KAMPALA: Parliament’s Gender, Labour, and Social Development Committee has raised concerns about the way the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) are funded. They say that this makes it hard for the program to run smoothly and has a negative impact on the general well-being of the people who get the grants.
The committee said that the Ministry of Finance should give parliament a statement of assurance that the SAGE program will still be able to run even if the funding partners leave.
This is carried in the report tabled before parliament on Wednesday by the Committee Chairperson, Flavia Kabahenda. The report is based on the sector’s budget plan for the next financial year (2022–2033), which is the subject of the report.
The government has since 2010 been operating the SAGE program, and in the financial year 2018/2019, the Cabinet announced a national rollout of the programme to cover all older people aged 80 years and above across the country.
However, Kabahenda said that the grant is faced with significant challenges. Noting that next financial year 2022/2023, the government will need 146.7 billion to pay all beneficiaries, but only 120.7 billion will be provided, leaving a shortfall of 26.9 billion.
“The same shortfall was experienced in the current financial year, but was covered by development partners. There are still a lot of unpaid bills, with 36.2 billion of them so far, but only 14.4 billion have been paid, leaving a funding gap of 21.6 billion, which needs to be filled to cover the unpaid bills for 270,203 people who didn’t get their money in the fourth quarter of 2020/2021 because of lack of funds, said Kabahenda.
She added that while the deficit during the current financial year was covered by development partners, they will cease to support the programme in June 2022. Kabahenda said that this could put the funding of the program in danger and that the arrears are likely to keep going.
Kabahenda told parliament that the budget shortfalls in the programme continue to impede the effective running of the programme, the general welfare of the beneficiaries, and the overall vision of national protection aspirations.
“The grant helps the elderly, who have no other form of social protection and who, more often than not, are also taking care of dependants such as orphaned grandchildren. If the funding gaps remain, “this will definitely have a negative impact on the lives of targeted beneficiaries and their dependants,” she said.
The Gender Committee also said that the lack of a national social protection strategy is still preventing the country from planning together and getting money for social protection.
The Committee said that in the next financial year, 2022/2023, $27.6 billion should be given to cover the debts of the 270,203 people who didn’t get money in the fourth quarter of the financial year 2020/2021.
They also want 26.9 billion to be given in the next financial year, 2022/2023, so that all the people who are over 80 years old will be covered.
Kabahenda also didn’t like the idea of combining funds from the Uganda Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (UWEP) with funds from the Parish Development Model (PDM). She said that women don’t have access to the factors of production that are being emphasized in the PDM.
As an affirmative action revolving fund, UWEP was set up in 2016. Its main goal is to help Ugandan women improve their income levels and their involvement in and contribution to economic growth.
The project targets women in the age bracket of 18 to 79 years, and the beneficiaries include unemployed women, women with disabilities, and other vulnerable women. The project has so far benefited 16,542 projects across the country and 191,476 women to date. The project’s recovery rate is 72.8 percent.
Parliament learnt that a total of 29.02 billion out of the UWEP budget of 32 billion has been reallocated from the Ministry of Gender, leaving a balance of only 2.98 billion for secretariat operations and salaries of staff.
Kabahenda says that this effectively stops the program and will not only put the lives of women at risk, but will also make it impossible to recover the money already in circulation.
‘Whereas special interest groups are allocated funds in the Parish Development Model, the bulk of the funds are aimed at agricultural enterprises, and yet the vast majority of women in Uganda have limited access to factors of production, especially land, and would, therefore, not benefit from the PDM as much as they do from UWEP. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on the economy, and many informal businesses have shut down, “she said.
Anita Among, the Speaker of Parliament, said that not all women will join the SACCOS under the Parish Development Model, so the UWEP should stay.
Amongi, the Minister of Gender, stated that the parliament’s recommendation will be considered.
Parliament adopted the committee report and forwarded it to the House budget committee for consideration in the national budget report.