This past week has been blighted by the strike by public prosecutors who lay down tools over pay. The courts of law were paralysed.

In the recent past, health workers, teachers and other public servants have demanded for more pay, many of them justifiably. Different groups of civil servants, including judges and permanent secretaries, recently had their salaries increased, and yet more groups, including district chairpersons, are pushing for a raise.

One school of thought makes a compelling case for paying public servants competitive salaries, so that the best brains may be attracted and harnessed to improve the public service and provide better public goods.

In poor countries like Uganda, the governments usually argue that the public purse is too small to enable the paying of salaries that compete with what the private sector and some international organisations offer.

President Museveni has gone on record several times, urging public servants to sacrifice for the country in the meantime as capacity is being developed to pay them better salaries.

It can be argued both ways, of course, because others will say paying public servants competitive salaries will improve the civil service and quicken the generation of public wealth.

Whatever side of the divide one may lie, however, it is inescapable that the question of public servants’ salaries has been shabbily handled for too long. It has for long been said that a commission should be set up to study the public service compensation structure with the view of standardising it. This has not happened.

While setting salaries, one principle that should be followed is equity, so that similarly placed people are paid a similar package, and the other way round. To return to the issue of prosecutors going on strike over pay, if the government decides to deal with this group alone, it will soon have to deal with a similar group that will feel they have to be paid better. And the government won’t have scientific basis to argue otherwise.

In fact, the prosecutors feel they should be paid better because judges, with whom they do a similar job but from a different angle, had their salaries increased recently.
This shows that when increasing the pay for judges, the decision maker did not have a bird’s eye view of the entire public service salaries structure.

Only a commission that comprehensively looks at the whole picture and makes informed recommendations will decisively resolve the impasse around public service salaries.

The issue: Public servants’ salaries.

Our view: Only a commission that comprehensively looks at the whole picture and makes informed recommendations will decisively resolve the impasse around public service salaries.