Employees of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MOSTI), which was last year placed under the Office of the President, have not been paid for the last two months amid job insecurity issues.
Of the 128 staff of the ministry who are on permanent employment, some have been reabsorbed but around 80 are still not sure of their status of employment since the ministry was abolished as an independent entity in 2021, according to sources in the government.
The abolition, scientists say, has affected the achievement of objectives for which the ministry was established in 2016. The objectives for establishment of MOSTI include, among others, enhancing research and development, increasing the transfer and adaptation of technologies, and improving the science, technology and innovation legal and regulatory framework.
Mr Morris Ochen, the former commissioner for technology uptake in the ministry, said the government stopped paying them when the 2021/2022 Financial Year ended in June.
“We were sent to the President’s office which took care of us until June. We were told that we will not get our salary [this financial year] unless one is absorbed into Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs), and yet these MDAs have not been responsive,” he said.
He added: “But the Public Service standing orders state that if the ministry is abolished, the staff who are there have not lost their job; the government can either redeploy them to positions that are equivalent to their current ranks or above, but not below. But the government also has the other option of retiring them if there is nowhere to absorb them.”
This was the same concern raised by his colleagues Mr Arthur Namara, Mr David Okurut and others, in an August 11 letter to the head of the Public Service Commission and Secretary to Cabinet, Office of the President.
In the letter, the employees were following up on a directive from the head of Public Service which emphasised that the absorption of former MOSTI staff to the existing vacant posts in the various MDAs should be expedited.
“We wish to inform you that, the absorption process has not been well implemented due to various reasons from the responsible MDAs including among others, no clear responses, outright rejections on grounds of no vacant posts, no wage, claims that the proposed vacant posts are earmarked/reserved for the existing staff in those MDAs, irregular under deployment proposals (even when matching posts exists), excuse linked to ongoing MDAs merger and restructuring processes,” the letter reads.
“The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to seek your guidance on how our salaries will be paid effective July 2022 and implore your office to consider the option of retirement on abolition of office with a view of bringing this matter to a conclusion. [We also] request that going forward, we are involved and copied in the communications regarding our fate in order to manage anxiety and avoid speculation,” the employees stated.
In an interview, the Minister of Public Service, Mr Muruli Mukasa, said they are expediting the process.
“I got a copy of that letter. The government is trying to absorb the workers of the former MOSTI into the new MOSTI and other departments of government. The delay has been in finalising the structure and establishing the suitable areas for placement,” he said.
He added: “The delay in paying has been due to the fact that there was a lack of consensus about the vote placement. Whether it should be in the State House or Office of the President.”
In June, through a statutory instrument, President Museveni placed the ministry under the Office of the President with the State House comptroller as its accounting officer to reduce bureaucracy which he said was affecting the operations of researchers and scientists.
The President, in his pro-science policy, has also increased the salaries of scientists, causing public outrage and sparking a rift between Science and Arts teachers.
President Museveni, in November last year, while defending his plans, said: “Science-led industrial development has been our goal in government. With effect from June 2021, I put the Ministry of Science and Technology under the Office of the President so that it can be effectively managed and financed. This is far better than the imported technology that is used for the same tests.”
Moving the ministry to the Office of the President has been viewed by a section of the legislators as an attempt by the President to weaken the institution.
While Parliament approved moving the MOSTI to the Office of the President last September, a minority report by Opposition legislators led by Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kira Municipality) said there was inadequate scrutiny of the reallocations.
Mr Ssemujju argued then that the funds should go to the Office of the President and not State House as was directed by President Museveni.
Mr Ochen said: “The President’s vision is okay. If you want to do a lot of research, you have a fairly different structure which is not the way the normal public service works.”
He added: “But I am against side-lining those who are qualified. These same [technical staff] people can also work in the new place the Ministry [secretariat] has been taken. We have around four people with PhD, so you can’t convince us that they cannot deliver.”
Mr David Okurut, who was serving as the commissioner for capacity development at the former MOSTI, said: “My work involved training innovators to become self-reliant and imparting skills to young people so they can become innovators. But since the ministry was abolished, the work has been shelved and I don’t know what is happening.”
He added: “I think they have not absorbed us because in most ministries, one has to be promoted from one level to another as they grow in the ministry. So, for someone like me who was already a commissioner, it becomes hard to just cross to another ministry and retain my position.”
Asked how the absence of technical staff is affecting their operations, Dr Monica Musenero, the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, said: “You have to talk to the ministry in charge of public servants. I will not comment about the issue.”