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Govt stuck over big salary gaps

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati & Joshua Masinde

Some receptionists earn higher salary than govt doctors

When Shs 900 million was stolen from under the bed of now interdicted National Forestry Authority (NFA) executive director Damian Akankwasa, the question was how he could have earned such big money when he is a ‘mere public servant’.

Even though he clarified, rather unconvincingly, that the money belonged to his brothers in the village, this has reignited debate on salaries of public servants in the mainstream public service and parastatal bodies.

A study by the Ministry of Finance, a copy of which The Independent has seen, reveals such a huge salary disparity in the Uganda public sector, not just between wages of the top civil servants in government ministries and heads of parastatals but also between doctors in parastatals and doctors in public hospitals.

Officials working in the civil service are paid far less salaries compared to their counterparts in statutory bodies yet their salaries are drawn from the same source, the national treasury; and are all employed by the same government. The discrepancy manifests at all job ranks across these government agencies.

A high ranking official in the Ministry of Finance, who asked not to be named so as to speak more freely on this matter, said the salary disparities paid by the same government to its workers is creating discontent among the lowly paid workers in the civil service who feel they do almost the same work and are equally qualified. According to this official, there is no justification in paying workers in statutory bodies higher salaries (which are nearly 70% higher) compared to their counterparts working in ministries.

‘The disparity is a distortion in the market which needs to be addressed. It creates discontent among civil servants because all work done in statutory bodies and ministries is the same and supervision is by the line ministry,’ he said, adding: ‘What does the URA boss do that makes her earn Shs 28 million yet real work is done by the field staff who collect taxes? Other institutions like NFA (National Forestry Authority) are inept and reeking with corruption even when they are well paid.’

According to our sources in government, the study was undertaken as a first step towards harmonising salaries within the public sector. It mainly focused on Public Service, Uganda Revenue Authority, National Planning Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, National Drug Authority and Uganda Coffee Development Authority. However like many reports before it, no serious progress has been made towards addressing the problem and the report is gathering dust somewhere on a minister’s or bureaucrat’s desk.

The study for example found that the heads of National Drug Authority (NDA) and Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) earn a higher basic monthly salary than the other bodies studied, with the NDA head getting a basic salary of Shs 5.7 million, the head of UCDA pocketing Shs 4.5 million and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) boss taking a basic salary of Shs 4.2 million.

However when the allowances are added, the URA head earns the most at Shs 8.5 million, followed by NDA at Shs 7.2 million, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at Shs 6.9 million, UCDA at Shs 6.6 million and National Planning Authority (NPA) at Shs 6.5 million.

NDA is headed by Apollo Muhairwe, UCDA by Henry Ngabirano, CAA by Rama Makuza, NPA by Tisasirano Longino, while URA is headed by Allen Kagina.

In contrast, permanent secretaries, the highest paid civil servants who are at the same rank with the heads of these parastatals are paid a basic salary of Shs 1.9 million. When you add the perks, it totals to Shs 2.6 million.

For URA, these findings are at variance with press reports that have placed the Commissioner General’s gross monthly salary at Shs 28 million. The Third National Integrity Survey carried out by the Inspector General of Government (IGG) in 2008 also indicates that public servants do not have a uniform salary structure with some earning over Shs 20 million while others, within the same rank, qualifications and experience earning Shs 1 million or less.

‘Our children go to the same schools; we buy food from the same markets; we go to similar hospitals. How do you explain the reason for this unfairness?’ the IGG office questions in its report.

It is interesting to note that a single allowance for these high profile government officials in some cases can be equivalent to the salary of a primary school teacher or higher than the monthly salary of a doctor in a public hospital. In some cases the housing allowance, like that of the National Planning Authority at Shs 2.5 million, can pay 12 primary school teachers at Shs 200,000 or eight nurses at Shs 300,000 a month.

The salary disparity also manifests among workers of the same rank but working for different parastatals. For instance, a driver and cleaner at URA are paid a gross salary of Shs 281,435 compared to Shs 654,276 for a driver and cleaner working with NDA. A copy typist or a receptionist at UCDA gets a gross salary of Shs 340,000 while their counterpart at NDA is paid a gross salary of Shs 944,541. In the mainstream civil service however, a typist gets a paltry Shs 146,565 as gross salary!

Ironically, medical doctors in this country are paid lower salaries than the Shs 944,541 per month that a driver earns in UCDA.

A doctor working in Uganda with all the 18 years they spend in school training gets a gross salary of Shs 652,070. If he/she is senior the doctor gets Shs 823,670.

Speaking to the media in November last year, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Lwamafa Senfuma, said the government remunerates civil servants basing on their academic qualifications, experience, duties, work environment, responsibility for official assets and physical effort.

A senior officer or assistant manager in any ministry earns a gross salary of Shs 775,675 whereas his counterpart at NDA bags Shs 2.5 million and the one at NPA takes home Shs 2 million. The salary shoots up when allowances in form of housing, vehicle (mileage), medical care, and others are added.

A director in a ministry is at the same rank as the head of a function or deputy managing director in a statutory body. Whereas a director at the ministry earns a basic salary of Shs 1.8 million, a deputy MD at UCDA takes home a salary of Shs 4 million while the one at NDA takes Shs 3.5 million. This implies that a deputy director takes home double a ministry director’s salary.  At the same time, a commissioner in the ministry is given a gross salary of Shs 1.1 million while, his counterpart, the head of department at NDA gets Shs 4.4 million, and the one at NPA gets Shs 3.6 million.

