By Madina Guloba

The year 2017 was marked by numerous civil servants sit down strikes arising from the need to recognise their dedicated services through increased pay. The strikes in sectors such as health and the judiciary (specifically prosecutors) affected very vulnerable citizens. These industrial actions point to a poorly motivated workforce—perhaps struggling to meet basic needs. The strikes were temporarily halted as government promised a comprehensive salary review in the next financial year.

Typically, a doctor or a public servant are expected to earn a decent pay cheque to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. . However, in the current environment wages are not commensurate to the changing cost of living. . For example, a typical civil servant earns a basic salary of at least Ugx 600,000 regardless of geographical location of duty station. However, considering that an appropriate house in Kampala costs at least Ugx 400,000 this leaves the civil servant with Ugx 200,000 for clothing, transport to and from work, feeding and health care, before factoring in any schooling related costs for children.

The Ministry of Public Service undertook a pay reform review for civil servants in late 2017 in a bid to justify any salary changes. Government committed to increase salaries for all health workers, especially doctors and consultants; judiciary workers, particularly prosecutors and magistrates; primary teachers and secondary school science teachers; local government leaders; and all scientists in the entire public service. However, the National Budget Framework Paper (NBFP) 2018/19 states that salary pay reform cannot take place in the coming financial year-2018/19. The NBFP indicates that any comprehensive pay reform would require UGX 1.8 trillion in 2018/19, implying the funds are not available in medium term.

The failure to budget for salary increments in FY 2018/19 may result into increased and continued absenteeism and poor quality of work. Renewed efforts to bring back the government to the negotiating table through strikes cannot also be ruled out. Worse still, the notion of public servants extorting fees from clients seeking free public services may also become rampant. Indeed, the Minister of State for Health witnessed first-hand this extortive behaviour when a nurse at Naguru Hospital asked the honourable minister for a bribe to obtain out-patient medical services at the hospital. This begs a number of questions including: how many persons can the civil service handle effectively at the current wage? In addition, should we condone bad behaviour even though salaries are perceived to be below the threshold to meet the rising costs of living?

Also, the rather challenging situation, is government’s strategic desire to close the infrastructure gap amidst the clamour for higher wages. It should be noted that while closing the infrastructure gap increases the productivity of other factors of production, such as capital and labour, higher wages enhance disposable incomes leading to an increase in aggregate demand which could be key in kick starting Uganda’s slowing economic growth. In this regard, it is imperative that a balanced action is undertaken such that as government pursues its infrastructure development agenda, streamlining and boosting civil service pay is given equal attention in 2018/19 budget.

There is an urgent need to increase civil servant wages to ensure a decent livelihood. The proposed wage enhancement would not only induce productivity among public servants but also add to a sense of job satisfaction. However, to pay such wages, we must streamline and restructure the public sector to eliminate redundancy and duplication of roles. For example, in the current environment the monitoring and evaluation function has been duplicated by several ministries, departments and agencies. There is no justification for duplication of the monitoring and evaluation function by the Office of the President, Office of the Prime Minister, and the National Planning Authority.

The article was first published by New Vision on February 5, 2018.

The author is a Research Fellow at Economic Policy Research Centre


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