8 November 2017

Uganda: Doctors' Strike - Officials Can't Preach Water but Drink Wine

Photo: The Observer
Patients stranded at Mulago hospital .

Doctors under their umbrella Uganda Medical Association have gone on strike to protest poor pay, deplorable working conditions and government's failure to address their grievances.

A senior consultant doctor in Uganda currently earns Shs 3.4 million, a consultant Shs 2.6 million, a medical officer Shs 1.1 million, and an intern doctor Shs 960,000.

This doesn't compare favourably with what their counterparts in neighbouring countries earn, which partly explains the brain drain that sees our health sector losing some of its best brains every year.

President Museveni and his officials argue that the government's most pressing priority right now is infrastructure, and that health workers should be patient.

The government has been saying the same to prosecutors, magistrates, university lecturers and teachers, among other categories of workers agitating for a pay rise.

It would be a compelling argument if the government was actually practising the frugality that it preaches. On the contrary, alongside the roads, railways and dams, the government is also spending a lot of money on far less important things than the welfare of its workers.

For instance, one of the factors that galvanised the health workers to take action is the allocation of Shs 13bn to members of parliament to consult voters on the Raphael Magyezi private member's bill that seeks to amend the Constitution so that the incumbent can take his rule beyond 35 years in 2021!

The Shs 29m each MP has been given is enough to pay a consultant doctor for eight months. Moreover, MPs are already handsomely facilitated to do such work on a monthly basis.

This injustice is a reflection of the premium our government assigns to politics at the expense of sectors that touch the welfare of the ordinary Ugandan.

A government that only seems to care about staying in power loses the moral authority to tell its workers to be patient and patriotic.

The disparities in the public salary structure, whereby a driver in one organisation earns more than a manager in another, is yet another grievance leading to industrial action.

It remains to be seen if the salaries board that has been charged with reviewing this imbalance will make a difference.

Sadly, it's the ordinary people that bear the brunt of industrial action.

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