It is now three years since hundreds of Canadian doctors staged a prolonged protest against being paid too well. At the time, a general physician working for the government in Canada was earning the equivalent of $260,924 a year.
The Canadian doctors vowed not to accept any more “indecent” pay. That is what they called their nice salaries – indecent – saying it was not fair to have more money thrown at them when patients were not enjoying enough facilities from the government.
In Uganda, where that annual non-specialist Canadian doctor’s pay equals one billion of our shillings, we thought those North American doctors were like spoilt children finally beginning to feel embarrassed by their pampering government.
But now we are on the verge of experiencing a similar protest in our own country. Unless a miracle makes Covid-19 disappear, Ugandan doctors might soon stage a strike over too much money being shoved at them by desperate patients’ families.
Since a good number of Uganda-born doctors are working in Canada, they can offer some consultative guidance to their compatriots on how to resist being overpaid. The Covid-19 patients’ families should indeed be helped to avoid selling all they have to pay for treatment that ordinarily would cost a small fraction of what they are laying now.
Fine, the Canadians beat us to that type of protest in March 2018. But we also beat most of the rest of the world to another unlikely industrial action by a group of workers 25 years ago. That was when our national legislators – yes, our members of parliament – went on strike over pay. Sadly, the “ring leader” of that “honourable” strike died in the current Covid-19 lockdown and so, the new 529 Ugandan MPs now benefiting from his activism haven’t had the chance to mourn him properly. He was a Kenyan-Ugandan called Aggrey Awori.
Together with a few other fiery legislators of Uganda’s Sixth Parliament, Awori kicked up such a protest that the revolutionary leaders of the ruling National Resistance Movement who had turned democratic around that time with a brand-new constitution caved in and gave the MPs a decent package. Awori’s biological brother, former Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori, must have smiled at another feather in the family’s cap.
But now, a section of Ugandan MPs want to set another record: the opposite of what the predecessors did a quarter of a century ago. They too are protesting but this time, like the Canadian medics, over excessive pay.
The MPs, led by the leader of the Committee on Government Assurances and representative of Mukono Municipality Batty Nambooze, wouldn’t be protesting the pay in normal times. But these are not normal times because much of the time they cannot transact parliamentary business. But they are paid. Now, Nabooze says this has turned them into thieves, as they are getting allowances for no work.
With the Nambooze-led protest, President Yoweri Museveni is getting an ally from the most unlikely quarters. Nambooze is fierce opposition. Recently, at a judicial function, President Museveni listened as Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo bitterly criticised the pampering of MPs noting, for example, that while High Court judges lack transport to cover their large jurisdictions, every MP is given a hefty sum of money at the beginning of their five-year term.
Responding, Museveni first gave the Chief Justice the “serves you right” treatment. For Owiny-Dollo had been a member of the constituent assembly that gave MPs the power to determine their own emoluments.
In fact, Museveni has since the January elections been critical of the “lavish” benefits of MPs, including the well-facilitated benchmarking trips abroad. He tried to persuade the caucus of the ruling NRM MPs against increasing their emoluments and to avoid seeking hefty allowances like those for trips.
Now hear who is persuading MPs to reject allowances when not fully working for them! A Museveni-Nambooze alliance is in the making. And it will certainly enjoy the massive support of the masses. An interesting alliance indeed!
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]