Uganda’s parliament is considering a possible 100 percent pay increase for all Electoral Commission officials ahead of February's national and local elections.
Officials of the electoral body have not received a single raise since 1999, and some lawmakers say the time has come. The parliamentarians argue that other public sector workers, including teachers, have received one or more pay hikes over the same period.
“How can a person who organizes elections for the president and other forms of elections in the whole country earn $1,493? We are leading these people into temptations. They work hard but they are getting peanuts. The proposed pay rise for EC officials is urgent,” said Steven Tashobya, chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee.
His comments came after electoral commission chairman Badru Kiggundu urged lawmakers to approve the wage increase so electoral officials can cope with the high cost of living.
However, opposition parties and civil society groups say it is unlikely President Yoweri Museveni’s government will set aside the necessary funds. They contend the administration would rather use the money to support the campaigns of the president and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
Electoral commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa says members of the commission earn "meager" salaries and long overdue for a raise.
“Year in year out, we appear before parliament with our proposal for salary increment, parliament agrees with us, but somehow money is never got and we keep on the same pay," says Taremwa. "The conditions of living have completely changed. Most constitutional bodies have had the opportunity to have their salary increment considered. So, it is our prayer that even now, government should find money and increase our salaries."
“We are requesting that this time round the government considers our request. It does not have any relationship with the fact that we are going into an election.”
Taremwa disagreed with concerns the commission could be vulnerable to corruption if their request is denied. He said the commission has organized credible elections in the past, despite not receiving any pay increases for the last 15 years.
The government often says it has no money to pay higher salaries whenever public sector workers threaten or embark on strikes.
“I don’t buy that reasoning,” says Taremwa. “I believe if there is commitment on the part of government, money can be found. They have found money for teachers, they have found money for other parastatals, why not the electoral commission?”
Ugandans vote for president and parliament on February 18.