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November 21, 2018

Government must obey the court on teachers' pay

Like a lot of other people, I am caught somewhere between exhaustion and irritation: Government, pay the teachers already. Your highest court has told you so. Then go get some work done.

The teachers’ salary increment is, just to remind you, in fulfilment of a pay deal from 1997. From the last century, nearly two decades ago. This was systematically ignored by two previous administrations.

My mind? It boggles. Yes, it’s a pile of money. But we all know that teachers earn a pittance. And, like a lot of other people, I’m tired of the governmental howling about not having money.

Not having money was never a substantial obstacle when it came to untaxed MPs’ outrageous incomes, the feeble efforts to ward off even more ridiculous demands by those MPs and MCAs, too, for even higher allowances, more allowances, car loans, mortgages, more cars, more offices, more coast trips for ‘bonding’ and ‘retreats, more ridiculous shopping trips abroad.

This was never an issue when it came to paying up AngloLeasing contracts so quickly that it made your head spin. The so-called Hustler jet was ready to fly back and forth across the continent easypeasylemonsqueezy, just bill GOK. Bailing out Uchumi, Mumias Sugar, KQ? Sure, here, have at it. The list is so endless, I’m sure we’re all exhausted by it.

Recently, the Auditor General found that pretty much all of government spending cannot be properly accounted for (I still wonder who was so careless to leave those 2% on the table – otherwise we could have declared the whole fiscal year a grand work of fiction and pretended that it never happened in real life).

Other estimates say that around 30% of government expenditures are lost to corruption. And you can be very sure that this percentage will also apply to all those multi-billion dollar projects that are being thrown around like they are going out of style. I personally would also be happy to see the senate go – I’m still at a loss how they are value for money.

For a government trying to be credible, the course of action should be clear: Obey your supreme court and find some cash. And then sit down and try to get some real work done: Sort out public finances because the waste of taxpayers’ money through theft and spending on the wrong things is ridiculous.

And take a long, hard look at your public education sector. Because it isn’t good: the recent edition of the Uwezo study will give you some stats on this – just one snippet, published in the Star: ‘Only 17 out of 100 standard three pupils in Busia county can do standard two work, a report shows. This is below the national average level of 32.’

FPE is all good and well, but it’s not exactly free as long as teachers demand all sorts of ‘desk fees’, ‘motivation fee’s etc, and it’s not exactly education either: Underpaid, overburdened teachers won’t teach properly.

Underpaid, overburdened teachers also have more incentives to act corruptly – and why shouldn’t they, given all the nonsense that everybody else in public employ gets away with? Dealing with the rot in the system (and the incompetence – many teachers are a product of the system, too) is no easy task. And there’s no quick fix.

But it matters enormously: beyond the public finance issue, this truly reaches to the core of the economy.

Why talk about security and counter terrorism if that’s the treatment and the perspective you give the youngest members of society?

Why hold summits about entrepreneurship if you are not doing the ground work to equip your youth with the best knowledge you can give them?

Why plan grandly for tech cities if you’re not willing to grow the human infrastructure? Why go on about poverty alleviation if kids of poor parents are not given an opportunity to catch up through decent education?

And because it’s that time of the year again and because it fits in perfectly well with this: If you’re a parent, take your kid to the StoryMoja Litfest on 19 and 20 September.

There are few better gifts that you can give your child than a love of reading, and access to books and stories. It’s good for their brains, it teaches them abstract thinking, imagination, and grows their vocabulary.

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