The killing of the junior labour minister by his army bodyguard, who then committed suicide, has opened the sluice gates on the salary structures within the government.
Relatedly, the case of judiciary driver Stanley Kisambira, who boldly shared his frustrations about his salary, should invite candid conversations at the highest level on salary disparities in the public service.
Here was a man driving a high-powered machine, ferrying his very important boss all over the place, watching his boss shop in bulk at the supermarket, while Kisambira’s wife at home struggled to have faith in her husband’s pay.
Kisambira, emphasizing he was of sound mind in choosing to speak up, urged the judiciary to look into the plight of drivers. He then took it a notch higher, explaining that a severely stressed driver is a bigger ticking bomb than the army bodyguard who murdered his boss.
Like a resistance movement, the permanent secretary of the judiciary has come down like a hammer onto Kisambira’s frustration. Even as the legal process is underway, there must be others like Kisambira. May this be an opportunity to hear and learn from them?
A 2017 Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) study on salary disparities in the public service noted there are flagrant disparities between the traditional civil service and statutory bodies established by parliament. The study indicated that some public officers earn two-to-six times more than their counterparts in other public institutions.
In April, Member of Parliament (MP) Dan Kimosho stated, “The executive director (ED) of Mulago is paid Shs 15 million while the ED of Uganda Cancer Institute gets Shs 25 million and the ED of Uganda Heart Institute is paid Shs 39 million; this should not exist because these institutions are interdependent and serve a similar purpose.”
Even within many institutions, there are huge gaps between the highest-paid and the lowest-paid. At the local government level, the EOC found, “...it takes seven years for the lowest paid political leader to earn what the highest paid political leader earns in one year.”
To no one’s surprise, the study underlined that these disparities do nothing for the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery and, instead, encourage vices like absenteeism, low motivation, corruption and late coming, among others.
The Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), in January 2021, reminded the government about the need for a salary review body to look at the wide salary disparities in public service. Julius Mukunda of CSBAG remarked, “Institute a salary review commission so that everybody including MPs can have salaries that befit us.”
Parliament Watch has chronicled the stuttering progress of efforts towards the salary review body, noting that the debate on the review of salaries started in the Seventh Parliament. It appears the only progress we have made is that we are now at the Eleventh Parliament.
The minister of Public Service revealed in February that government will ‘consider’ setting up a National Remuneration Review Board in the next financial year. Must be nice to be nonchalant about commitment.
The haphazardness across pay structures in public service is bewildering. As bewildering as President Yoweri Museveni’s humble brag about his salary, which remains impervious to change. When cornered over salary disparities in public service, Museveni whips out his trump card.
His salary, he tells us several times lest we forget, is a humble Shs 3.6 million, of which 20 per cent goes to his political party. He breaks it down foras that the First Lady is then left with approximately Shs 2.9 million to run the household monthly. A bedtime fairytale with special effects made in Uganda’s Wakaliwood.
During the 2022 celebration of Teachers’ day, Museveni, responding to the teachers’ incessant demands for increased salaries, lectured: “When it comes to expenditure, we must prioritize our spending. So, when you come up with useless demands saying we want this tomorrow, then you are the enemy of progress.”
In recent weeks, the expenditures of the Office of the President and State House have made our eyes water reading about billions spent on beddings, special meals and other stupefying budget items. Whom shall we finger as the enemy of our progress? This haphazardness in salary structures - whom does it benefit?
Why is the ruling regime content with the discontent of its people?
While citizens are urged to tighten their belts and stop making unpatriotic noisy demands, our leaders unapologetically blow up public expenditure with items like beddings, shoes, workshops, special meals, and other cute priorities. Such a sour taste, these ‘priorities’ leave in our patriotism.
We are like frustrated hopeless romantics waiting on our prolific philanderer of a lover to finally change. Deep down in our weak knees where our hearts now reside, we know that we know that we know. That knowledge is our daily burden.
Days after the murder of the junior labour minister, the health ministry lobbied the parliamentary health committee for the immediate release of Shs 1 billion for a survey of the mental health status of Ugandans.
The ministry argued that the study would shed light on the mental health among different groups of people which and possibly prevent some gruesome murders. MP Timothy Batuwa quipped, “No one is safe. We must support the ministry... We must screen all bodyguards among other people because no one is safe.”
Even though many of us do not have bodyguards, no one is safe.
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu