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SAGE roll-out hangs in balance as donors withhold funding

By Gloria Nakajubi, Paul Kiwuuwa

Added 7th June 2017 10:08 AM

The budget was however passed at the end of the Month(May) without additional allocations to the SAGE programme.

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The budget was however passed at the end of the Month(May) without additional allocations to the SAGE programme.

PIC: Finance minister Matia Kasaija: "We are better off investing more in sustainable infrastructure that will eventually improve the lives of the elderly."

SOCIAL SECURITY


Donors have since deferred the approval of the second phase of funding for the elderly following persistent failure by the government to fulfill its commitments.

The Republic of Ireland and the Britain Department for International Development (DFID) have been the major funders for the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) managed by the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social development. 

“I am writing to inform you of our decision to extend the Expanding Social Protection Programme-Phase Two inception period from January 31st 2017 to July 2017,” reads a letter signed by the head of the DFID office in Uganda, Jennie Barugh and the Irish Ambassador, Donal Cronin.

“As a result, we propose to delay the movement of the programme into full implementation phase in order to give us time to reappraise the agreement that we have with the government of Uganda,” added the March 21 letter, a copy of which New Vision has seen.

The development partners in a response to New Vision had by the time of the engagement been still hopeful that the funding gaps in the proposed 2017/2018 budget will be closed before it’s passed at the end of the month.

“While the allocation for the FY17/18 is not yet at the level agreed, we are aware that the process of finalizing the budget is ongoing and we remain hopeful that the government of Uganda allocation to SAGE will enable the programme to continue to have impact on poverty reduction in Uganda,” reads the statement.

The budget was however passed at the end of the May without additional allocations to the SAGE programme.

In an interview with Finance Minister Matia Kasaija, he emphasized that as far as the 2017/18 budget is concerned, government had no more money to allocate to any other programme.

“There are unlimited priorities and since we are a cash-strapped economy we have to weigh our options. We are better off investing more in sustainable infrastructure that will eventually improve the lives of the elderly,” said Kasaija.

The SAGE programme introduced in 2011 and currently operating in 35 of the 112 districts was meant to roll out to five other districts next financial year that starts in July. Under the programme, a sh25,000 cash payment is made to the eligible older persons to boost their livelihood.

According to the letter, the government has persistently failed in its commitments for quarterly financial releases.

Government, according to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) committed to provide Sh9b, sh17.59b, Sh29.15b, sh40.34b and sh52.92b between FY2015/16 and 2019 /20.  However, records indicate that in the financial year 2015/16, only sh5.6b was released instead of the sh9b. In 2016/17, by the end of the 4th quarter only sh13.7b of the planned sh17.59b was released.

The MOU further states that the development partners will base their actual support on the progress attained in the implementation of the Programme including performance of government   in terms of counter funding.

 According to the MOU, ‘In the case of (serious) non-compliance with the terms of this MOU and or violation of the fundamental principles set out in this MOU and in the partnership principles on the part of the government of Uganda, the Development Partner may suspend further disbursements to the Programme.

“Such noncompliance could include substantial deviations from agreed plans and budgets, short falls on government of Uganda agreed annual counterpart funding, misuse of funds or non-compliance with agreed preconditions relating to the implementation of the Programme,” reads the MOU.

Members of parliament under the parliamentary forum on social protection in a meeting held at Imperial Royale also expressed concern on government’s commitment to the programme.

The MPs want the programme implemented as had earlier scheduled considering the 100 oldest persons in every district. Currently a total of 172,654 out of the over 1.5m older persons in the country are benefitting from the programme.

In an earlier interview with Stephen Kasaija, the head of the management unit at the Expanding Social Protection Programme of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, explained that the funding gap from government means they will not be able to take up the new districts as had been planned.

Gender Ministry’s Kasaija added that the lack of funds will also affect the other programme commitments such as taking over the initial pilot SAGE districts as provided for in the MOU. This thus means a total of 25,315 beneficiaries in the two pilot districts of Nebbi and Kyenjojo might exit the programme.

Following the successful implementation of the first phase of the Expanding Social Protection (ESP) Programme, government and the development partners agreed to a 5-year extension of the programme. The development partners have since committed a total of sh214.1b for this phase.

 

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