Nuwagaba is a development consultant - firstname.lastname@example.org