The reason for paying hefty salaries to officials in statutory bodies is reportedly to insulate them from corrupt tendencies. But the irony is that a number of studies have ranked some of these top paid organisations among the most corrupt institutions in the country.

Indeed in the IGG’s 2008 Integrity Survey, it is noted that: ‘Improvement in remuneration of staff per se is not sufficient in curbing corruption among public officials. This is exemplified by the fact that institutions with reportedly the highest level of corruption were: Judiciary; Police; and Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). While Police is an institution with poor remuneration, the Judiciary and URA pay reasonable remuneration to their staff.’

The Principal Assistant Secretary for Administration in the Ministry of Public Service, Geoffrey Ettedu, acknowledged that the discrepancies do exist within the public service and in statutory bodies. He told The Independent that Public Service sets the salary scales for civil servants, but could not detail the salary discrepancies either in ministries or in other statutory bodies.

But other officials in the Ministry of Public Service, whom The Independent spoke to, expressed dissatisfaction that some servants in the statutory bodies at their rank get even five times more earnings, yet they keep consulting them on administrative and technical issues. They called for urgent measures to harmonise the salaries payable to public servants at all levels to bridge the enormous gap.

Who decides pay?

The most obvious blame for the skewed salary scales across these public service organs rests on the appointing authority. Officials in Ministry of Finance said sometimes the appointing authority determines how much the head of the statutory body earns. Ministry of Finance has no say on the hefty salaries drawn by these statutory bodies because it is the Act of Parliament that stipulates how they should be remunerated. It is their management boards that are empowered to determine the pay.

Reagan Okumu, who chairs Parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises, explains the parameters for the different remuneration scales. In an interview with The Independent, Okumu said the salary disparities are justifiable since most officials (heads) working in statutory bodies have policy and accounting officer responsibilities fused unlike the ministries where the line minister is assisted by a number of technocrats.

He explains that the work of the commissioner general of URA or that of the executive director of NPA, CAA, NDA or UCDA is fused unlike the permanent secretary who is often supported by the minister and a host of officials under the ministry.

Okumu further elucidates that the workers in statutory bodies have necessary skills to do the specialised work so they attract highly qualified people to work with them. In order to maintain these workers, they have to be paid well.

The terms and conditions of appointment also have a bearing on remuneration disparity of public officials. The heads of statutory bodies are appointed on contract basis of mostly four years, which means they have no guaranteed job security unlike civil servants working in government ministries, mostly employed on permanent and pensionable basis.

‘Some of them are appointed on four years’ contract, renewable only once,’ said Okumu, adding: ‘They are like hired workers. Someone hired is paid highly compared to the regular workers in the civil service because of their specialised skills.’

Interestingly, there are scenarios where some heads of these statutory bodies have been at the helm of leadership for decades even with no track record of increased productivity.

For example, Jolly Sabune has been at the helm of the Cotton Development Authority (CDA) for close to 18 years even as the sector dies away. In 1992, cotton constituted 5.4% of Uganda’s total exports. By 2005, it had dropped to 1.5%. The trend has not significantly changed on the positive side.

Many other heads of parastatals are political appointees or have survived because of political patronage or linkage to the appointing authority.

Be that as it may, Okumu argues that officials in the statutory bodies have a higher remuneration as they attract highly qualified staff, giving the example of the Auditor General, who had to leave his job for USA because he was being paid little. The source at the Ministry of Finance, however, disagrees; arguing that the higher remunerations have nothing to do with skills. This official contends that some of the officials heading the statutory bodies lack the required specialised skills to head the institutions and thus do not deserve the high pay.

But, Okumu insists bureaucracies in various government ministries would bog down the work of these parastatals; that if they functioned under the ministries, they would not perform well as they are doing today. Job insecurity in the statutory bodies, according to Okumu, yields effectiveness in these offices as officers strive to secure reappointment.

What about the high levels of corruption in these institutions? Okumu says people’s attitudes fuel corruption.

‘Society does not appreciate the poor. They appreciate ‘quick achievers’. Some people may be corrupt despite the high pay they get,’ Okumu told The Independent, ‘Corruption in Uganda depends on systems ‘“ a system that works on its own. There has to be a system of checks and balances; and a system of supervision. A system where you do anything wrong and you are fired and corruption is lessened. But when you find laxity, the system weakens and when the system is weakened corruption will grow.’

Way forward: ‘If there is a system of strict accountability, things would be different,’ said Okumu. There should be political will to fight corruption at all levels even in the private sector. ‘The executive director is highly paid, but the environment out there is corrupt. Will the workers who are well paid be crucial in the economy and in the fight against corruption?’ he wonders. He says the president, who appoints these directors should subject them to accountability test.

*****

In the end, the debate as to whether the level of remuneration determines productivity or efficiency at workplace or whether it fans corruption, begs many questions.

Whilst low pay for public officials tends to drive them into corrupt tendencies, the best remunerating institutions like URA and NDA have been ranked among the most corrupt, according to Transparency International reports. Indeed MP Okumu suggests that it is interesting corruption tends to follow a particular hierarchy; the higher you go, the bigger the corruption.

Be that as it may, the least paid public servants in the mainstream public service are at the centre of service delivery which involves a lot of resources. Those at the crucial allocation process like permanent secretaries, principal and chief accountants, and procurement officers are perhaps some of the most corrupt in government.

Indeed President Museveni recently ordered a reshuffle of chief accountants in all ministries after it emerged that one of them owned properties worth billions of shillings that could not be justified by his regular pay. The finding were made by the IGG. The officer however went to court and contested his interdiction.

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