If you use social media, you have probably seen a host of internal office memos about salaries of government workers that will not be paid because the government apparently does not have money. The memos are addressed to workers who will be affected by this development — and the workers are in the thousands.
Non-payment of salaries is unacceptable. Even Ugandans with high-paying jobs and are earning upwards of Shs30m per month would feel the pinch of missing a month’s salary, so you can imagine how difficult it is for people who are paid starvation wages.
That people who have been expecting higher salaries (after recent pay rises) now have to go without pay goes to show how our tired and rotten leadership is increasingly becoming directionless and keeps creating problems in the name of solving problems. If a government cannot pay its workers, what can it do?
The rationale behind paying people well is to boost their morale and discourage them from engaging in corrupt practices. But once you promise workers high salaries and you fail to pay them, you are literally forcing them to resort to any means within their power — legal and illegal — to survive.
Over the past couple of years, the government has been on a salary-increasing spree. It has increased salaries of science teachers, salaries of healthcare professionals, salaries of army officers, etc. That is not bad. Sadly, this spree raises more questions than it answers. For example, if someone has been earning Shs5m per month, why quadruple their salary as if you have news that Uganda now boasts of vast amounts of oil reserves and has discovered fantastically large natural gas deposits?
The government should ask the obvious and pertinent question before effecting pay rises: Is there enough money for pay rises? If people who are promoted rarely get a 100 percent pay rise (even if they work for some of the most profitable companies), why does a desperately poor country mired in debt — and still relies on countries such as the US to finance its health and education programmes — increase government workers’ salaries by more than 150 percent?
We agree that healthcare professionals working in government health facilities earn poor salaries and need to be paid well. The same goes for teachers with whom we entrust the responsibility of taking care of our children; police officers who ensure that we have law and order. But increasing salaries, even by an insignificant proportion, means you will raise money to pay those salaries every month, every year, every decade. In the long run, you find that you are spending large sums of money. To do this successfully, you must have an inexhaustible source of revenue.
The government can increase salaries of its workers and get the money to pay them only if it collects more taxes and checks unnecessary spending — and if money that comes from our natural resources, for example, is properly accounted for. The problem is that the government is horrendously corrupt and is highly indebted. It has to repay its debts. Worse, its leaders are not accountable to Ugandans, and they have previously publicly said so. Every Ugandan who cares to know what is going on in Uganda knows this well.
For the workers that have been affected by the current crisis, things may take long to look up. But the lesson we should draw from this crisis is that we need to live within our means. If we prioritise pay rises, we must have compelling and logical reasons to effect pay rises.
Mr Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected] @kazbuk