Salary review without downsizing government is a waste of time

The agitation for better pay by public servants, most recently doctors, has promoted government to set up a salary review commission. The government has made many to believe that the report by this commission will provide the ultimate solution to the unending demand for better remuneration from public servants and also ensure equity
The Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Mr Matia Kasaija, last week told journalists that indeed this report would come up with a new salary structure and formula that will address the current disparities.

He revealed that government intends to spend about Shs4 trillion on salaries next financial year but only if the salary review commission sticks to a formula agreed upon by Cabinet, which envisages that salary should be paid at the ratio of 1:10.

While I applaud government for this effort, my view is that this commission will only be relevant if its findings are finally implemented considering the fact that government has a poor record of implementing recommendations of such commissions.

Beyond implementing the findings of this commission, government can do better by downsizing the bloated and largely inefficient public service and to address areas of duplication. In fact the downsizing should begin with the political class. If indeed the President and his handlers are serious about finding money to pay public servants better, they should consider reducing the size of the Cabinet, do away with presidential advisors, who have confessed in the past that they never meet the President, reduce the number of Resident District Commissioners, restructure State House to retain only core staff, reduce the size of Parliament, the number of districts…the list is endless. These have over the years continued to bleed the country.

Our current government system leaves one asking many questions. Why should the President, who has a Cabinet, seek advice from other people to the extent of setting up parallel structures in State House? Why should we have duplication of roles through creation of new departments, authorities, commissions and boards, whose work can be competently handled by an already existing entity?

Early this year, the President lamented the bloated government and rightly said there was too much duplication. In fact, the President is largely responsible for this mess because he has often created avenues to accommodate his party members who are defeated in elections.

Others have been appointed under the appeasement policy and in some cases to thwart political wrangles. I was once told by a former MP when I tried to find out what he was going to do after losing an election last year and he told me that in his “father’s house” (State House) there are many rooms and indeed he found his spot in that ever expanding State House.

My disappointment with the President is based on his failure to remedy the situation. My humble advice to him is to walk the talk by disbanding those entities that you think are a mere duplication. If the duplication is addressed and the size of government will be reduced and money that is spent on salaries, allowances, vehicles, fuel among other benefits will be saved and used to enhance salaries of the core staff.

Uganda needs more job creators and those that will have been dismissed have gathered enough capacity by now to become job creators.

The other challenge that needs to be addressed without hesitation is the deep rooted nepotism. It has facilitated incompetency in public service. Those that get jobs through this channel receive attention and remuneration. This has created a situation where a junior staff earns more than the boss.

Jobs in the public service should be acquired on merit and remuneration linked to the duties attached to particular office.

How can a diver in Kampala earn Shs5 million when a doctor who spent five years in training and charged with saving lives earns only Shs3 million? How can a soldier and a policeman who are responsible for the peace and security of the country and those in power be paid as little as Shs350,000? How can a teacher responsible for grooming our future generation be paid peanuts? How can we expect this critical cadre to survive in an economy where the rich are also crying? That is the impunity that must be addressed through prioritising the critical cadre.

Government also needs to streamline its budget priorities to revamp the failing economy. The cost of living has rapidly gone up and the outcry we are seeing currently about salaries is because everything is expensive. This should be a wake-up call. Its budget strategy of investing so much in infrastructure projects that do not have immediate dividends has backfired.

To make matters worse, the projects are heavily funded by loans which also negatively impact on the economy. Government must now listen to the popular demand to invest more in agriculture and tourism sectors, which have the potential to revamp this ailing economy
So as we await the salary review commission, we should consider looking beyond who earns what.

The author is a journalist and CEO at BuzyMnds Ltd