The problem of the non-payment of the civil servants has been there on-and-off for a long time, but it has been muted all along. But of recent it has reared its ugly head with such insistence that it has got into national attention.
Recent reports have it that, civil servants in various districts have gone without pay, some for as long as six months. This merely underscores the instances where there have been delays in paying the civil servants in the ministries, the Police and in the army.
The latter two have been complaining quietly in fear, for they are under strictly commanded orders. Any deviance would be construed as disobeying orders, and therefore, be subjected to punishment – which in the army might mean being court martialled. That is some of the accusation that can be labeled on a person and it can mean that, one is un-patriotic – to put it mildly – or a terrorist, when the one preferring the charges is extra-malicious.
In reaction to this injustice, the civil servants in the districts have simply gone, AWOL – or in military language – away without official leave. These working class people have basically traversed off in search of other income-generating activities, which might bring them income to survive and pay other drastically needed bills, such as school fees. Whenever they go to check if their pay has arrived or not, in the relatively empty offices, nobody can accuse anybody about absconding from duty. It is in the acceptable manner of behavior.
Is this a case of less concerned neglect, lack of money in the Government or failure and inability to put priorities where they should lie?
The abandonment of duty by the civil servants is the first time this phenomenon has showed up in the country. Before this, it was unthinkable. Even during the so-called “swine” past regimes and during the tumultuous times of Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Godfrey Binaisa, Yusuf Lule and Tito Okello, this thing never happened. Salaries were calculated and paid promptly by the ministry of Finance.
Not any longer. Is it because these governments were relatively short-lived than the NRM regime which has now transcended a quarter century? Or these were better managed governments?
Cynicism has taken root among the civil servants, even among those who were “lucky”, to have been paid part of their delayed salaries. When the financial year arrives, they have to forego the pay for those months that they went unpaid. This money goes into the suspense account within the Consolidated Fund, which according to the cynic civil servants, is used to buy tear gas to harass them, in case they try to demonstrate, about the non-payment of their money.
Even when the Government agrees to pay this money, which is cut off from the district because of the budgetary financial year, it takes some time to reclaim it after filling forms explaining why one was not paid. How would a civil servant know why and how he/she has not received their salary? This is simply absurd; or top put it another way, civil servants now say that it is not worth working for government because it is tantamount to working for it on credit. It were better to work on credit for an individual than for a government.
For a government to arrive at this level of ridicule, it means that there is no attempt by it to remedy the situation. Instead, the civil servants who persist staying on the job have seen that they can short-change the government by “cooking their heads” or “gambling”, which means, just stealing some items in the offices, such as stationery. For those who are in the management of accounts, it is very agreeable to steal the money. It explains why there is a cry that corruption is at the district levels, too, apart from the high-level theft of funds such as occasioned by the Geoffrey Kazindas.
As a country, the leaders will only wring their hands, and exclaim that, “They are not God to command that, ‘Let there be civil servants pay’, and there is the pay.”