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Uganda Airlines pay sparks equality demand

How government created an ‘eating’ bonanza

COVER STORY | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Uganda Airlines earns Shs87 million, the Director Maintenance Shs80 million per month, Chief Financial Officer Shs73 million, and Manager Finance shs58 million. Others are Human Resource Manager and manager Quality Assurance at Shs43 million, Manager ICT at Shs36 million, Manager Cargo Shs14 million.

These figures are from the 2020/2021 Auditor General’s report on the company. They raised dust on August 16, when the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) was meeting Jennifer Bamuturaki Musiime, the CEO for Uganda Airlines to answer some of the audit queries raised in the Auditor General’s report on the company.

Previously, it was those working in Uganda Revenue Authority who were known to get fat salaries but the top management of Uganda Airlines appear to have taken it to a new level.

While the Uganda Airlines CEO earns Shs87 million, it takes a permanent secretary who supervises the airline at least five months at  Shs17 million each to earn the CEO’s monthly salary and a cleaner will have to work for 36 years to earn Shs87 million.

The focus is on the high salaries at Uganda Airline. But it should instead be on how the government’s haphazardness in salary allocations has sparked a high salary bonanza.

The newly approved pay structure for top civil servants gives more salary to scientists. For example a commissioner or director who is a scientist at a ministry earns double the salary of a colleague who is not a scientist.

A commissioner (scientist) was earning Shs3 million while a non-scientist commissioner was earning Shs1.9 million last Financial Year 2021/2022.

But because of the recent complaints on discriminatory salary increments some changes have been made. The approved salary scale for 2022/2023 financial year has a commissioner in any ministry or government agency earning Shs14 million irrespective of whether they are scientists or not.

Some district local governments have taken advantage of this hype on entitlement of science teachers to higher salaries to another level.

On July 29, the permanent secretary for Ministry of Health wrote to the Ministry of Public Service to stop paying senior health educators (such as members of village health teams VHTs) and health inspectors as scientists but pay them under the medical scale.

MPS react

Many MPs, who up to that moment possibly considered themselves to be highly paid suddenly feel cheated. A Ugandan MP earns an average of Shs35 million per month plus allowances.

A previous leaked COSASE report listed other high paid public officials. The Bank of Uganda governor topped the list with Shs53.3 million per month, the Commissioner General of Uganda Revenue Authority, Shs40 million per month, the Executive Director of National Social Security fund Shs39 million and  CEO of New Vision Shs37.3 million. That was in 2015 and these figure have possibly climbed higher.

Part of the reason these office offer high salaries is that these organisations are self-accounting; this means they determine their own salary range and scales.

But there are public offices which the government allows to pay high salaries. The ED of Kampala City Capital Authority earns over ShsShs44 million per month, the Auditor General Shs36 million, the MD National Water & Sewerage Corporation Shs30 million, and the IGG over Shs20 million.

These figures have led statisticians top routinely list Uganda among countries that offer high salaries in Africa. Statistica.com says the average salary in Uganda is US$738 (Approx. Shs3 million). In comparison, Kenya another high paying country is at US$ 1,291 equivalent, Nigeria US$748, South Africa US$2,026 and the highest paying Morocco at US$2,031. The other countries pay far lower than Uganda. Rwanda is reportedly at US$673 and Ethiopia at US$174.

While Uganda pays high salaries, it is also most times cited in scholarly discussions about the dangers of wide wage ratios and lack of equitably salary ranges and scales. That is mainly because, as the top CEOs earn high salaries, low rank workers in the same company, industry, or economy, earn puny salaries.

And the salary gaps are equally growing. The salary gap between the highly paid civil servants like a permanent secretary who is now earning Shs17 million is far higher than that of an office cleaner who earns Shs200,000 per month.

The highest paid public servant; the head of public service, according to the latest July 2022 circular on salary structure of the Financial Year 2022/23, is Shs18 million per month. The lowest; the non-formal education teacher at scale U8 earns Shs230,000 per month.

The salary structure for political leaders is lower. The highest paid; the Senior Presidential Advisor, earns Shs2.4 million and the lowest; the Assistant Resident District Commissioner, earns Shs820,000 per month.

In another glaring disparity, according to the same circular, the District Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) who is the head of civil servants in the district earns a paltry Shs2.4 million per month which is about the same as the pay of a secondary school head teacher. Meanwhile, a science secondary school teacher, whom they supervise, earns double their pay at Shs4.3 million per month.

Debate rages

Such glaring salary disparities have resurrected the debate on the widening salary disparities among people working for various government institutions.

The current high prices of fuel and other commodities have pushed many government and private sector workers to demand for inflation-linked wage increases.

In July, Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) was on strike demanding a pay rise for arts teachers since their science counterparts had been given a 300% salary increment.

As the UNATU strike was coming to an end, local government civil servants were threatening to strike over poor pay. They too wanted higher salaries.

Before the UNATU strike, doctors and nurses as well as other cadres of health care professionals have been demanding salary increment. The Judges too are demanding more salary increment. The soldiers who had been silent were watching the demands. It was then proposed the top soldiers would also earn big.

Even as science teachers are still celebrating the recent increment of their monthly salary to Shs Shs4 million per month, other teachers usually thought to belong to the science category such as teachers of Mathematics, nutrition, ICT, etc. are in tears as the government does not categorise them as science teachers.

Many of those who are unhappy about their salaries have said they will strike to demand higher pay.

Demand for a salary review

Some analysts say the time is now to have a Salary Review Commission and a Salaries Board for civil servants.

Organisations, such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), also want the government to enact a law to ensure a minimum wage.

Wages are low because of many unemployed people, especially entry level job-seekers, chasing few openings.

According to reports, unemployment in Uganda was estimated at 2.5% in 2021; that is from 1.8% in 2019.

The Uganda National Organisation of Trade Unions (UNOTU) also pushed for a living wage and a salary range scale rather.

A living wage is computed based on the basic necessities of life, Including housing, feeding, and medication. The idea is for an individual to earn at least what is enough to sustain them, meeting the basic necessities of life.

In August 2019, President Yoweri Museveni declined to assent to the Minimum Wages Bill 2018 which Parliament had passed in February that year. The Bill sought to empower the Minister of Gender, Labor, and Social Development to appoint a Minimum wages Board to fix all minimum wages for various sectors. The Bill also mandated the Minister to announce the minimum wages annually.

President Museveni said that there were no gaps in the Minimum Wages Advisory Board and the Wages Council Act that the Bill seeks to cure. He argues that the current law is adequate and enforceable.

Museveni has always put investment in infrastructure ahead of paying high wages on his list of priorities.

He famously said: “The first thing you must avoid is high salaries for soldiers and police officers, with a small economy and high salaries you cannot buy weapons, when a war comes, salaries and cars cannot fight”.

That was in 2015. In 2016 he said: ““When you increase salaries of public servants, you will have highly paid civil servants but no roads to Kisoro or Kanungu. In order to develop infrastructure, you need to withhold funding to other areas. Once you build a good road like the one from Kampala to Kisoro, you will not build another one in 15 years. But when you begin with increasing salaries, which is paid monthly, is that the best strategy?”

Museveni also defends his allocations of high salaries to some groups and not others on his government’s lack of money.

He made the argument recently, when defending the discriminatory increase of salaries of science teachers in secondary and primary schools resources.

“We insisted on giving good salaries to government scientists including teachers in the government Universities and secondary schools,” he said, “This is not because we have forgotten the social scientists or art people. Not at all. It is because we can’t handle everything at ago. We have decided to start with the scientists.”

“The reason we insist on science is that it’s the base of social-economic progress,” he said, “Scholars and philosophers are students of social change but the trigger for social change is science. I appeal to Ugandans to understand this.”

Economists argue against what Museveni is pushing for; short-term productive in some enclaves of the economy. The economists say that such enclaves of high pay may in the long-term not be in the best interest of the country as they lower worker satisfaction and do not ensure long-term high performance.

