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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Uganda Scientists 'Peanuts' salary rise

By Esther Nakkazi

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni this time fulfilled his promise to increase scientists’ salaries to motivate them and keep them home.

In the 2012/13 Budget, all scientists received a 10-30 percent salary increment including science teachers in Universities and post primary institutions in a total amount of 290 billion ($II5 million) to be dispensed.

Studies done so far, have indicated that Uganda is currently experiencing high levels of brain drain as critical personnel, especially scientists seek for greener pastures not only in developed countries but also in other African countries mostly to Rwanda.

And the World Bank Migration and Remittance fact book 2011 confirms that there are about 750,000 Ugandans working abroad.

Scientists in Uganda blame the exodus of their colleagues on the lack of a good working environment, poor research infrastructure, unavailability of long-term benefits and opportunities for promotion. They accuse the government of insensitivity to their needs, and failing to provide sufficient salaries.

This time round Museveni made his promise come true. During the 
State of the Nation Address ahead of the Budget he said, 'scientists are the only public servants that deserve higher pay because they contribute decisively to the economy and their contribution is unique. We cannot replace nor replicate them.'


According to Museveni, Uganda scientists who have finally woken up from a ‘long slumber’ are needed for a knowledge- based economy such as making cars, making computers, adding value to agricultural products and fabricating machines.

But scientists have called the increment ‘peanuts’ and wondered if this time the promise would manifest on their bank accounts since this is not the first time Museveni has talked about an increment.

“The president has many times promised us a pay rise. This is a group of people that can help the economy generate more revenue,” said Peter Ndemere Executive Director of Uganda National Council for Science and Technology.

It is the first time that the pay rise will be honoured, if it is, after a million times of Museveni declaring a rise for the scientists. Immediately, he came to power in 1986 he pledged to raise scientists pay and even through the past two budgets speeches of 2010 and 2011 he was at it.

During all the innovations launches, his signature speech is a pay rise for scientists with the most recent during the launch of the Makerere University’s pioneer electric car, Kiira EV.

“I highly welcome the idea but this government is known for backtracking on its promises. I will only celebrate if the long awaited increment is finally reflected on my pay cheque”, said Ninsiima Daniel a young research assistant at Makerere University Agriculture Research Institute Kabanyolo.

“Everything is theoretical. You forego a lot of things while training to become a scientist only to earn peanuts,” said Professor Eriabu Lugujjo head of Department of Electrical Engineering at Makerere University.

Professor Lugujjo said he manages to get by “.....digging. I engaged in farming long ago, because I know that if you solve the basic needs you can read sensibly.”


But Museveni has since warned that Uganda is not like Europe advising that many public servants have land at home and can grow food to supplement the now small salaries until the situation improves.
“When we build the base of our economy, we shall all be better off,” he said. “I still await patriotic offers about the voluntary salary cuts.”

One of the reasons the implementation of the pay rise delayed, was because 'he' was facing a lot of ‘resistance’ in the Government as officials still wanted salaries to be based on protocol and not one’s profession and contribution to the economy'.

Ministry of Finance officials argued that the scientists pay rise should be based on how important they are to the growth of the economy. So ultimately the scientists will get wages depending on their productivity. What have Ugandan scientists produced? There are no innovations!, remarked an official in Finance ministry.

But the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA) officials said Uganda has a lot of innovations and products from scientists. The varieties of maize, beans, banana, cassava, sweet-potato, cowpea, potato, groundnuts currently being grown in Uganda have been developed - courtesy of the efforts of Uganda scientists.
They said Uganda would also have very little milk and beef in the country if disease and pest control packages including nutritional packages developed by scientists were not available.

“This tendency to take scientists efforts for granted is an issue that requires a total reboot of the minds of our policy makers,” said Dr. Charles Mugoya, the head of Biotechnology and Biosafety program at ASARECA.

“We should not confuse and equate the inadequate capacity in the country to upscale locally developed technologies and innovations developed by scientists to lack of scientific innovations,” he said.

Ends-

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