Cost of living crisis dents govt employees

Food vendors at Nakasero Market in Kampala go about their business. The traders say the escalating fuel prices have forced them to increase prices of their merchandise. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • Working on the assumption that an average Ugandan family comprises at least six people, Sunday Monitor set out to engage consumers, vendors and grocers in several parts of the country for information on shopping and consumption patterns.

The salaries of up to 94 percent of public servants on the government payroll are barely enough to feed their families three basic meals per day in the wake of the recent cost of living crisis.

The Sunday Monitor’s study does not include those employed by the Judiciary, an autonomous arm of government.

Working on the assumption that an average Ugandan family comprises at least six people, Sunday Monitor set out to engage consumers, vendors and grocers in several parts of the country for information on shopping and consumption patterns.

Those patterns pointed to an average daily consumption consisting of at least one litre of milk, one kilogramme of meat, one medium sized loaf of bread, a quarter of a bunch of matooke, one kilogramme of maize flour, half a kilogramme of sugar, rice and beans.

The family would at the same time need half a kilogramme of tomatoes, a quarter a kilogramme of onions and half a litre of cooking oil.

With the cost of gas having skyrocketed from Shs55,000 to Shs70,000 for a 6-kg cylinder, and from Shs115,000 to Shs138,000 for a 12-kg cylinder, most families are using charcoal stoves to prepare their meals.

One now needs at least one-sixth of a sack of charcoal, and in some cases some banana leaves to prepare their meals.

Our study works on the assumption that a kilogramme of beef costs an average Shs14,000, a bunch of matooke (Shs40,000), a kilogramme of rice (Shs4,500), a kilogramme of fresh beans (Shs8,000), a kilogramme of maize flour (Shs2,500), a loaf of bread (Shs2,500), a litre of unprocessed milk (Shs2,400) and Shs3,400 for processed milk.

Half a litre of cooking oil goes for at least Shs4,750; half a kilogramme of tomatoes for Shs1,750 and a quarter a kilogramme of onions Shs625, with a small sack of charcoal taking up at least Shs65,000. The average required amount of charcoal for a day’s cooking would, however, be a sixth of a sack, which translates into Shs10,900 per day.

That suggests that one would require at least Shs49,425 to put food on the table. If you add at least Shs3,000—as the cost of transporting the items from market to home—the cost of the meal shoots up to Shs52,425 per day. That would bring the amounts required for a month’s feeding to Shs1,572,750.

Who is coping?

So, who would manage to keep their head above water?

A copy of the general payroll published on the Ministry of Public Service’s website indicates that only 19,098 public servants. This represents about six percent of the 314,501 people on the government payroll who earn a monthly salary of Shs1.2m and more.

It is this category—essentially the highest paid government employees—that is deemed to be coping as the pay of others falls behind inflation, which hit 3.7 percent (annual headline) and 3.6 percent (core) in March.

The category includes the Head of the Public Service, who earns Shs17.6m, followed by the Deputy Head of Public Service, who earns Shs16.4m.

Next in line are the Permanent Secretaries in government ministries, who earn Shs15.4m per a month.

Increments for those in this category were first effected in January 2017. Prior to that, the Head of Public Service used to earn Shs4,952,059 per month, with the Deputy Head of the Public Service taking Shs4,099,486 per month and Permanent Secretaries Shs3,768,835.

Others in the 10 highest paid bracket include the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, the Accountant General, Deputy Secretary to the Public Service and Internal Auditor General, all of whom earn Shs13,860,000.

Other high earners are directors and deputy directors in government ministries, who earn Shs3.6m.

The assistant commissioner for human resource management at the Ministry of Public Service, Mr Allan Muhereza, told Sunday Monitor in a previous interview that increments were in line with the objectives of the public pay policy of 2006, which has a long-term target of ensuring that public servants are paid at market level.

Mr Victor Bua, the commissioner in-charge of compensation at the Ministry of Public Service, told Sunday Monitor on Thursday that the government had in 2017 put in place a comprehensive pay plan informed by a job evaluation.

“We came up with a five-year pay plan. From our analysis, the cost of living adjustment is about Shs925,000. This took into account the lunch that a public officer may need to eat while at work, the taxi fares per day for 25 working days, accommodation with an average of about Shs200,000, the cost of feeding a family of three, electricity and water bills,” he said, adding: “We used that to determine the lowest amount of salary to be paid to a public officer. The proposal, which was approved, was Shs1.1m being the [salary of the] lowest paid public officer.”

It is, however, clear that implementation of the policy that Mr Muhereza talked about and the plan that Mr Bua alluded to has never materialised because 296,403 employees—who represent 94.5 percent of the 314,501 government employees—earn less than Shs1.2m.

Who is struggling?

The people currently unable to afford the cost of living include those in the U8 scale. They are the least paid government employees earning between Shs188,660 and Shs237,059.

This category, which includes support staff such as drivers, office messengers and cleaners, earn between 13 and 16 percent of the average Shs1,572,750 that one would require to meet the food demands of the average family that our study proffers.

