KAMPALA: After moving in circles of confusion for over two years, private school teachers can now access the long-awaited COVID-19 cash bailout from the government.
In one of his national addresses on COVID-19 in July 2020, President Yoweri Museveni promised to provide a revolving fund worth Sh20 billion for private school teachers to set up alternative income-generating activities.
At that time, an estimated 350, 000 private school teachers were struggling to make ends meet due to the prolonged school closure triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government didn’t release the money, whose primary objective was to help teachers cope with a hard time as different groups fought for its management.
Edward Ssebukyu, the Commissioner in charge of private schools and institutions in the Ministry of Education, says that at last it has been decided that the long-awaited money be disbursed through the Microfinance Support Centre effective immediately.
Ssebukyu notes that having failed to have one trusted apex body to handle the money, they have made a decision to allow each private school teacher association, SACCO or group from all levels to deal directly with the Microfinance Support Centre to access the funds.
When Museveni announced the relief package, the government wanted the money to be channelled through the Microfinance Support Centre (MSC). However, the Ministry of Education rejected the idea based on past experience with public-school teachers’ funds.
At the moment, MSC has suggested that teachers create and register SACCOs of no more than 30 people. From their calculations, each SACCO would qualify to get 10 million, thus benefiting 2000 SACCOs across the country.
By removing MSC from the picture, the ministry wanted the money to go directly to the teacher’s association. At that time, several groups uniting sections of private school teachers wanted to be in charge of the process, but none was found to be representative enough and a decision was taken to form the National Private School Teachers’ Association.
The formation of the National Private School Teachers’ Association did not solve anything as other groups, including the Uganda Private Teachers’ Union, National Private School Teachers’ Association, and Coalition of Private School Teachers’ Associations, challenged the process by writing to the finance ministry to halt the disbursement of the funds.
Belinda Atim, the MSC Spokesperson, notes that if teachers had heeded their advice in the first place, they would have accessed the money in 2020 as the Microfinance Support Centre was ready to waive some of the requirements given the prevailing circumstances.
Atim notes that this time around, teachers will have to meet all the requirements before accessing any penny from the centre. She says that those interested in the funds can start sending their applications to the microfinance support centre or their agents across the country.
Upon meeting the requirements, private school teachers will be allowed to access between Shillings 5 million and Shillings 3 billion, depending on the capacity of their SACCO. Atim also tells private school teachers that they have other packages that are easy to get in the same way.
Juma Mwamula, the General Secretary of the Uganda Private Teachers’ Union, who blames officials at the ministry of education for the confusion experienced in the last two years, says that it is good to know that at last teachers will access the funds.
Mwamula says the education ministry and Microfinance Support Centre should now take the trouble to mobilise and inform private school teachers about the new development so that they can turn up to access the money.
Alex Matovu, a private school teacher, says although money can still be used, it was better to disburse it at the moment when private school teachers were grassing and yarning for help. To him, several people might not be interested in the money anymore.
“We rushed and created SACCOs.” Everybody thought that if the money had been released, it could have helped teachers who were suffering. Teachers end up in all sorts of humiliating jobs to make ends meet. “After two years of suffering, many eventually found other means to keep life moving and they are doing well,” says Matovu.
He, however, advises teachers to go and get the money if there is an opportunity so that they can invest in things that can help them have side incomes in addition to teaching.