Mr Betihamah

A striking senior Makerere University non-teaching staff official has said that money meant for their arrears was channeled to the evacuation of Ugandans caught up in the skirmishes during the recent fighting in South Sudan.

Appearing on the NBS TV talk show ‘Morning Breeze’ Jackson Betihama, one of the leaders of the striking assemblage from five public universities in Uganda, said: Muhakanizi (Keith Muhakanizi, the Secretary to the Treasury) told us our money was spent on evacuating Ugandans. What does the disaster preparedness ministry do?” But contacted for comment, finance ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga said he was unaware of the words attributed to Mr Muhakanizi, hastening to add however, that Shs 20 billion had been provided for the non-teaching staff in the 2016-17 budget.

Meanwhile, Betihama also lashed out at government, saying it had not even bothered to communicate to their umbrella organization, the Public Universities Non-Teaching Staff Executives Forum (PUNTSEF) further complicating their woes. ‘If there is no money, at least we deserve an official communication. Even that hasn’t come through,’ he said.

Stories Continues after ad

Betihama, who was squaring off with Dr Tanga Odoi, a former varsity don-turned-politician, said the government owed them 57 billion Uganda shillings, for the financial years 2015/16 and 2016/2017, which it had promised to pay at the beginning of this year.

Dr Odoi, the current chairperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Electoral Commission, is a former chairperson of the Makerere University Academic Staff Association (MUASA), whose tenure was characterized by industrial action, usually related to salary disparities.

And, as if to temporarily recalibrate with his past, Dr Odoi said the industrial action over unmet promises is genuine. He, however, noted that it shouldn’t affect the varsities’ programme.

‘No university can operate smoothly without non-teaching staff. Not even calling in UPDF can help … the strike about unmet promises is genuine but they shouldn’t frustrate issuance of admission letters. Non-teaching staff agreed before the strike that administrations should give out admission letters,’ Dr Tanga Odoi said, adding that the non-teaching staff at Mbarara University had been paid.

But staff at all the public universities are on ‘Day Four’ of their nation-wide strike and Betihama will hear none of Dr Tanga Odoi’s soothing words.

‘No university should dare open for the new semester unless our issues are resolved. Opening date should be extended,’ Betihama charged and, recounting their experiences, said non-payment of their arrears had almost brought their lives to a standstill.

‘The industrial action has even turned into a hunger strike. We are stuck. The inconvenience comes from government. Our accounts are dry. Many university non-teaching staff are unable to buy food or take their children to school,’ he said.

Meanwhile, by press time efforts by the Minister of Education, First Lady Janet Museveni, to convince the striking workers to return to work, had proved complicated, with Betihamah saying: ‘…they (striking officials) know what they want and the promises that the government made to them’.


Website | + posts