Monday, December 20, 2010

BARE KNUCKLES: Museveni, Besigye on salaries for teachers

In this Sunday Monitor article, Fredrick M. Masiga analyzes what it means when opposition leading candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye comes up with ideas and promises that evoke the incumbent to respond

This week, talk on the presidential campaign trail got closer to things that touch the hearts of most ordinary Ugandans. When presidential candidate Kizza Besigye says he will increase teachers’ salaries by 100 per cent when elected and then President Museveni retorts that teachers’ pay raise is not a priority, it creates a good feeling of hope that finally some fire is being stoked up on matters that affect those who build this nation at the grassroots. Ideally, it also means that those whose lives are being talked about will decide to vote for a candidate on the basis of how he or she vouches in their interests.
The variance of policy from the two vote seekers is interesting. The same could also be asked of the fate of nurses, the Police and Prison officers who form the bulk of civil servants in Uganda.

More than a week ago, Besigye said teachers deserve a pay raise of up to Shs400,000 per month from Shs200,000 they earn today. He said the resources are bountiful and should be released to the ‘proletariats’. Indeed both men agree that there is money – and a lot of it around - but differ on whether it is time for teachers to be invited to the dining table. Besigye also said school children under the Universal Primary Education will get free lunch under his leadership.

Over the years, teachers, nurses, the army and police officers have been victims of ridiculously low wage increments. Their lot has, for as long as I can remember, lived the same old lifestyle. Most of these teachers, for example, dress almost like the village pupils they teach, live in congested quarters that are deplorable and their off-springs are more likely than not to follow in the footsteps of their parents’ careers. Those who have fared better than the rest have moonlighted in several schools or established side enterprises to generate extra income. I know of a police officer whose main occupation is money lending rather than policing.

For long, Ugandans have been fed on political promises made during times like these by individuals vying for political positions. What most of us take for granted though is that these promises are made on the premise that voters – we Ugandans - will pay taxes that will then be used to fulfil the same promises. That is why Museveni’s response to Besigye’s call should be of interest to those who will be voting next February.
Museveni reportedly said “Besigye claims he is going to pay teachers…because he knows that there is money. But this is my money. I am the one who has worked for it, not Besigye”.

These words must be understood in their proper context. The last two decades of Museveni’s reign have been the most successful for the country in terms of economic recovery and political stability. The level of economic investment has shifted scores higher than ever before and become more inclusive with more Ugandans engaged in business. The private sector has blossomed on the back of some ground-breaking international industry entrants into the economy providing jobs and revenue to government. In short, we have become more modernised.

That said, however, it doesn’t give Museveni a right to claim ownership of the resources created during his regime or even deny other leaders the right to use the same resources to provide a service to Ugandans. Leaders who personalise national wealth have a tendency to treat other citizens as beggars which also culminates into a false belief that their leadership is a favour and a sacrifice to the country. Such leaders are unlikely to relinquish State power in a clean democratic process.

Look at Daniel arap Moi, he became a cult personality in Kenya. His praises were sung in the same breath as the Lord’s Prayer Our Father, who art in Heaven…” But after two decades in power, even he took note of a rising wave of national disaffection towards him and grudgingly bent over backwards to give way to others.
Kibaki and his government are adding on Moi’s gains and using the same resources to run the country. So far, all is well for them: Kenyans still pay taxes, foreign investors still flock into the country, and tourists keep knocking at tourist sites in Kenya with no bother of who the president is.

Museveni doesn’t need such a wave of discontent to dislodge him, the Constitution guarantees his desire for another term and if he gets it, it will come with the right to spend our money on our behalf for national interests. But in the unlikely event that that mandate is given, say to Mr Samuel Lubega, President Museveni will have no reason to resist a popular democratic decision to hand over to Lubega to whom the right to spend the same money will have been passed to.

It makes sense that Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, as he said in his article in the New Vision on Thursday, will vote for Museveni because according to him, only Museveni has a report card worth considering. Of course Bukenya knows that Museveni has been on the national stage for 24 years and together, they have sat at the dining table which makes it pointless for the VP to try and bite the hand that feeds him.

So the point shouldn’t be lost that political campaigns in Uganda have become so commercialised in the ‘spirit of privatisation’ that for the teacher and the school pupil, the salary and the lunch are really the price that politicians have to pay for their vote. It is pathetic but the reality of life has been reduced to the belief that “what you have swallowed is what is rightly yours”.

These same teacher and pupil have heard promises made to them before most of which have been fulfilled during the next round of presidential campaigns. Even though some teachers are unhappy with Museveni’s proposition – that they have had enough for now - it makes little difference. These kinds of teachers and others need to understand that their vote must count for a substantial interest that will improve their welfare in the long run and not for piece meal campaign promises.

Mr Masiga is the managing editor - Weekend editions of the Monitor Publications Ltd.

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