By Dennis Katungi
Prosecutors have downed their tools for the second time in months, Medics are rumbling and Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA) dons are throwing a spanner in the works about broken promises. The fact of the matter is that public servants are very poorly paid. So much is expected of them, but remuneration is abysmal. It’s amazing how civil servants make ends meet.
This is why government, now that it seems to be serious about it should be given a chance to do a root and branch review of this problem across the board.
On Wednesday 31st May 2017, the Equal Opportunities Commission launched a study report on salary disparities in public service. This effort, though rather late, was a step in the right direction.
Before I re-echo the report findings and recommendations, let me express personal sentiments as a public servant. The natural instinct of a civil servant is not to complain, but rather, to get on with his/her work. It is part and parcel of the unwritten civil service code. Soldiers and Police are among the categories that never complain; but that’s not to say that they are comfortable.
I am aware of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) where Master’s Degree holders earn Shs800,000 per month. Even when personnel upgrade their qualifications by their own effort, they tend to remain in the original salary bands at the point of entry.
The recent equal opportunities report gave a good example of grade 5 teachers who, having upgraded to Degree and Masters remain in the salary band of Diploma holders. This is not only discouraging but disheartening.
It is also acknowledged that most public servants live beyond their means. It is therefore necessary that the problem of poor pay is addressed in a holistic fashion, not piece meal as the Prosecutors demand.
Although poorly paid, you will still find public servants sending their children to private schools. They drive cars and rent properties that double their salaries. They pay for utility bills and medical care for their families. We can only guess where the extra resources come from but it is not surprising that the Equal Opportunities Commission concluded that poor pay encourages corruption and a whole host of other vices.
There is another problem. The political class has for a long time paid lip service to issues of public sector pay. Priority has been on infrastructure projects – roads, power dams, the oil pipeline, the railway, ICT backbone rather than the living wage of a public servant.
It’s very much the chicken and egg story! Which one is more important – The egg or chicken? I would argue that the very people who chaperon these infrastructure projects, if poorly remunerated cannot deliver efficiently and will certainly find ways and means of dipping their hands into public coffers in order to make ends meet.
The Equal Opportunities Commission study that was released in May concluded in the same breath. Those with no access to project funds or budgets to pilfer, end up moonlighting or running side businesses in order to make ends meet. The case of the laboratory technician in Wakiso who reported once a month to his work station and then disappeared to work in private medical establishments was cited.
The study also found that there are wide salary disparities in the traditional public service and statutory bodies established by Acts of Parliament. For instance a director in a government ministry earns Shs2,369,300 per month while a deputy director in Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) earns Shs27,000,000 per month. These may well be in the same age bracket, hold similar qualifications and work experience!
At local government, the study found a wide disparity of 50% between a district chairperson and his deputy as well as between the municipal mayor and his deputy. The difference between the annual salary of the highest paid local government political leader and the lowest paid is Shs 21,216,000 per annum. It would take 7 years for a sub county chief to earn what the LC5 chairperson earns in one year.
The governor Bank of Uganda earns Shs53, 300,000 per month but a teacher on (trial terms) earns Shs198,793. A chief registrar in the Judiciary earns Shs4,804,800 per month but a State prosecutor gets Shs737, 837 per month.
The auditor general earns Shs 36,100,000 per month, but the inspector general of Police earns UGX 6,868,005 per month.
So, well before the prosecutors downed their tools, The Equal Opportunities Commission had concluded that there was an urgent need for Government to fast track a Salary Review Commission to determine equitable remuneration for Public servants and harmonise the various salary structures across Public Service. This is work in progress although the Minister for Public Service gave November 2017 as the tail end of this piece of work.
The study concluded that low pay and salary disparities in Public Service engender high staff turnover, low efficiency and ineffectiveness in service delivery, absenteeism, low motivation, mismanagement and corruption.
It would be reasonable now for all public servants to hold fire since action is being taken and as we all know, this is not an overnight piece of work. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Writer is the Communications and Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre