President Museveni was boxed into a corner to give a nod to a new salary structure for the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Permanent Secretaries by two new recruits into public service but which insiders now say has since sparked off anxiety over salary enhancements across the board.
Following the reshuffle of permanent secretaries in November last year, two new appointees –Dr Stephen Isabaliija, who was tapped into ministry of Energy, and Dr Diana Atwine in Health, threatened to turn down their appointments citing the prevailing meagre salary of Shs3.7m for a PS.
President Museveni, highly placed sources told Sunday Monitor, engaged the ministries of Public Service and Finance on enhancing salaries for the two on grounds they had been drawn from the corporate world but he needed them on his team. He was, however, told government could not enhance salaries of only two public servants.
Dr Isabalija, who earlier had been Vice Chancelor for Sudhir Ruparelia’s Victoria University, was at the time of appointment serving as board chairman for Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL). Dr Atwine, was at the time in charge of State House’s Health Monitoring Unit.
But Public Service ministry officials, sources added, also categorically stated that current parameters provide that the highest paid public servant should be the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice in an already prescribed order. The Chief Justice holds the fourth highest public office in the country after the President, the Vice President and the Speaker of Parliament.
Chief Justice Bart Katureebe at the time was taking home Shd11.5m and his deputy Steven Kavuma Shs10.5m.
After several back and forth engagements between technocrats in Finance ministry throughout December, the technocrats in Public Service dusted up a pay policy for enhancing salaries for all categories of public servants discussed and approved by Cabinet in August 2006.
The policy titled ‘Pay Policy for Public Service and Institutions and Government Agencies’, whose implementation was long overdue details salary enhancements for all public servants in both medium and long term, respectively. In the long term, the Chief Justice is supposed to be earning Shs26m and Shs24m for the deputy Chief Justice.
Its approval however, sources maintained, still hinged on President Museveni’s consent since it would mean significantly escalating the government’s recurrent expenditure. Consequently, the President early in January, gave the nod to the salary enhancements and on January 12, the ministry of Public Service PS Catherine Bitarakwate issued a circular to all permanent secretaries to effect the new changes.
Ms Bitarakwate, in a telephone interview, denied that the salary enhancements were provoked by any one, saying “I don’t know anything about that but what I know is we had a policy in place to guide the process; so we were not acting out of nowhere like you claim.”
In the new salary structure that was made public in mid-January, Justice Katureebe would walk out of the bank assured of 95 per cent pay increment of Shs20m and his deputy Justice Kavuma Shs18m. The head of Public Service John Mitala had his pay raised from Sh4.9m to 17.6m, that of his deputy from Sh4m to Sh15.5m and of all permanent secretaries from Sh3.7m to Sh15.4m.
“I don’t know where you got your information but the policy we referenced to details salary increases in both medium term and long term,” Ms Bitarakwate argued. “Its implementation has been overdue because we are/were constrained by the resource envelope that is why we could not enhance their salaries to the actual targets.”
Asked about this selective rewarding—salaries for only the top technocrats, Ms Bitarakwate, since the plan (policy) has been revived “the exercise will go on in phased manner” over the next financial years. Already, she indicated, teachers’ salaries have already been improved by 45 per cent, government engineers, among other categories.
With the exception of statutory agencies like the Uganda National Roads Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority, National Social Security Fund, the Inspectorate of Government, and others who structure their own remuneration, public servants’ pay are regulated by the government through the Public Service Commission.
Institutions usually submit their budget for the following financial year to the budget committee and the Ministry of Finance decides on what percentage of increment is given to each institution. There is a uniform structure for pay basing on their academic qualifications, experience, duties, work environment, responsibility for official assets and physical effort.
The salary structure, since being made public mid last month, provoked jitters within the entire public service over what was interpreted as selective enhancements in the midst of glaring salary disparities—a matter that has remained controversial for years. In some government institutions, promotions are deliberately halted because they come with in the wage bill while in other instances, several positions have for years remained vacant. The poor pay has also been cited as the cause of ineptness, let alone uncontrollable corruption in the public service.
An official in the ministry of Public Service, charged with policies, said the rationale of keeping away the pay policy for long was/is to avoid “scenario” of everyone working for government starting to demand to salary increase.
“The President made it clear to us that his priority is development projects and not salaries,” the official said, they are currently working on the equivalent of the much sought after salary review commission to review salaries and the disparities.
A report released last year by the Equal Opportunities Commission on the status of salary disparity in the various public institutions showed that it takes seven years for the lowest public servant to earn what the highest political leader earns in one year.