Juniors launch pay war on supervisors

President Museveni (right, seated) and the Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo (left, seated) joined by other judges for a group photo during the opening of the 24th Annual Judges’ Conference in Kampala on January 30, 2023. Stanley Kisambira, a driver, at the Judiciary posted audio clips online, threatening to kill his boss over pay. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI   

What you need to know:

  • A 2017 study by Equal Opportunities Commission established that there are wide salary disparities between high office holders and those at the bottom.

Recent shootings by security personnel, and Tuesday’s arrest of a driver working in the Judiciary for complaining about his very low salary, have again brought to the fore long-standing grievances over huge public sector pay disparities.

But while the authorities deny that Uganda’s Public Service is facing a crisis, there are admissions that the glaring differences can no longer be swept under the carpet.

Salary disparities: Are we ready for consequences?

On Monday, Kampala police said they were holding Mr Stanley Kisambira on unspecified charges. Mr Kisambira, is the driver, who in audio clips posted online, threatens to kill his boss over pay. 

“I have not run mad, just be considerate. You take someone and he does a shopping of Shs500,000 on your watch …  and yet for you, you only take home shavers and a small spray worth Shs50,000 and your wife looks at you and you feel ashamed,” he said.

“... the situation has pushed us to the wall...I can ram into a trailer...I am a driver and remember a bodyguard kills one person (his boss) but the driver will kill the boss, bodyguard and himself”.

It is barely a fortnight since army Private Wilson Sabiiti shot dead the former State minister for Labour, Col (rtd) Charles Okello Engola. Witnesses claimed that Sabiiti was shouting about money problems moments before he took his own life. 

It later emerged that of the soldier’s Shs480,000 salary, Sabiiti was actually taking home Shs130,000 because he was servicing loans. 

The murder of Uttam Bhandari, a money lender, by police constable Ivan Wabwire who had defaulted on a loan payment is also said to have its roots in distress caused by meagre pay.

These incidents have re-opened the old debate around welfare and remuneration of lower level staff.

A 2017 study by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) established that there are wide salary differences between high office holders and those at the bottom.

It also established that in some statutory bodies certain employees enjoy comparatively unequal terms..

“For instance, a director in a government ministry earns Shs2,369,300 while a deputy director in KCCA earns Shs27,000,000. Other observations reveal that some public officers earn two to six times more than their counterparts in other public Institutions,” the EOC established.

“...There are institutions where the ratio of the highest earner and the lowest earner is 51:1 (Uganda Coffee Development Authority); 49:1 (Uganda Industrial Research Institute); 40:1 (Uganda Land Commission); 34:1 (National Information Technology Authority) and 33:1 (Uganda Road Fund),” the commission reported.

Such inequalities, according to the report, breed inefficiency and ineffectiveness of service delivery, absenteeism, low motivation, corruption and late-coming in public service.

The Education sector
 Last year, pay disputes nearly brought down the education sector after government more than tripled salaries of teachers of science subjects, leaving out their Arts counterparts. 

A public secondary school science teacher now earns between Shs2.5 million to Shs4.2 million. Their Arts counterparts continue to earn between Shs700,000 Shs1.2 million.

To solve such issues, the EOC, a constitutional body established to eliminate discrimination, recommended the establishment of a salary review commission to determine equitable remuneration.

It further called, without success, for a review of policies on remuneration, and to ensure fair pay commensurate to the prevailing economic environment. 

In February, Minister of Public Service Wilson Muruli Mukasa said the government was considering a National Remuneration Review Board in the next financial year.

In August 2022, his junior minister Mary Mugasa had promised that the EOC proposal would be in place by October.

Monitor reached out to the ministry for comment without success.
 Mr Yusuf Muziransa, the spokesperson at the EOC, said: “We continue to ask government to level salaries of public servants. We are living in difficult times, these disparities can cause issues...”

“The EOC deals with ensuring every Ugandan benefits from the few resources this country has, not equally but equitably. You cannot pay a commissioner the same amount as an officer, but our push is for this officer to get something significant to run their lives,” he said.

Acknowledging that the government enhanced pay in the armed forces and for science teachers, he said EOC hopes to meet finance and public service officials in two weeks’ time to discuss salary reviews in light of the high cost of living.

Industrial action...Doctors, other workers
Meanwhile, medical workers last week rejected government call to resume their work after they went on a seat-down strike over pay.

In mid-February, experienced doctors undergoing specialised post-graduate training withdrew their services from public hospitals, protesting nonpayment of a Shs2.5 million monthly allowance since October last year.

On July 13, 2022, employees under the Uganda Local Government Workers Union laid down their tools, compelling the government to enhance their salaries.

It took the intervention of the President to convince Arts subject teachers to end nearly their  20-day strike on July 5, last year.

The Uganda National Teachers Union had laid down their tools on June 15, demanding a uniform salary increment similar to the 300 percent enhancement afforded to science subject teachers.

On May 16, 2022, the Allied Health Professionals went on strike following what they called government’s failure to comply with the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2017.

Government had agreed to increase their pay with a certificate holder promised Shs1.3 million, diploma holder (Shs3 million), and a degree holder (Shs4.8 million). 

This was not fully implemented after the government only enhanced salaries of doctors.

What Museveni says on salaries

In December last year, President Museveni warned teachers against pressuring him over salary increments for the Arts teachers.

“When it comes to expenditure, we must prioritise our spending. So when you come up with useless demands saying we want this tomorrow, then you are the enemy of progress,” the President said.

He added: “I want to tell teachers that money is not obtained from witchcraft. Money is obtained from hard work and sweat. They should stop this indiscipline of putting me under pressure. We shall not agree to anybody making us make a mistake … I will not allow unrealistic threats from you. You cannot say we want our money tomorrow. What if we do not have it? You should be polite and desist from coming here to give me long lectures.”

“Initially we planned to have a Private earn the same as a Grade Three Primary School teacher. At the time, the ones from the rank of a Major, upwards, were not touched. Now we have increased from Major to General. As the economy improves, we shall keep on moving until we handle all,” Museveni said in July 2022 in Mubende District.

Museveni banned allowances for bodyguards
“If you make the cost of each soldier so high, how will you get manpower to defend the country? We said get a small pay in the barracks which we share with our families. When you get out, you get food not money,” Gen Museveni said on May 11

He added: “That mentality of allowances and what have you is a wrong mentality because if you talk about allowance for bodyguards, what about those fighting in [Democratic Republic of] Congo now? Do you mean when a soldier goes on patrol he get allowances. How will you sustain that? It isn’t right for people to distort our doctrine with things of money.