14 November 2017

Uganda: Are Public Servants' Strikes Justified?

Photo: The Observer
Doctors at Mulago hospital.

Public servants are very important because they serve the Ugandan public. Unfortunately, in the last few years, a number of public servants have been on strike. In the education sector, it was teachers and lecturers. In the judicial sector, prosecutors have been on strike. Now doctors have gone on strike.

They have all gone on strike over poor pay. So, what is responsible for the strikes, the "absurd" demands of Public Servants, pay disparities within the Public Service, the poor state of the economy, bloated public administration which is unsustainable or prioritizing infrastructure?

Let us note that public servants have the right to fair wages, good working conditions, to form associations and to go on strike, according to Articles 7 and 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Uganda ratified in 1987.

We should also note that the Ugandan Gross National Income hovers beneath $1,000 (it is about $670), according to the World Bank. If one plays the Devil's advocate, Uganda is a low-income country and, thus, is not in a position to meet the salary demands of public servants.

Thanks to the media freedom in Uganda, many public servants are able to know about the salaries of their colleagues and counterparts. With this knowledge, any poor public servant will wonder why for their hard work, they are paid comparatively much less than "elitist" public servants.

In Uganda, there seems to be a culture of entitlement. This is very endemic among the so-called elitist public servants. Why is it that the so-called elitist public servants think they are entitled to rewards?

Dr Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health, told Parliament that the Shs29 million given to Members of Parliament to consult on the proposal to amend the Constitution caused the strike. She may have a point.

But how can Parliament address the welfare of public servants when MPs arbitrarily increased their salaries and receive Shs150 million each (there are nearly 450 MPs) for cars, thanks to Article 85(1) of the Constitution, which reads: "A member of Parliament shall be paid such emoluments and such gratuity and shall be provided with such facilities as may be determined by Parliament."

Isn't it ironic that Article 86(1) unites the Opposition and the ruling NRM party? MPs should amend Article 86(1).

Apparently, MPs asked the government to address salary disparities in August.

Not long ago, President Museveni promised to establish the Salary Review Commission, which would review the salary discrepancies in Public Service.

Will this commission look into the salaries and perks of ministers, MPs, and managers of authorities? There is a perception that wealth is only in government. And to make money, one has to be a legislator, Cabinet minister, or manage a State authority or corporation.

A patriot is one who defends their country and its way of life. Public servants should be patriotic by serving amid challenges.

The government should also be patriotic by making an effort to cut down costs of running the government by reducing the number of Cabinet ministers, the number of Members of Parliament, perks such as free cars, etc.

Such resources can be channelled towards development, considering that Uganda has a very small middle class, which cannot help finance the national budget.

This may deter people who will want to go into government just to eat and not to serve. Taxpayers and public servants should get value for their hard-earned sweat and not feel they are being exploited by an insensitive government.

If these discrepancies are not addressed, it is Uganda which loses. This will be manifested in brain drain and a decline in the delivery of social services.

Mr Barungi is a social scientist

Twitter: @andybk82

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