Members of Parliament are concerned that older persons have not received their monthly stipend for about eight months.
Under the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) programme implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the senior citizens of 80 years and above are entitled to a monthly pay of Shs25,000 to facilitate their social wellbeing.
However, during a sensitisation meeting organised by the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection (UPFSP) on Monday, 28 February 2022, MPs expressed their disappointment with the Government for delaying to pay the older persons since mid last year.
“Older persons going for eight months without pay is totally unacceptable and must be sorted urgently. An allocation should be followed by timely release of funds. If not, the curse from these older persons will claim all of us,” Hon Andrew Koluo (Indep. Toroma County) said.
According to Stephen Kasaija, the Head, Programme Management Unit at the gender ministry, the Government has arrears for the fourth quarter of Financial Year 2020/2021 amounting to Shs36.08 billion for 270,203 beneficiaries.
Kasaija said that whereas Shs120.7 billion has been allocated for the FY 2022/2023, there is no commitment from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to offset the arrears for the fourth quarter of FY 2020/2021.
“We had proposed to use the funds remitted for FY2021/2022 to clear the arrears, but the Ministry of Finance declined to give us the go ahead saying the arrears will be considered as a domestic arrears for FY 2022/23. This, however, is not even reflected in the Budget Framework Paper up to date,” Kasaija said.
The Chairperson of UPFSP, Hon Flavia Kabahenda Rwabuhoro, has urged MPs to use the forum to persuade government to bring a supplementary budget to clear the pending arrears.
“We are seeing supplementary budgets coming to Parliament for all sorts of things. Recently, a total of Shs17m was released for the Parish Development Model without guidelines and it is currently not yet being spent. Why then is it hard to provide money for the senior citizens grant? We are claiming a right and not a favour from government,” Kabahenda said.
“I am told there is another supplementary budget coming in March; let us stampede it until arrears for the senior citizens are paid. It should not be reflected as domestic arrears for next year.”
Kasaija said that this year’s delays to pay the senior citizens resulted from the ongoing migration process where government is considering moving from Post Bank to Centenary Bank.
“There is a delay by the older persons to open up accounts with Centenary Bank which is mostly resulting from lack of National IDs to complete the registration. However, we are working with NIRA to speed up the process. Otherwise, the funds for the older persons for this financial year are available,” he said.
MPs and other stakeholders are also piling pressure on government to lower the eligibility age from 80 years to at least 70 years to increase the number of beneficiaries. They also want the money raised from the current Shs25,000 to at least Shs35,000 to match up the high cost of living.
Lowering the eligibility age from 80 to 70 will see a total of 764,945 beneficiaries covered from the current 358,420 and would require an additional budget of Shs158 billion.
Hon Milton Muwuma (NRM, Kigulu South) cautioned fellow legislators not to be too ambitious to lower the eligibility age considering the current funding gaps that the programme is facing. Government is expected to take over full financing of the programme from June 2022 when development partners are expected to withdraw their support as part of the Memorandum of Understanding.
Since its inception in 2010, the SAGE programme has benefited 393,284 older persons to a tune of Shs479.7 billion.