Pay future presidents more money

Sunday May 24 2020

 

By Alan Tacca

Consider the bitterness traded in the rotation of the Shs20 million of taxpayers’ money, which every soldier and civilian in Parliament had got on the dubious ground of fighting Covid-19. And the sheer circus!

After that national shame, if there is truth behind the allegation that the MPs who supported President Museveni’s infamous constitutional amendments have stealthily hauled away Shs40 million each, then the ruling NRM has grown into a monster that thoroughly enjoys its moral emptiness.

Before this new allegation, the President had talked convincingly about the division of responsibility in government, denouncing the MPs for thinking that purchasing food and other lockdown relief items was their responsibility.

Then the President said something interesting in passing; that he himself did not shop for State House; he had never bought (for State House!) even a roll of toilet paper. There was a department for that job.

The President was spot on about the principle of the division of responsibility.

However, in a vampire state like Uganda, division of responsibility means distribution of corruption. Instead of government departments delivering selfless service, the individual officials conspire to feed their personal greed, multiplying the plunder.

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As the chief tenant at State House, where the abuse of public funds is said to be rampant, President Museveni could occasionally check on the quantity and the price of toilet paper procured.

But wait… I must be an idiot; because I am saying that State House is part of the vampire state, then in the same breath that State House can be managed as if it existed in a functional reality outside the vampire state.

Even a bird can see how ridiculous such reasoning is!

There are things Mr Museveni can do, but the elimination of vampires is not one of them.

Any serious attempt to reverse the vampire state is for the next ruler – in whatever century that happens! And only if the inheritor comes from outside today’s ruling circle.

If it happens, an authentic new leader should, for a start, have his salary raised. Yes, raised.

In his Covid-19 monologues, President Museveni has divulged how he, espousing great revolutionary ideals, earns a forgettable Sh3,600,000 (less than $1,000) per month, which is handled by Ms Museveni (an MP and a government minister) in her capacity as wife. A Ugandan MP and minister earns about 10 times as much.

Apart from determining how much one can spend, save or invest, a salary is also symbolic, often reflecting the earner’s status and responsibility.

The President’s salary should not be outrageously high, even if he has to kill a lion every day. But it should not be so low that it can be used to mock the taxpayers, or glanced at and instantly cause laughter about his honesty.

As things stand now, the President can say (in jest) that he is a “volunteer”; or that he is “helping” Ugandans; or that he is “not a servant of anyone”, and so on.

He may even justify part-timing as an influence merchant. After all, how much do we pay him?
His job, therefore, is a kind of joke; although, of course, as everyday knows, a life and death joke.

There is a mysterious way African presidents get very rich. For nine-and-a-half out of 10 presidents, it cannot be because of their salaries.

But our future Presidents should be fittingly comfortable, with reasonable wealth, even if from only their salary.

Okay, Museveni has all those freebies: cars, furniture, suits, food, toilet paper, slaves… But future presidents should in addition get a respectable salary.

In exchange, they should be held more responsible for the thieves and the incompetence in public offices.

And to their advantage, if they acquire serious cows, or green camels, or real estate while in office, people will understand more easily how they came into that wealth.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
altaccaone@gmail.com