A teachers' union says its members will go on strike beginning tomorrow, if the government doesn't fulfill its promise of a 20% pay rise.
The demanded pay rise is said to be worth about Shs 60,000 for each of the lowest-paid teachers. Surely, this is not too much to ask for. If Uganda is to nurture the modern human resource needed to propel the country to middle-income status in the coming decades, it can't continue to ignore teachers.
The quality of our teachers determines the quality of our workforce and the quality of our workforce determines our development trajectory. When we pay them peanuts, the profession can only attract mediocre teachers and even these, besides not being good enough, will be absent most of the time as recent surveys have indicated.
The government says it has many priorities, particularly development of infrastructure and energy. While we have sympathies for this position, we also believe that focus on these doesn't have to come at the expense of teachers' welfare.
The government also urges teachers and other civil servants seeking higher pay to sacrifice and exercise patience as the economy improves with time. The problem with this point is that not everyone in the public sector is being asked to do that. For what is good for the goose is good for the gander!
But the convoys for the president and other top leaders are getting longer, more expensive vehicles are being imported for government officials, workshops and seminars continue to consume billions with no tangible output, presidential donations are getting bigger, etc.
Indeed, public administration expenditure is Uganda's current Achilles' heel. With a cabinet of almost 80 ministers, a parliament of almost 380 MPs, hundreds of presidential advisors, 120 districts and an equal number of RDCs and their deputies, too much money is being wasted on unproductive busy bodies.
The opportunity cost of this lopsided prioritisation is poor pay for teachers, health workers, policemen and soldiers, among other civil servants. It is also responsible for falling education standards and a sickly healthcare system.