Instead excessive wage disparities lead to declining morale among workers, reduced work effort, chronic absenteeism, resurfacing of ghost workers, high prevalence of unfilled vacancies, multiple jobbing or moonlighting, and reduced incentive for human capital formation.

Other adverse effects of wide salary gaps include corruption.

One report noted: “Uganda civil servants spend a third or a half of normal working time on government duty, the rest is spent moonlighting.

MPs sabotage

The justification for the most recent UNATU strike was that the Shs4 million pay for science teachers was “discriminatory”. They wanted all teachers to be treated equally. Government increased salaries of graduate science teachers to Shs4 million and primary school science teachers with a diploma to Shs1.3 million.

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public service, Catherine Bitarakwate, says her ministry is setting up an Ad hoc Salary Review Commission to address unjustifiable pay differences among persons doing similar jobs.

Bitarakwate said the Ad hoc Salary Review Commission will serve instead of waiting for a constitutional amendment to establish the Salary Review Commission as requested by the various service commissions.

“It doesn’t have to be a full-time salary review commission but a special purpose vehicle that is ad hoc,” she said.

She said the process involves setting up a regulatory impact assessment to prepare a White Paper for the Ad hoc Salary Review Commission.

She said the salary review commission will not be a magic bullet.

“Even with it or whatever name it will take, there are certain parameters that don’t change and one of them is economic performance,” she says.

Since 2005 calls for operationalisation of Article 247 (A) of the Constitution that provides for the establishment of a Salaries and Remuneration Board have remained ineffective. Some critics partly blame parliament since the board would perhaps take away the right of MPs to determine their emoluments.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, which was mandated to scrutinise the 2015 Constitutional Amendment Bill, presented its report to the House.

Among others, the report indicated that the establishment of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission would have the effect of determining the salaries of MPs, contrary to Article 85 of the Constitution.

“But in the absence of that commission, the determination of salaries and remunerations has been left with those swift enough to take such decisions. There is no logical explanation as to how someone in this economy could earn as much as Shs45 million, whereas another, with similar qualifications, earns Shs1 million,” says Cissy Kagaba; the Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda.

Under the current ad hoc pay arrangement, a senior six graduate who creeps his or her way into parliament will earn Shs35 million plus allowances and perks that include a Shs200 million motor vehicle purchase cheque, while university professors earn Shs15 million a month.

Dr. Fred Muhumuza, an economist, says that the Government has been trying to address some of the salary disparities among its employees and blamed the recurrent strikes for a pay increase on largely technocrats.

“The technical people have let the politicians fumble around with a very complex issue without being given an adequate technical piece of work because a lot of political decisions are based either on a White Paper or background papers that people have written giving options in terms of cost,” he said.

Muhumuza wants technical people, especially in the Ministry of Finance and that of Public Service to work out technically what needs to be done for public servants’ remuneration.

“And from an economic point of view, economies grow out of demand and labour and wages are a major driver of aggregate demand. The behind story is that wage and labour is more than someone asking to be paid like Shs800,000 or Shs2 million; it is a technical process because it can cause inflation and disrupt a government budget, so technical people should also be brought to the negotiating table,” says the former economic advisor to the Ministry of Finance.

A public Service Salaries Review Commission in 1982 during the Obote II government noted that faced with low pay: “The civil servant had either to survive by lowering his standard of ethics, performance and dutifulness, or remain upright and perish. He chose to survive.” It appears that 40 years later, nothing has changed.

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One comment

  1. For Uganda airline , how can some staffs give themselves bulk salaries when the airline is making losses. For salary disparities in the country, I ask my self where are the church leaders, human rights activist , leadership of opposition, judicial courts and presidential advisers . When all these injustices are happening, the concerned authorities keep silent and they watch wrong things taking place in the country.
    Who should be blamed in case issues get out of hand in this country. The decision of one man or a group of people at the expense of the majority Ugandans isn’t good for the progress of the country . Some people take one month to earn 87m and others take 432months to earn the same , what an in injustice and our leaders have eyes and they can’t see. Big shame indeed. Variation in salary structure has accelerated too much corruption in this country. The salary renumeration commission must be established so that some of this issues can be put rights .

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