6 January 2013

Uganda: NGOs Want Pay Rise for Soldiers

Civil society organizations have a new resolve this new year:

They are broadening their appeal by jumping to the aid of men and women in armed forces. Previously, NGOs have championed causes especially of poorly paid teachers and health workers. But at a news conference on Wednesday at Hotel Africana, NGOs under the Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform announced they would this year bring into their fold, a campaign to champion the improved welfare of people in the armed services.

"The men and women who serve in our armed forces - the Uganda Police Force, the Prisons and the Uganda People's Defence Forces, who every single day put their lives in the line of fire to maintain law and order, defend our country, protect our lives and property, continue to serve under unfavourable terms and conditions...," Bishop Zac Niringiye, the retired Assistant Bishop for Kampala diocese read a joint statement by NGO leaders.

The briefing was attended by, among others, Cissy Kagaba (Anti-Corruption Coalition,) Arthur Larok (ActionAid International Uganda), Richard Ssewakiryanga (Uganda NGO Forum), and Okwir Rabwoni (Centre for Constitutional Governance.) Others were Josephine Ahikire (Centre for Basic Research,) Lydia Mungherera, Fred Bazira and Leonard Okello. Niringiye separately told The Observer that their campaign would focus on pushing for improved housing and pay for soldiers and police personnel.

It remains to be seen if this campaign will succeed where previous ones for teachers and health workers have failed. The move has received mixed reactions from Police and the Army. Ibn Ssenkumbi, the Kampala Police Metropolitan Spokesperson, says the move is highly welcome "It's encouraging that people appreciate the work of Police and that it needs some support. It's highly welcome."

On his part, Army Spokesperson Col Felix Kulayigye said the army fully understands why their working conditions aren't up the standards they should be, "We know the economy is not operating well; so, if anyone is talking of improvement, where will government get the money?"

Kulayigye instead supported the fight against corruption so that money available is actually used to improve conditions of work for all workers in general, "I would support those fighting to close the leakages so that whatever money is available does what it is meant to do."

2013 highlights:

The NGOs also revealed issues they will focus on this year. They include a sustained fight against graft. They will do this through their Black Monday Movement "to galvanize our efforts against corruption, in particular the grand theft and loot of public money - taxes and aid."

Under this, they will carry out several activities besides wearing black every Monday as a sign of mourning and anger against the theft of money and the prevailing corruption. They will be seeking to galvanise and inform the public about corruption and how it affects daily lives. To this end, they have already printed brochures.

"We are all affected by this theft through bad health services, bad schools, bad roads, no jobs and much more," reads a copy of the brochure.

Thousands of these brochures have already been printed in English and Luganda and were distributed at various places of worship during the New Year eve prayers. The Observer understands from ActionAid's Arthur Larok that efforts are underway to translate these brochures into different languages like Ateso, Lugbara, Luo, Runyakore-Rukiga and Runyoro-Rutooro

The leaflets also ask people to shun money from corrupt officials: "Don't invite them to your social functions like weddings and introductions. Don't give them special seats at places of worship, reject their brown envelopes."

They also plan to rally people to boycott and avoid businesses like hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls and drinking joints owned by corrupt officials. The Observer understands that, leaders of NGOs are currently collecting information on businesses owned by purported corrupt officials. To underscore the theme of their campaign, all brochures are in black. They have graphic illustrations of the effects of corruption.

These include; pupils studying under huts, houses without iron sheets, perhaps because money to build classrooms was stolen. The information sheets also show roads with huge potholes and flooded roads. The leaflets are a swipe at the tax regime, saying it enriches the rich while making the taxpayers poorer. Besides, graft, NGOs say they will be championing greater transparency in the oil and gas sector, quality education and health services, a hunger-free Uganda, and restoration of presidential term limits.

They also undertake to support parliament as it seeks to exert its autonomy amid increased attacks from the executive and work with ordinary citizens to increase entrepreneurial skills, enhance the power of rural savings, credit and investments cooperatives.

"We must believe, we must act and we must deliver on the above commitments and much more for the good of our country today and for posterity."

The brochures ask people to rise to the occasion, "Realise, believe, act now" on corruption. It, however, remains to be seen if the people will indeed cross the line and say, "Enough is enough" to corruption.

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