11 April 2016

Uganda: Donors Threaten Pullout as Govt Fails to Pay Shs8.5 Billion to Elderly


Ms Alice Logel, 85, is a widow. She poses for a group photo with her four grandchildren in front of a one-roomed grass-thatched shack in Lolet village in one of the poverty-stricken mid-north-eastern district of Napak in Karamoja sub-region.

She is one of the few selected elderly persons from 15 districts benefiting from the Senior Citizen Grants (SCG) run by the Ministry of Gender. She is appreciative of the SCG and before she was listed among the beneficiaries, life was tough.

Her husband who was the breadwinner for the family, died 20 years ago. Since then, Logel has been solely dependant on her equally poor daughters for food, clothing and medical care.

It was in the midst of such hard conditions that in July 2012, she started receiving the grants. The grants, according to Gender minister Muruli Mukasa, have given senior citizens like Ms Logel.

Today, with her monthly grant of Shs25,000, she is able to buy food, clothing and save some money to cover medical bills.

However, the lull is about to end as donors threaten to pull out of the SCG programme, citing government's failure to release counterpart funding to the tune of Shs8.5 billion.

The Gender minister, who was appearing before the Gender Committee of Parliament last Friday warned that the care of Uganda's elderly is nearing the brink of collapse, as funding cuts in the 2016/17 budget take their toll on some of the country's most vulnerable people.

At least Shs17.5b is needed to roll out the programme to at least 20 districts in the 2016/17 financial year. Only Shs9b was provided in the budget. This, according to the minister, infuriated the donors who contribute up to Shs247b every year.

Ministry of Finance spokesperson Jim Mugunga cited "a constrained resource envelope" and explained that the 2016/17 Budget proposals were approved by Cabinet where the minister sits. The committee promised to help the ministry raise the additional funds.

The SCG, one of the components of government's Social Protection Programme (SPP) is predominantly funded by UK's DfID and Irish Aid.

However, if they pull out as they already indicated, Ms Logel and more than 60,000 senior citizens who survive on government handouts across the country face a bleak future and could drift back to life of misery and starvation. In every sub-county, there are about 100 people of 65 years and above. "This programme for the elderly is going to collapse because donors have already threatened to pull out over government failure to provide counterpart funding," Mr Mukasa said.

He added: "We want our senior citizens to age with decency. The money we normally give them every month (Shs25,000) helps them to buy food, soap, books for their grandchildren and medication whenever they fall sick. There are many people who are not on pension and the monthly cash grants have done a lot and have changed their lives."

The programme

The Senior Citizens Grant, one of the core components of the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment, started in 2010 with financing by government and development partners. This was aimed at responding to the legal obligation of the State to provide welfare and maintenance for the elderly. The Gender Committee of Parliament has appealed to government to save SCG from collapse to avoid what some MPs called "a national embarrassment" of neglected citizens.

The National Development Plan highlights social protection as one of the mechanisms to achieve social and economic development it outlines objectives for expanding social protection to reduce vulnerability and enhance productivity of the country's human resource. The activities include developing and implementing direct income support programmes for the elderly, persons with disabilities and the poorest section of the population, formulating a comprehensive social protection policy and strengthening mechanisms for coordinating social protection programmes.

Since 2005, economic growth has averaged 7 per cent annually and inward investment has doubled. Less than a quarter of the population now lives below the national poverty line, down from a third in 2006. However, poor infrastructure, a lack of jobs, high population growth, poor quality services and widespread corruption remain major concerns in Uganda. About 3 per cent of the 34.6million Ugandans are 65 years.


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