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Fat salaries and patriotism

By haggai matsiko

Can new proposals transform the public service?

Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba of Reev Consult International has a peculiar image of the Uganda public service that the government hired him to study and propose policies to transform. He likens it to a human body with a very big head, lean shoulders, and very, very thin legs.

Such a body, Nuwagaba says, suffers from a disease called implementation paralysis or the inability to get anything done. It is an apt image for the men and women one meets in various government offices around the country. They are too many, too poorly paid, demoralised, and corrupt. It is impossible to get them to do anything on their thin legs.

Nuwagaba, an economics lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala who first popularised this image in a 2006 paper, now thinks he has the perfect plan to get the public service on its feet; it revolves around fattening the lean shoulders and thin legs to enable them carry out the great policies being churned out by the big head.

He is frustrated that many countries, especially in Africa, have benchmarked policies and systems developed in Uganda and implemented them to cause positive change.

“One then wonders what happens in Uganda,” he asks.

He argues that implementation paralysis is a result of inadequate pay leading to absenteeism and lack of morale as public service workers take up other activities to supplement their earnings.

Earnings from the job are a circus in the public service.

As Nuwagaba points out, a receptionist in National Drug Authority (NDA) who barely completed secondary school earns Shs 944, 541 per month while a medical doctor who spent seven year in medical school earns a paltry Shs 705,621. Similarly, a driver at the Bank of Uganda who possibly never went beyond primary school earns Shs 1,135347 per month. Such disparities defeat logic and directly affect public service provision.  Skilled and experienced personnel required in central government service quit.

Some institutions/agencies are mandated by law to determine their own remuneration and their staff award themselves higher salaries than their counterparts in the traditional public service.

In some cases, selective awards are far above those of other professionals with equivalent or higher qualifications, job skills and responsibilities especially in the judiciary and health sector. The highest earning staff in the Attorney General’s office earns eight times more than a Permanent Secretary or their equivalent in a traditional public service institution.

Salaries for “selected or special” groups within the civil service have been an issue. Members of the judiciary are “special” and, therefore, are highly paid. But, as Nuwagaba points out, their efficacy depends on the ordinary police who are not special and are, therefore, poorly paid.  The discrepancies cause police failure to expedite investigations and piling up of cases in the courts.

Nuwagaba wants that changed to ensure “equal pay for work of equal value”. He wants a salaries’ board to determine salaries of all public servants and political leaders paid from a consolidated fund.

His plan, which is contained in the draft “Policy paper on the transformation of the Uganda public service”, says previous pay reforms failing because they took on “an egalitarian and populist perspective” and caused “selective pay awards that leave the voiceless frustrated”.

Under the plan, which he presented to senior government officials in Kampala onOct.1 and could soon be before cabinet, public service workers in Uganda would be paid salaries commensurate to the cost of living with the least paid workers getting the biggest raises.

The pay would also be benchmarked on private sector pay, and selective high salaries for favoured segments would be abolished. Their working conditions would also change, with the current red-tape being handled by poor trained civil servants huddling behind colonial-era desks will be replaced by automated, flexible, e-powered one stop- centres run on a caravan approach.

The top-most civil servants would see their salary jump from the current Shs 2.2 million per month to Shs 15 million; or an unprecedented 600 percent raise. The lowest paid civil servants would get a 250 percent raise from the current Shs 113,000 to an enviable Shs 390,000 per month.  With over 300,000 public servants on the payroll, these increments would increase the wage bill of public servants to Shs 4 trillion annually. This is more than half of Uganda’s Shs 7.5billion 2010/11 FY national budget. Implementation of the process would eat up 99 percent of another US$ 252 million (Shs590 billion) budget he proposes to transform the public service over a five-year period. Can Uganda afford it?

 Ibrahim Okumu, a lecturer at Faculty of Economics and Management says that increasing salaries of public servants to a level where they reflect their cost of living enhances good service provision and reduce corruption.

“If salaries are poor, public servants will be compromised and this means that services will not reach the poor and some people will not pay taxes because they can get away with it through bribing,” he says. He adds that in countries like Canada people prefer to work for governments because they pay well. “In any case public service should be a benchmark for the private sector.

On whether government can raise the salaries, Okumu says that it depends on the government’s priority. “What is important to note is that with good salaries we will see good roads and traders will have fast and easy access to markets,” Okumu says, “entrepreneurs will register companies easily and properly and we will have a robust private sector that will generate more taxes for revenue to pay good salaries.”

But the salary bonanza would come at a price for the beneficiaries:  A typical successful civil servant today lives in a government house, drives a government car or two and is secure because the civil service job is “permanent and pensionable”. All that could end.

