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Can high salary curb corruption?

By Agather Atuhaire

Most highly paid bosses head the most corrupt organisations, according to bribery survey

Anti-corruption activists, MPs, and the general public are divided over Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) Executive Director Jennifer Musisi’s claim that being paid highly deters corruption.


In an interview with The Independent (Issue 178 “Jennifer Musisi wants to be judged on results”), Musisi said it is better to be paid a high salary than earn little officially but illegally earn millions through corrupt means.

She says the Shs 43 million she wants to be paid is nothing compared to the revenues she has recovered and will still recover that KCCA has been losing to corruption. She insists that most civil servants are corrupt and inefficient because they are paid low wages and yet, like everybody else, they have to meet their basic needs at the end of the day.

But Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, who is the KCCA political head and sits in office just across Musisi, says corruption does not hinge on high or low pay but is encouraged by the system. He says Musisi and the government need to strengthen the fight against corruption non-selectively.

“Otherwise, no amount of payment can stop corruption,” he told The Independent.

The debate about high salaries comes at a time when Uganda has been rocked by demonstrations, protests and strikes over low pay. In August, teachers went on strike protesting over the unbearably low salaries they earn yet, they say, they offer one of the most important services in this country. Low income earners without means of flexing their incomes are feeling the pinch as prices of essential goods and services soar and inflation crosses the 20% mark for the first time in 25 years.

The highest paid civil servant in Uganda currently is the Auditor General, John Muwanga, whose salary was increased recently by about 40 percent from Shs 24 million to 36 million with allowances that total the whole amount to about Shs 65 million per month. Teachers earn between Shs 270,000 to Shs 500,000 per month.

A report from Labour Force Uganda says public civil servants in Uganda are paid better today than in previous years but the pay is still low compared to their economic needs. It blames low wage scales for the serious problems of corruption and inefficiency in the public sector.

Under a leaked KCCA salary proposal that Musisi reportedly submitted to the Ministry of Public Service, Lukwago would earn Shs 33 million. Other officials would earn over Shs 25 million which is 100% higher than the remuneration of members of parliament.

Wafula Oguttu, who is an MP (Bukooli Central), says if the government pays civil servants wages they deserve and can put bread on the table for their families, corruption would not be as rampant as it now is.

He argues that when someone earns well from their job, they will value the job and not risk losing it over corruption. “But when you pay a servant much less than they need, they end up paying themselves from anywhere they can and the employer ends up losing more,” said Oguttu.

This assumption does not seem to work in Uganda as observers say the most paid are the most corrupt and some of the least corrupt institutions also have some of the least rewarded staff according to the East African Bribery Index (EABI).

According to the Transparency International (TI) survey done in 2010, Uganda is the second most corrupt country in the East African region after Burundi and third in Africa.  The EABI survey identified the most corrupt institutions in each of the five countries. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), which has some of the most well paid officials, tops the list of most corrupt institutions.

URA’s Commissioner General, Allen Kagina, is among the most highly paid individuals in Uganda with an estimated salary of about Shs 28 million per month minus allowances. The staff of URA started earning high salaries after President Yoweri Museveni said it would shield them from being tempted into corruption.

The Judicial Service Commission has also offered its members high salaries allegedly to prevent the judiciary’s independence from being compromised. However, the EABI lists the judiciary among the top five most corrupt institutions in Uganda.

According to information from the ministry of Public Service on salary structure for legal professionals, civil servants in the judiciary earn fairly well with the chief registrar, the registrar, solicitor general and the director of public prosecution earning about Shs 5 million per month.

Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) Executive  Director,  Godber Tumushabe, says when people are not paid well they spend all their time and energy on survival and coping. He argues that people like teachers, doctors, and the police who are paid an intolerably small wage could easily be engaged in different forms of cheating and corruption to survive.

However public schools, which employ teachers who are among the least paid workers in Uganda, are listed as the 7th least corrupt institutions.

As a result, outspoken Busiro East MP, Medard Lubega Seggona argues the richest in this country are the greediest.

Commenting specifically on Jennifer Musisi’s salary proposal, Seggona said she should not hide her demand for a higher salary under the pretext of fighting corruption. “If you have a corrupt mind and you are in a system as corrupt as Uganda’s you will still be corrupt even if you are paid a thousand million,” he said.

“Her argument does not hold any water,” said Seggona. “If she knows she has any tendency of corruption or thinks the job is too tempting she should not take it up.”

Although Godber agrees that being paid well helps avoid getting tempted to make ends meet through other illegal and immoral means, he clarifies that corruption is caused and encouraged by a combination of factors. He says enforcing zero tolerance for corruption and punishing culprits severely will deter the vice.

Another important determinant observers say is moral aptitude. This means people need to have a negative attitude towards corruption which might be hard in Uganda where giving and receiving bribes has become almost normal. Godber says all the other factors must be addressed for better remuneration to help avoid corruption.

The Executive Director of the Anti-corruption Coalition Uganda, Cissy Kagaba, says although level of remuneration might be the least contributor to the high rates of corruption, it should not be ignored as it has made even the uncorrupt minds to think that way because they have to meet the escalating costs of living.

She says the government should set the appropriate salary scale and reward each civil servant basing on what they offer. She says this will remove any excuses for being corrupt.

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