[KAMPALA] Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, has promised again to raise scientists' salaries to near international levels.
Museveni made the declaration during a speech at Makerere University at the end of last year (24 November).
He said that science and technology were essential to raise Africa from poverty and urged Ugandan scientists not to be lured to Europe and North America. "Scientists in Uganda should be remunerated to near international standards. And this will be done."
But Museveni said there was resistance from his government, which wanted salaries to be based on "protocol" rather than profession and economic contribution. At present, members of parliament in Uganda earn approximately ten times as much as scientists.
Museveni made a similar pledge in 2010, which was followed in July of that year by a 30 per cent salary hike funded with US$8 million from the 2010−11 budget. Scientists welcomed the rise but maintained they could still earn six to ten times more abroad.
A Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development official contacted by SciDev.Net confirmed last week that there would be a salary increase in the next financial year but that it would be "peanuts". The official said the rise would reflect individual scientists' contribution to economic growth.
A senior economist in the same ministry said scientists should be paid according to their productivity. But "what have Ugandan scientists produced? There are no innovations," he declared.
Keith Muhakanizi, acting deputy secretary to the treasury in the Ministry of Finance, said Uganda's tax base is small and would benefit from scientific innovations that had economic value.
Scientists are supported by ventures such as the Food Technology and Business Incubation Centre at Makerere University, which was established in 2009 with government funding of 4.485 billion Ugandan shillings (US$ 1.8 million), he said. The 2010−11 budget allocated an extra US$540,000 to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute for near-market research and innovation.
Ministry of Finance officials say the only innovation from such investments is a poultry vaccine launched last year.
But Paul Nampala, executive director of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, rejected accusations that scientists are failing to contribute to the economy. He said the role of scientists was to innovate; commercialisation was for entrepreneurs.
Charles Mugoya, programme manager at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, said Museveni would need a critical mass of supporters in government to achieve a substantial pay rise. "Best practice the world over is that salaries are pegged on profession and contribution to the economy, not protocol," he said.
Eriabu Lugujjo, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Makerere University, welcomed the prospect of any salary rise. "You forgo a lot of things while training to become a scientist, only to earn peanuts," he said.
Museveni first pledged to raise scientists' salaries after he came to power in 1986.