Thousands of scientists on government payroll, who are beneficiaries of the salary enhancements that came into force in July, remain unable to beat the cost of living squeeze.
The situation has been precipitated by an increase in headline inflation from 7.9 percent in July to nine percent in August and 10 percent in September.
On July 1, Ms Catherine Bitarakwate, the Permanent Secretary in the Public Service ministry, released a Circular Standing Instruction, announcing the increment of salaries of health professionals and health tutors; scientists in the mainstream public service and; science teachers in post primary schools.
It also increased the salaries of laboratory technicians and laboratory assistants in secondary schools; lecturers, tutors and instructors of science subjects in technical and vocational institutes and; legal professionals under the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
However, the rise in inflation, which the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) attributed to the increase in annual services inflation from two percent in July to 3.7 percent in August, occasioned a spike in the prices of most consumer goods on the market.
Ubos attributed the rise in the prices of consumer goods to an increase in transport inflation from 4.6 percent in July to 8.7 percent in August. The situation has led to questions around whether the government ever takes inflationary pressures into consideration when mooting salary enhancements.
Both the ministries of Public Service and that of Finance declined to discuss the matter.
Victor Bua, the commissioner in-charge of compensation at the Public Service ministry, had, however, told Monitor in an earlier interview that whereas inflationary pressures are not necessarily taken into consideration, there are provisions within the civil service salary structure that deal with them.
“We developed pay segments to allow for some increments, which address issues which include inflation,” he said. “The segmented pay structure allows one to rise into the next segment every year.”
The Uganda National Household Survey 2019/2020 indicates that the average household size in Uganda is five people. An earlier observation of consumer behaviour at various markets and shopping centres across the country suggested that such a family’s purchases consist of a litre of milk, a kilogramme of beef, a medium sized loaf of bread and a quarter of a bunch of matooke.
That family would also require one kilo of maize flour, half a kilo of tomatoes, a quarter a kilo of onions, half a litre of cooking oil, half a kilo of sugar, half a kilo of rice and half a kilo of beans.
While the cost of refilling a 12kg cylinder of gas has in recent months been cut from Shs138,000 to Shs113,000, that product remains out of reach for most Ugandan families.
At the same time, whereas the Electricity Regulatory Authority introduced the cooking tariff— commonly known as the Ffumba tariff—in January, the number of households that use electricity for cooking remains very low. Charcoal (30 percent) and firewood (64 percent) remain the most prevalent sources of energy. Our survey indicates that the said family of five would require a sixth of a sack of charcoal (Shs13,000).
Our computations indicate that the family would require a minimum of about Shs78,400 per day (minus transport) in order to put a decent meal on the table. This means the family would require at least Shs2,352,000, which is beyond what the government announced as new salaries for some categories of scientists.
That means the only categories of beneficiaries from the salary enhancement who can beat that cost include assistant commissioners, whose salaries were enhanced from Shs2.7m to Shs6.5m; principal officers, whose salaries were increased from Shs2.5m to Shs4.5m; senior officers, whose salaries rose from Shs2.3m to Shs4,250,000; plus two different categories of graduate scientists teachers, whose salaries were increased from Shs2.2m to Shs4m and another from between Shs1,496,690 and Shs1,720,000 to Shs4,250,000, among others.
A Science teacher’s salary was enhanced from Shs933.966 to Shs2.2m and that of secondary school laboratory technician from Shs858.233 to Shs2.2m, which is Shs152,000 short of what one would in the present circumstances require to put food on the table.
That is not to mention the other bills, including the cost of transport, medical bills, school fees and accommodation.
Other categories of scientists, whose salaries were enhanced, but would not be able to beat the cost of living, include laboratory assistants, whose pay was increased from between Shs316,393 and Shs377,781 to Shs550,000.
Others include nursing, theatre, laboratory, mortuary and dental assistants, whose pay was increased from Shs313,832 to Shs596,000.
The salaries of different categories of medical assistants and senior nursing officers were, for example, enhanced from Shs613,158 and Shs850,000 to Shs1,421,634 and Shs1,558,476 respectively. This doesn’t cut with the current inflationary waves.
Mr Julius Mukunda, the executive director at the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, blames the situation on what he described as “haphazard planning.”
The situation, Mr Mukunda adds, has not only led to disparities in salaries, but also set the stage for demoralisation of entire sections of the public service and “yet they are meant to work in complementarity to deliver one good.”
The army of government employees that are unable to beat inflationary pressures would include employees ranging from government scales U3 (Shs902,612 – Shs1,131,209), U4 (Shs601,341 – Shs940,366) and U5 (Shs477,080 – Shs598,892). Others include those in U6 (Shs386,972 – Shs436,677) and U7 (Shs268,143 – Shs377,781).
Mr Wilson Usher Owere, the chairman general of National Organisation of Trade Unions, says the solution is for the government to revisit the collective bargaining agreement that it had reached with the trade unions.
“We (trade unions) are in touch with public service and because the budget cycle has just started, we are negotiating to see how best the collective bargaining agreement that was signed by the government can be revived to come up with an across-the-board enhancement of salaries,” Mr Owere told Monitor.
Mr Mukunda sees things differently. He insists the way to go is for the government to establish a salaries review board, which would make real time recommendations on salary enhancements, which would factor in developments such as inflation.
Consumer goods prices
Figures from the consumer websites www.numbeo.com<http://www.numbeo.com and www.agromarketday.com<http://www.agromarketday.com, which give insights into the cost of living in Uganda and prices of different groceries in various markets across the country, show that the price of a kilogramme of sugar has increased to Shs5,000, up from Shs3,400.
Other commonly used items whose prices have shot up include beef, which costs Shs16,000 per a kilo; beans, which cost Shs8,000 per kilogramme; peas, which cost Shs12,000 per kilogramme; rice, which costs Shs4,000 per kilogramme; and maize flour, which costs Shs4,000 per kilogramme. Others are matooke, which costs Shs40,000 a bunch; cooking oil, which costs Shs10,000 a litre; charcoal, which costs Shs80,000 a sack.
Originally published on Monitor
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