President Yoweri Museveni has defended the government's controversial move to import Cuban doctors saying he refused to be "blackmailed" by the ever striking Ugandan medical doctors, who're constantly demanding higher salaries.
Government intends to import at least 200 Cuban doctors, in a plan that was first mooted during the doctors' strike over poor pay and poor working conditions last year.
Speaking at the Labour Day celebrations in Sembabule, Museveni said the Uganda Medical Association leadership thought they could create a crisis in Uganda, when, last year they 'incited' medical personnel around the country to lay down tools.
"I wanted to bring Cuban doctors because our doctors behaved very badly, unprofessionally. They tried to incite doctors to abandon patients so that patients die. But fortunately, many of the doctors refused to leave their patients and I congratulate them. It was only few bad ones that boycotted patients - thinking that they will create a crisis for Uganda but they failed." he said.
"When we were under that blackmail [of doctors strike], I said, no, I can’t be blackmailed. If necessary, we shall import doctors to bring discipline to this crooked behaviour of people who say they are doctors; when in fact, they behave as if they aren't doctors...Selfish people, these are the ones we can’t tolerate. You can’t lecture me about working for Uganda. The NRA, we fought for no pay for many years and when we won victory we have been working for low pay all this time." he added.
The doctors went on strike on November 6, 2017 - demanding for higher pay and better working conditions - paralysing health services allover the country. They called off the strike about two weeks after government made some “minimum irreducible demands”.
Uganda Medical Association (UMA) president, Dr Ekwaro Obuku then warned government that, failure to fulfil some of the demands cabinet committed itself on, will trigger off another industrial action. Today the medical interns have laid down tools over government's failure to pay them their allowances for the last two months. But Museveni said, a striking doctor is an enemy of the people and his government will treat them as such.
"A doctor of who goes on strike is not a doctor, he’s an enemy of our people and we shall treat him as such. In fact I was restrained [last year during doctors strike], I wanted to go back to the bush but some people [restrained me]. I therefore don’t want to hear that nonsense. I have been working for Uganda for almost 55 years either for low pay or for no pay but am here." he a seemingly tough Museveni said.
Government says it plans to pay each Cuban doctors $1,500 (about Shs 5.4 million) per month. A local senior consultant doctor gets Shs 4.5 per month. Ugandan doctors have demanded that the 200 slots for the Cuban doctors be advertised so that Ugandan doctors with similar specialities are given priority and the Cubans only be given the job if there are no qualified Ugandan.
Last week while addressing journalists in Kampala, UMA president Dr Obuku Ekwaro opposed the importation of Cuban doctors arguing that the conditions in Uganda do not warrant government to import Cuban medical specialists and consultants.
Uganda has over 1,500 specialist doctors registered with Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council. Dr Ekwaro says however that the reasons specialists aren't available in regional and rural hospitals are what motivated last year's doctors' strike.
He noted that the comprehensive cost of importing Cuban doctors is likely to outweigh the benefits citing that the imported medical workers will dig into taxpayers' money to cater for their housing, transport (airfare), salary and security.
Uganda graduates over 150 specialist doctors annually with now 530 specialists in training in the five universities in the country and over 150 subspecialists sent to India, Canada, USA and Italy.
In the recent past, Cuban doctors were instrumental in setting up Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in the 1990s and have helped train over 1000 medical doctors in Uganda.
UNGRATEFUL CIVIL SERVANTS
Meanwhile, Museveni reiterated that he will not be held hostage by civil servants who are always demanding salary increments. He said they should copy his example because wielding authority is better than high salaries.
"I heard some people talking nonsense ‘if you increase the salary of the science teacher, me the headmaster, I will get a smaller pay than the salary of the science teacher. Now that is very bad for my status.’ That is his problem, status. I am the president of Uganda, I get a low pay. I get Shs 3.6 million and even the Shs 3.6 million I accepted it in 1996 because the MPs tricked me.
I was getting Shs 150,000 from 1986 to 1996…There are some public servants who get Shs 40 million, Shs 50 million but you try to challenge my authority, you will see. Authority doesn’t depend on salary, I have a low pay but I am the president of Uganda." he said.
Museveni said, instead the 400,000 public servants should be grateful for pensionable jobs that they have been offered because they just constitute 1% of the total population who are not employed by government. He wondered how public servants can demand for higher salaries yet they are enjoying driving on tarmacked roads that run across all the borders of the country.
He said there's nothing his government is doing that has not been well thought through. He added that instead of demanding for higher salaries, workers should be creating means on how to start manufacturing goods that Uganda is importing from abroad so there's balance of trade. He said this would in turn create jobs for the many youth graduates.
Additional reporting by URN