Like vultures that wait patiently until the moment when their prey can no longer move or resist, Uganda-based money lenders are now ready to harvest the science teachers’ enhanced salaries that have been in the policy and bureaucratic pipeline for several years.
Like the huge, patient bird that neither feeds nor kills its prey, the moneylenders who have played no role in helping the science teachers attain their long awaited big packages are now the frontline for harvesting the hard earned pay of the education workers.
And like a herd of sheep trotting to the slaughter house, the science teachers are now and instructors are now rushing to obtain loans from loan sharks, commercial banks and micro finance institutions.
Effective July this year, the government increased the remuneration of science teachers and instructors in post primary institutions nearly by 300 per cent. As a result, Grade V and Graduate science teachers now earn three million and four million Shillings, respectively, up from 796,000 and 1.1 million Shillings.
Information obtained from sources at the Human Resource department of the education ministry indicates that in the past three months, tens of teachers have been obtaining and submitting letters of loan undertaking to the different concerned authorities.
Ambrose Emolu, the principal human resource officer at the education ministry, recently confirmed the rush that the majority of teachers are asking for relatively sums of money, 30 million to 50 million shillings.
“We cannot stop our teachers from getting loans,” Emolu says. “After all it is their money but we are worried that some of them might soon get into a debt trap. The other worrying thing is the fact that many are getting these loans from service providers who have a bad history as far as offering loans to teachers is concerned,” Emolu says.
Our reporter has learned that financial institutions and loan sharks have been visiting schools to advertise their services to teachers. Most of these are promising a variety of incentives, including allegedly reduced interest rates, simple loan security, and shortened processing time for getting the money, among others.
Ramathan Katende, a science teacher in Kampala, admits that there is a rush for loans amongst themselves. He however notes that every individual has a different reason.
To him, many have projects which they want to invest in so as to get a secondary source of employment given the fact that they are “now” not allowed to do part time work in private schools. (It should noted that part timing has been illegal even before the salary enhancement.)
Seif Nuwarimpa, science teacher from Wakiso, says that with their salary increased, teachers are now qualifying to get more money in loans.
“Previously, we could get small money if we requested for loans but now with the enhancement, one can get a good sum of money which can be used to finish off projects.” says Nuwarimpa. “Many people are purchasing land, and others are building houses.”
He does, however, add that some teachers may just be overly excited and apply for loans without having any plans for how they will use the money.
Ronald Ssekabembe Kiberu, commissioner of human resource management at the ministry of education, says that with excitement many science teachers might be misled or make bad decisions. he also expresses concern that many teachers are rushing to institutions that have been accused for years of duping teachers.
According to Kiberu, the government has made sure that no science teacher -or any other civil servant for that matter- can get a loan whose repayment and other deductions like taxes and subscription to unions can exceed 50 percent of one’s monthly salary in order to prevent them from losing their entire salaries in loan repayment.
The commissioner observes, however, that there does not appear to be a means to totally control the amount one can borrow given that it is claimed that many teachers are taking out multiple loans from banks and loan sharks. The loan sharks are lethal; some of them are infamous for asking the teachers’ visa (debit) cards thus pulling out cash at the end of each month.
Kiberu says that his worry is that these teachers’ personal loans end up affecting the teaching and learning process if one gets caught in a debt trap. This comment is founded on the idea that many teachers have in the past become trapped in debt after receiving numerous loans, some of which they have been unable to repay and have forced them to flee.
By fleeing, they are absconding from their duties and interfering with the teaching and learning process. For instance, a few years ago, Christine Kakyo, the head teacher at Good Hope Primary School in Hapuyo Sub County, Kyegegwa district, told URN that seven teachers—more than half of the staff—who had received loans had spent the entire term hiding from microfinance officials, which was having an impact on school operations.
Kiberu notes that in order to prevent personal issues from interfering with the teaching and learning process, they are currently advising teachers to avoid taking out multiple loans, especially those from loan sharks, to seek loan services primarily from organised institutions and to give priority to their own teachers’ SACCOs that offer loans at lower interest rates.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Professional Science Teachers Union’s (UPSTU) general secretary, Aron Mugaiga, noted that the union has also been getting reports and has made comparable observations on the rush for loans among their members.
Mugaiga, says that as a union, through its branches, they intend to carry out financial literacy trainings to guide their members so that the current excitement caused by the increment doesn’t end in tears. He further adds that they have also mooted an idea to start a SACCO which they think will give loans at lower rates to their members across the country.