The Minimum Wage Bill 2015, passed by parliament last February, was vetoed months later in August by President Museveni. The veto, quietly applauded by businesses, cushioned them from the onerous financial burden of paying a decent minimum to Ugandan workers.
The president argued last week in a letter to parliament that the issues the legislation intended to cure are already addressed in the Minimum Wage Advisory Boards and Wage Council Act.
But Prof Gordon Wavamunno disagrees with that notion in his 2018 book; Independent Uganda: Reflections and Recollections. He argues that corruption continues to soar and pervade daily life and all levels of government because there is no equity remuneration or a living wage for public servants.
In this last report on his book compiled by JOSEPH BAHINGWIRE, Wavamunno, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, makes a strong pitch for a minimum wage.
Today, there are many institutions and laws that are intended to fight corruption but corruption is still flourishing unabated. We have a corrupt judiciary, a corrupt police and corrupt institutions directly intended to fight corruption. So, the rot goes on and the ordinary people believe that everybody who works for government is corrupt.
But there are some who are not corrupt but their voices are drowned out by those who are. In the meantime, the judges take their time and these cases may last an eternity to go through the courts, that is if at all.
First and foremost, leaders, especially our political leaders who govern this country, should occupy the moral high ground and completely be above board as far as corruption is concerned. It is this kind of leadership that can eliminate corruption.
Lee Kuan Yew (former Singaporean prime minister) had even ministers and high key-ranking officers imprisoned, dismissed and the ill-gotten wealth returned to the state. He had the moral authority to do this. That is how Singapore managed to develop from a third world country to a first-world country in a few thirty years after independence.
In Uganda, the culture of impunity and arrogance is so engrained that a government official can declare that “only God can remove me from the job.”
No authority has dared touch this official. There are many officials in government who are waiting for God to remove them. In the meantime, they do what they want. With this level of impunity and arrogance, nothing can be done about corruption. Leaders need the will to fight impunity if corruption is to be tackled at all.
There are two types of corruption and embezzlement- the petty and the mega. Since most civil servants do not earn a living wage in Uganda, they are forced into corruption out of necessity. This type of corruption I suggest can be removed by establishing equity remuneration of public servants.
Today, you find some drivers earning much more than consultant surgeons and professors in the same public service! Where in the world does this happen? This is clearly an administrative issue that can be sorted out if government has the will to do so. The petty corruption is forced on otherwise decent persons because they too have to survive. Pay a living wage and this type of corruption will be no more. Incidentally, it is this type of corruption that is punished harshly.
Then there is the mega corruption and embezzlement- it is this type that is really destroying the country and mostly goes unpunished. In this type, the entire budgets of projects are chewed by a few people who then launder the money through the purchase of land at exorbitant prices and build buildings, which nobody needs.
So, there are many huge unoccupied structures, or whose occupation covers one or two floors. This is a huge waste of money directly stolen from either the Ugandan taxpayer or aid money.
Very important public servants who control the purse strings of government are involved in this mega corruption and this is where impunity is. Some of these mega thieves sometimes even play the role of whistle-blowers on smaller fish and get them locked up while they continue to bleed the country white. This is where the real work of fighting corruption is and this is where politicians with moral authority are most required.
Recently one of the commissioners on the Uganda National Roads Authority inquiry was attacked at his home by “white mercenaries” who fled when there was an armed response from his residence. Robbers from UNRA are sitting on a war chest of over four trillion shillings and they can hire anyone to commit crime for them! The brave commissioners who wrote a damaging report on these thieves are in real danger of being eliminated.
We have a minister of Ethics and Integrity whose sole occupation is the prevention of pornography and indecent attire. He does not extend his ethics and integrity to the stealing of government money. Do we really need such a ministry?
It seems to me that the many institutions we have fighting mega –theft have failed. In our situation, the guard has to be guarded. Where does this stop? Our country should forget development if a Moses does not arise to lead us to a new Jerusalem.
Thirty years ago Uganda had only one university, Makerere: Today we have over 40 and more are being established. Professor Abdu Kasozi, delivering the First Senteza Kajubi Memorial Lecture at Makerere University in March 2015, informed his audience that in Uganda, for every three engineers, there is only one technician!
I am told that in Japan there are fifty technicians for one engineer. This statistic clearly shows where the problem of unemployment comes from. We have put too much emphasis on obtaining degrees, whatever degrees these may be. It has become a social prestige symbol, and not much else.
Government has converted technical schools and polytechnics into universities and then spends money on the skilling of Ugandans campaign!
When Kyambogo polytechnic was still a going concern before it became a university, engineering students would finish their courses at Makerere University and go to Kyambogo for a diploma.
Here they got hands on experience and these graduates who had the Kyambogo diploma found it easier to be employed than those who simply had a degree. Employers preferred those who had diplomas! Today, there is no such option for graduates to get diplomas from the reputable polytechnics because government destroyed them.
Our universities are producing many graduates without the required skills for our economy and that is why many of our brilliant young people have resorted to the boda boda business. Just as Napoleon Bonaparte referred to the British as a nation of shopkeepers at the beginning of the 19th century, so one can refer to Uganda as a boda boda nation in the 21st century.
Many of our young men and women are looking beyond Uganda for employment. Many of them especially teachers and doctors, used to go to South Africa. Today the Makwerekwere are not wanted in South Africa because the South Africans now qualify for the jobs the Makwerekwere were taking.
The Mediterranean Sea has become a major graveyard of young Africans fleeing their countries to look for work in Europe. Africans have also perished in some countries in the Middle East and South East Asia.
And when they do not die, they are grossly mistreated where they venture. We Africans have more or less resorted to our former status as slaves in foreign lands. We are clearly not welcome anywhere. So, what we must do is to create conditions on our own continent where all can live reasonable lives.
There is also need for a change of mindset of our young people especially those who have never visited out there. Many today believe that the streets of Europe, Asia and America are paved with gold ready for plucking but this is not so. Europeans, Asians and Americans run around the world looking for resources where they can. If there were enough resources in their countries, they would not run around the way they do.
So, if we want to effectively fight unemployment, we have to start with the education system we are offering our children. This education should start with work on self-esteem. Today in many schools, children are punished for speaking their mother tongues.
Only English is allowed. Imagine what this does to their self-esteem and confidence. It completely erodes it. If they must operate in a foreign language, they think they belong there. Can independent Uganda concentrate on the production of Black Englishmen and women? We must use foreign languages as tools for trade, and not for our cultural expression.
Our education system is grossly at fault. We are stuck in the colonial education, which was meant to produce clerks and catechists. No innovation was expected and when people showed it, they were heavily punished.
I remember people who knew how to make guns (magezi ga Baganda). These were imprisoned instead of being encouraged to start gun factories and improve the effectiveness of their guns. The state needs guns and gun makers. The only thing the state, colonial or otherwise, has to do is control the gun making and buy the guns from the gun makers. This is one example of innovation that was severely punished.
Must our education system continue to discourage innovation or indeed punish it? We, therefore, urgently need an Educational Review Commission. And this should not only involve academia. All stakeholders should be involved, parents, teachers, farmers, traders, craftsmen and the unemployed. Government must listen in and weigh the needs of the various stakeholders.