By Stephen Kafeero
Dr. Muhammad Kigundu-Musoke, the chairman of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), spoke to The Independent’s Don Stephen Mcleish Kafeero about the incessant strikes and the need to re-organise the internally generated funds to pay lecturers better.
Let’s put the record straight, what do the staff want before they can go back to work?
The staff want enhancement because the salaries we get are meager. So we want council to reorganise the internally generated funds to get a package that can push the staff back. We demanded 100% pay rise, council accepted this. Since the students are off and we don’t want to be taken like people against students, we decided to sort out our mess now.
Before you assumed office you were looked at as a less hardliner than your predecessor and people hoped for a regime of dialogue. Why take the strike path?
I’m a man of dialogue and often at campus they refer to me as Kofi Annan but we have dialoged before and nothing comes out. This is why we are taking this route; I wouldn’t want people to look at us as if the strike is something we like to do. We are negotiating with council and I am happy they are listening.
The 100% salary increase will not address some of the four issues that you highlighted when you became chairman of MUASA. Are we likely to see more strikes?
Not really, because we said we need to look at a living wage and Council is coming with a mechanism to streamline the internally generated funds to attend to better pay for staff. The issue of insurance is ongoing.
We intend to look at government sitting down with council and management to know that the infrastructure at Makerere University requires this and that. About the publishing house; with Carnegie Corporation, the management has secured US$2 million plus which is going to help us start it.
How long are you going to keep this agitation for a salary increase if the government refuses to respond?
I want to make it clear that this time we are not looking at government; we are not arm-twisting government like people are falsely saying it. Council is now attending to us; they are reorganising funds internally generated and we are going to be enhanced accordingly and we go back to teach.
The President is reported to have said that if you cannot teach, then go and rear goats instead? What do you have to say about this?
We welcome it because keeping goats is a lucrative venture. We train the veterinary doctors and the President has so many of our vets on his farm. If you are not trained, you can never have these goats as profitable venture. So that doesn’t take away the fact that we have to teach and help the President in the development of this country.
Compared to other people in the country, many would say that your pay is relatively good. What is the justification for the salary increase?
It depends on what you call a better package, look at organizations like Uganda Revenue Authority, Kampala Capital City Authority, and the Parliamentary Commission. You cannot have a salary of a professor at Shs2 million.
There are no fringe benefits as in other offices. The fringe benefits multiply 1000% of the salary. But the professor gets Shs2 million and it has to cover transport, insurance, allowance, and so many other things. It calls for looking at the level of training and how it is valued in this country.
The management of the University has consistently claimed that they don’t have enough money to pay you. Where do you want them to get it?
It is the budget that they presented where we ought to look at issues and areas that are not necessary which have got to be given to staff welfare. You cannot have these machines running without the brain of the staff.
There are also claims that lecturers spend much time part timing in various private University where you even provide a better service than what you provide to your employer. Isn’t what you get from there and from Makerere enough?
I don’t know but I think that is superlative. You have to give to your mother first before you go somewhere else. If some people do that it means they don’t have better pay here and therefore moonlight.
But offer better pay at home, reorganise internal funds; then things will be better. When we get the pay, then Council will be in a strong position to demand our presence in research. At the moment council is not empowered to tell us not to moonlight.
Strikes and demonstrations tarnish the image of the University, isn’t there another route you could have taken?
People are simplistic by looking at strikes as tarnishing. In Universities worldwide this is part of democracy and it is one of the tools that so many people look at. Strikes are one of the modern ways of reacting to conditions of working. We don’t know whether if people kept quiet and did not react to the problems and rot came in they would be happy.
The former Vice Chancellor Prof Venasius Baryamureeba says that you don’t deserve a pay rise and that you actually teach less than you are paid for. What do you have to say about this?
Baryamureeba has his own side of the story. Barya competed to be a VC here and he failed but he was VC before. I wish you were talking about someone who has never been a VC of Makerere. He ought to have sorted it out before when he was VC but if he failed I look at him as a man going on different TV and Radio stations wasting time.
If he feels he is an educationist he has got to come back here and sort out issues. I look at this as very cheap and immature. He also relied on teaching assistants and assistant lecturers to build courses that he now prides in. Should we say that the graduates produced at the time when he was relying on assistant lecturers are not graduates?
He should consult the experts of higher education, he is just a manager but not an expert of higher education, and he has to look at the various models that can be used in handling higher education. He is being simplistic.
I tell Barya that teaching is very important and it takes time to get a PHD like he got. One can become associate professor and professor in one week which he did but no one can become a doctor in one week.
All we hear you do is agitate for salary increases. Do you enforce standards to ensure that your staff provides a service commensurate to the pay they are asking for?
We definitely do. At the moment we are number 4 in Africa university rankings; refute it or not.
Do you ever consider the plight of private students who pay their money but don’t get the service on time because of these strikes?
I was not born a lecturer, the private students are going to be the lecturers of tomorrow because we are leaving like the others before us have and what we are doing is to prepare for them when they become lecturers to find a relatively cool pay that they can handle so that they can perform.
We are also parents here at the university and we are paying for students. In any case some of the staff are students, some are enrolled for PHD’s and masters, so how can we inflict pain on our own staff? We are only looking out for them and they should listen to us.
You attacked the university administration on the 60% fees policy where then do you expect them to get money to pay you and run university activities?
These are questions of policy that have got to be explained by the team. It is a question of the student body sitting down with management to see how we can run. And the university should also wake up and stop looking at tuition as the only thing.
Makerere is a premier university which can run a lot of things establish different ventures say opening up a television station, radio stations and having properties that are rentable, we have a lot of land but they are looking at only tuition which is a problem. We cannot have a university to rely only on money from government.
What are some of the things that need to be done to end the incessant strikes in Makerere?
One is re-organising internally generated funds and bringing them back to one basket. In the long run Council and management need to explain to the government how they can do away with the bulk of the debt burden that they have.
They have to explain that to government. They can also open up investment plans that they can table and see if they are not supported. We have to run this university with the best facilities in the country.
Above of all we need to look at the policy issues governing Makerere. Let there be policy issues done not in the interests of the leaders of the time but in the interests of Ugandans because the university is for everyone.
Any final message to the public?
We want to assure the public that Makerere University is for everyone and that we are all stakeholders. We have them at heart and we are training, we want to give the best product.
Once Council attends to our demands, we shall go back to lecture theatres, research and publish. Let no one think that it’s a question of money that our staff are going away, we have been called to various universities but we are staying here to join the rest of Ugandans develop this country. Like our mission clearly states, we build for the future.