Others that are deemed to be struggling are those in the U7 scale, which includes accounts assistants and plant operators, who earn between Shs268,143 and Shs377,781 per month; those in U6, which includes  secretaries and records’ officers, who earn between Shs386,972 and Shs436,677; and those in the U5, which includes parish chiefs, who earn between Shs477,080 and Shs598,892.

The rest are those in the U4, which includes accountants and sub-county chiefs, who earn anywhere between Shs601,341 and Shs940,366; those in the U3, which includes senior labour and community development officers, whose monthly salaries are between Shs902,612 and Shs1,131,209.

Other strugglers

Also deemed to be buckling under the burden of the high cost of living are sections of the security agencies, some members of the teaching staff and medical workers.

Classroom teachers earn between Shs459,355 and Shs537,837; senior education assistants between Shs555,100 and Shs563,483; deputy head teachers between Shs588,359 and Shs746,000, and primary school head teachers, who take between Shs703,781 and Shs919,222 per month.

One group of secondary school classroom teachers earns between Shs536,496 and 575,710 and another between Shs566,494 and Shs718,587 per month, while diploma holders who teach science subjects earn between Shs726,304 and Shs864,966.

Arts degree holder classroom teachers earn between Shs721,609 and Shs968,242, while their sciences’ counterparts earn between Shs971,811 and Shs1,153,439.


Whereas the salaries of men and officers of all security agencies were enhanced last year, salaries of the lower cadres in the armed forces remain pitiful.

Warders, Privates and Constables are still paid a minimum of Shs466,933 and a high of Shs497,748, while non-commissioned officers’ pay was raised to a minimum of Shs501,493 and a high of Shs573,331.

Medical Officers

Those in the category of nursing and theatre assistants earn Shs313,836; while enrolled nurses and midwives earn Shs613,180; and those in the category of laboratory, dental or paediatric assistants earn Shs850,000.

Implementation of the five-year pay plan that Mr Bua alluded to should have been coming to completion at the end of this financial year. Not even half of it has, however, been covered. Mr Bua attributes the failure to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Government is financing the enhancement in a phased manner. Some sectors such as the Judiciary were enhanced, but you know the challenges that we have experienced globally. A number of activities had to be put on hold,” Mr Bua said.

The challenge though, is that the enhancements take too long to come and often do not seem to be able to deal with the inflationary pressures.

Mr Bua, however, insists that there are provisions within the civil service salary structure to deal with them.

“We developed pay segments to allow for some increments, which address issues including inflation. The segmented pay structure allows one to rise into the next segment every year,” Mr Bua says.

Trade unions’ take

Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman general of National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), however, says the five-year pay plan and the segmented pay structure are flawed. He adds that they have been perpetuating salary disparities across the civil service.

“We signed a collective bargaining agreement with government. We proposed that the lowest paid civil servant should have, by 2013, been receiving at least Shs1m, but the agreement has never been implemented,” Mr Owere said, adding: “I reminded President Museveni at a recent meeting in State House that the agreement should be the way to go and I hope that we all look at it again.”

Mr Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi, the Butambala County lawmaker, does not believe salary enhancements will help public servants buffeted by inflationary storms. The National Unity Platform (NUP) legislator, who is also the shadow Finance minister, says the best way would be for the government to invest in the provision of key social services.

“Ensure that education is cheap and affordable; healthcare is easily accessible and; that the housing policy is very friendly. But our education, healthcare and housing are all expensive, which puts people under a lot of pressure,” Mr Kivumbi argues.

As the discussion on whether to enhance or simply invest in the social services sector rages on, the biggest question is how the underpaid public servant is manoeuvring their way around the cost of living crisis.

Agriculture, whose budgetary allocation for the next financial year was recently slashed, offers some form of haven for even Mr Kivumbi, who takes home a fat monthly pay cheque.

“I grow my food. I produce 60 percent of what we eat. The same applies to most of those public servants. They are engaged in agriculture for food sustenance. When you see those gridlocks on our highways at the weekend, it is because they are going to the farms to pick foodstuffs and items like charcoal,”  the legislator opines.

The numbers

Portioned out

Daily upkeep for household of six: Shs52,425 per day.

Monthly upkeep for household of six: Shs1,572,750

Head above water

Workers on government payroll: 314,501

Workers coping by: 19,098 (6 percent)

Workers struggling: 295,403 (93.9 percent)

The hard knocks

●  Drivers: Shs188,660 - Shs237,059

●  Security guards: Shs188,660 - Shs237,059

●  Secretaries and stenographers: Shs377,781

●  Parish chiefs: Shs477,080-Shs598,892

●  Accountants: Shs601,341-Shs940,366.

●  Primary School classroom teachers: Shs459,355- Shs537,837

●  Secondary school classroom teachers (Diploma): Shs536,496-Shs864,966.

●  Police Constables: Shs466,933-Shs497,748

●  Midwives: Shs613,180 ·

●  Paediatric assistants: Shs850,000