Many civil servants could be laid off in a recommended downsizing and others, especially those in senior position will be required to sign performance contracts. All of them would have to attend lessons in patriotism and stop getting any other benefits like housing and transport allowances. These would be consolidated into the new salary.

Public service reform is critical because the inflexible, long, and manual processes hike the cost of delivering public service in Uganda.

The latest 2010 World Bank measure of the Cost of Doing Business places Uganda at 122 out of 183 countries ranked. The higher the ranking, the higher is the cost of doing business. The processing of land titles, passports, and awarding of contracts are some of the worst hit public service sectors. Last year, the Global Integrity Survey reported that Uganda loses US$ 258.6 million (Shs 510 billion) a year through corruption in procurement related activities.

Nuwagaba says by merely tackling corruption in public procurement, the government would rescue Shs 30bn a year and another 20% of the 70% public accounts of public spending that is lost in dishonest ways.

Brian Asiimwe, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Public Service and Local Government Committtee says Nuwagaba are nothing new. “We all remember that when salaries of judges and URA officials were increased, the following year the judiciary was found to be the most corrupt,” he says.

Asiimwe says another recycled proposal of getting rid of government vehicles cannot work. “I know that a lot of money is wasted on cars but you have to have adequate measures in place to get rid of the cars,” he says, “government business cannot go on without these vehicles and if people buy their own cars they will not be willing to travel long distances, so this in a way can also humper service delivery.”

But Kenya has abolished the buying of new motor vehicles, and government officials there, including cabinet officials can only drive vehicles whose engine capacity is below 1800cc. Rwanda allows vehicles with maximum 2000cc. Ugandan government official continue to enjoy fuel guzzling vehicles of 3000cc and 4000cc.

Nuwagaba shows that the 12,000-strong, the fleet of government vehicles costs Shs 72 billion- a third of the Shs 230 billion budget of the Ministry of Agriculture which employs 80 percent of the country’s population.Â

Government expenditure on fuel, oils and maintenance of the vehicles increased from Shs 36.7billion in 2004/05 to Shs 92 billion in 2006/07.

Abel J.J Rwendeire, the deputy Chairperson National Planning Authority also says he has not looked at the draft policy. He says getting rid of government cars is not a new idea. “That is not a new recommendation, it was here and it failed how it is going to work now,” he says, “I think what they should do is devise other ways of cutting on the costs.”

Nuwagaba’s proposals appear similar to the public service reforms that the government has proposed in the past. Some were among 255 recommendations made under the Public Service Review and Re-organisation Commission in 1989, just three years after President Yoweri Museveni came to power. Museveni has been in power 24 years and nothing has changed.

This time, Nuwagaba recommends, the new pay structure should be “transformational and not mere incremental pay”. He says the previous reforms failed because the emphasis was “mainly on structures and systems with minimal attention to motivational and attitudinal issues which are critical in service delivery”. His transformational approach is three-pronged and targets the public service as an institution, the public service workers, and the client who is the citizen.

To resolve the “motivational and attitudinal” issues, Nuwagaba proposes what could be easily interpreted as either academic myopia or his pandering to his paymasters favoured flavor of the moment; patriotism.

Nuwagaba says the guiding vision of his recommendations is to create a public service which is “patriotic with officers that are loyal to their country” and that the strategic objective for the transformation he proposes is “(a) to create a patriotic public service with public officers loyal to the country”.

Can patriotism really transform the public service?

Asiimwe says yes; Ugandans need to be patriotic if quality services are to be delivered.

“I think that is important. Today, when one is working with government they take everything anyhow (sic) that is why there is poor service delivery and rampant corruption,” he says.

The bigger question is how it will be taught.

Nuwagaba recommends a mandatory national service scheme for all citizens similar to the chaka mchaka, induction programmes for civil servants, and establishment of a national school of government to continuously upgrade and refresh the skills, knowledge and attitudes, improve their working conditions.

But some are unimpressed.

“Patriotism has been preached over and over again but have we stopped embezzling funds, have we stopped giving handouts to influence citizens decision?” asked an official of the Ministry of education who requested anonymity, “My answer to you is that we need to lead by example to solve these problems.”

In order to inculcate patriotism, Nuwagaba wants the government to gazette days for all citizens to participate in national service like cleaning roads and water resource maintenance. If his dramatic are implemented, you could see the Minister of Public service, Mzee Henry Kajura with broom in hand, cleaning a city street or opening a blocked sewer.  Such revolutionary demands, however, also make it more obvious that Nuwagaba’s proposals could, like others before, be shelved

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