Activists to appeal against EOC decision on SAGE

By Ronald Mugabe

The EOC seven-member tribunal; in a session chaired by Hon. Member Joel Cox Ojuko on Friday ruled that the government be given an opportunity to first test the programme in a phased manner because of resource constraints.

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KAMPALA - Elderly persons; through the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) have vowed to appeal to a higher court after a tribunal at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) made a ruling they deem unsatisfactory.

They had forwarded a complaint to the EOC disputing government's plans to raise the beneficiaries' age to 80 years (from 65) for them to be eligible for the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE).

The complaint filed by ISER in 2017 on behalf of older persons challenged the discriminatory and inequitable nature of the SAGE programme by the government.

The EOC seven-member tribunal; in a session chaired by Hon. Member Joel Cox Ojuko on Friday ruled that the government be given an opportunity to first test the programme in a phased manner because of resource constraints. This is what the activists are disputing because it will discriminate against the elderly persons who will have to wait to be reached through this phased approach.

Elizabeth Atori, the ISER Legal Officer says, "We understand court's take in the consideration that the government does not have enough resources and cannot roll out the programme at once to ensure that every older person in the country is catered for. But internationally, the obligation to stop discrimination is immediate. It is something that should be done immediately and not progressively as the EOC stated. That's our issue with this judgment."

Under sections 14 and 15 of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007 - subsection (3) the EOC has powers to hear and determine complaints by any person against any action, practice, usage, plan, policy programme, tradition, culture or custom followed by any organ, body, business organization, institution or person which amounts to discrimination, marginalization or undermines equal opportunities.

Complainants' submissions

Some of the complainant's submissions stated that by the scheme being operational in a few districts; of which only the 100 oldest persons per sub-county are eligible for enrolment, it leaves a huge number of older persons unattended to and their right to social security violated.

It also faulted the fact that the programme considers age as the sole eligibility requirement. "Owing to the fact that the SAGE programme uses age to determine eligibility, it follows that all individuals 65 and 80years and above are entitled to receive the monthly cash transfer. At the moment, there are three different age thresholds in place: 65 years and above (and 60 in the case of Karamoja) during the pilot period (2010-2015), excluding those receiving government pension from the consolidated fund, was considered in 15 pilot districts, 100 oldest persons per sub-county was used in the first 25 of the 40 districts to roll out the senior citizens grant in fiscal year 2015/16-2016/17 and 80 years and above  is going to be used in all districts starting fiscal year 2018/19," the submission read in part .

It added, "The use of age as a sole criterion for the determination of which persons are to be guaranteed basic income security through the award of monthly cash transfer divests the program of equity. This disregards the aspect of poverty levels, vulnerability and gender considerations, results in some of the marginalised and disadvantaged older persons for example women, older persons with disability being left out and yet they need it more. The Complainant submits that the fact that the scheme doesn't prioritize the level of vulnerability as an eligibility consideration divests the program of equity."  

EOC judgment

In his pronouncement, Ojuko issued five orders.  The first was that government; going forward should implement SAGE taking into consideration matters of equity and gender.

"We had complained about how SAGE was only considering age as the only eligibility criteria. We think that the EOC having taken into consideration that there was discrimination, should have pronounced itself on adding our complainants who are mostly 65 and above onto SAGE.  This is what we majorly wanted the EOC to pronounce itself on but the judgment just made blanket statements on discrimination and that older persons in this country are 60 and above and just stopped at that," Atori said in disappointment.

Ojuko also asked the National Identification and Registration Authority to ensure that all the older persons are registered and any unclear information on their national IDs is rectified at no cost.

He stated that this should be done countrywide at parish level to ensure easy access and get rid of all constraints that were making older persons drop dead while stranded in long queues to get these grants.

"This came from the fact that the government was using national IDs as a mode of determining the age of the elder persons. Our complaint stated that not all older persons were in the national ID registry and that the information on some of their IDs was wrong and they weren't giving them the opportunity to rectify them," Atori stated.

Atori, however, added that this was only a small component of their submission but the court decided to focus on things they thought were not the core of the complaint.

The third order was for the government to report every year on the SAGE implementation to the EOC.

 "We are happy though that at least it has told the government to ensure that it gives periodic reports. However, in terms of the substantiality of our complaint, we feel that many of the critical matters weren't tackled. Many of the questions we brought to the EOC weren't answered," she expressed.

Atori added that they were going to continue the fight for justice for elder persons and hopefully get a higher court to pronounce itself on the critical matters.