By Patrick Kiconco Katabaazi
For the past four or so years, the media has been awash with news to the effect that Government has been slow in complementing development partners to fund the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) which is being implemented by Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development through Expanding Social Protection Program with Support from DFID and Irish Aid.
Under this programme, sh25,000 per month is given to a qualifying senior citizen and has so far benefited a total of 123,000 Senior Citizens (65years of age) under a pilot phase in the districts Kyenjojo, Kiboga, Kaberamaido, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Nebbi, Apac, Katakwi, Kole,Kyegegwa, Napak, Zombo, Kyenkwanzi, Yumbe and Amudat.
The programme has been successful in pilot districts and has been a campaign message for all political forces notably NRM, FDC and Go-forward in the just concluded Presidential and Parliamentary Elections
On September 1, 2015 the Government of Uganda launched the national rollout of SAGE in Bundiburyo and on October 14, 2015 at a function held in Kayunga district the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development signed MOUs 35 districts for national rollout of the programme.
Despite the overwhelming demand for the national roll out, the Government will only implement this programme for senior citizens grants in 40 additional districts in five years. It should be remembered that the number of districts has been growing and as such implementing this programme in only 55 districts is not only unfair but also does not promoted equitable of development.
While I appreciate Government’s efforts to support older persons there is an apparent lack of demonstrable will exhibited by the inability of the executive to allocate funds particularly the counterpart funding.
During the discussion of Ministerial Policy Statement for FY 2015/16 for Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development Parliament struggled to find and re-aallocate resources amounting to Ugx 2bn to close the gap in counterpart funding .
To cure this problem Parliament of Uganda resolved that key programs such as SAGE take the first call on the budget FY 2016/17
However in the National Budget Frame work Paper for FY 2016/17 – FY 2020/21 7 and indeed the Ministerial Policy Statement for the sector ONLY UGX 9 billion has been provided as the MTEF provision For FY 2016/17 against the required UGX 17.59bn leaving a funding gap of UGX 8.59bn.
The information available suggests that Development Partner- DFID and Irish AID have committed a total of £65,637,101(Pound sterling) for second 5 year phase of the programme (ESP 2) over five years (mid 2015 – mid 2020) and as such government failing to honor their agreed counterpart funding is likey to put the whole program in jeopardy as Development Partners may pull out.
The Inability by government to provide the required Government of Uganda funding to cover the funding gap of UGX 8.59bn has serious operational and political implications and could jeopardize the ministry’s broader plan for implementing the National Social Protection Policy. Without the additional funds, the Ministry will be unable to make full payments to existing beneficiaries.
That aside, lack of a clear and comprehensive national roll out plan (Cover the whole country) has become a political risk for the current MPs and if not addressed now will continue to be a political risk for incoming MPs aware of the fact the both youth and Women Programs have been allocated Ugx 50Bn each and yet these are new compared to SAGE. One may argue that policy makers at various levels have deliberately segregated against the senior citizens.
Social Protection clear target in Vision 2040 and the NDP11 and according research carried out by Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development and Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development (MGLSD), Senior Citizens Grant (SCG) has registered enormous social and economic impacts in communities where this program has been piloted.
Government should come out strongly on this program and provide a roadmap for the SAGE rollout to all Districts of Uganda preferably covering 100 oldest persons per every soubcounty in the whole country initially as opposed to adding districts in the current methodology.
I call upon Parliament to once again save this program by providing an additional UGX 8.59bn to close the funding gap in the budget for FY 2016/17 in the ongoing appropriation process.
Planners and policy makers should always that issues of vulnerable groups such as Women, Youth, Children,PWDs and Elderly are handled fairly and equitably for sustainable development.
The writer is an advocate/Budget andTax Policy Advisor