Ronald Kiwanuka used to survive on his tailoring business which involved going to people’s homes around Gogonya village, Kibiga sub-county, Kiboga district and ask for work.
His family suffered whenever he couldn’t find jobs. Then his legs got swollen whenever he covered long distances or sat for long. This made running the manual sewing machine hard.
But now he is all praises for the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE). Kiwanuka’s welfare has improved; he can now take care of his extended family which includes a 91-year-old mother.
At 71, Kiwanuka has been receiving this unconditional monthly grant of Shs 25,000 from the government to selected persons aged 65 years and above.
“Although the money looks small, I use it for farming. As you can see, I’m becoming weaker every year; so, at least I can promise these young men who do the weeding that I will pay them and they work for me,” he said.
Kiwanuka said he now cultivates seven acres, up from four acres. As for Teresa Namuli, 80, the money has helped keep her grandchildren in school; most of them had dropped out of school, not because there was no school fees but because they did not have what to eat at school.
“We have a government primary school here and the head teacher allowed them to study free after I told him my situation and with my advanced age. He accepted but on condition that I raise some money to feed these children,” she said.
The two senior citizens are part of the 4,700 active beneficiaries of the programme in Kiboga where SAGE was piloted in 2011 and leaders say up to Shs 8.7 billion has been disbursed to beneficiaries in the district.
Sarah Nakarungi, the chief administrative officer here, said Kiboga was one of the pioneer districts to get the grant funded through a partnership between the government, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Republic of Ireland through Irish Aid.
“The SAGE programme in this district was launched in 2011 after an understanding between the ministry of Gender and the district, and effective from 2017, we introduced the Regional Technical Support Unit operation model,” she said.
“Kiboga is the regional technical unit providing support to five SAGE districts of Kyankwanzi, Kibaale, Nakasongola, Nakaseke and host Kiboga.”
Parliamentarians under Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Social Protection visited on May 29 and heard Nakarungi say how SAGE has improved senior citizens’ welfare.
“We have seen an uptake of health services; for instance, they are able to pay boda boda to access health centres, they could not go to hospital because they did not have transport means,” she said.
Israel Yiga, the district’s chairperson, said food security has improved in beneficiary households: they can hire labour to cultivate, purchase seeds and some foodstuffs.
“This, although minimal, is boosting the local economy with the cash. Also, we see some traders position strategically during payment days,” he said.
Kiwanuka sees the main challenge being delayed payment which makes it hard to plan.
“We promise our boys who do the weeding that we will pay at the end of the month only for the money to delay up to six and even nine months. We find ourselves stuck with our farms as some will not come back after a month without pay,” he said.
Kiwanuka also complains about long distances to pay centres. He uses up to Shs 7,000 to go and receive Shs 25,000. Namuli said that previously the money was sent to mobile phones but people kept forgetting passwords or their relatives could withdraw their money without their consent.
By the time parliamentarians visited, these senior citizens were just receiving their November and December grants from 2017.
Cash on wheels
When government and donors realised that senior citizens were being robbed or had trouble with passwords, they contracted Post Bank to deliver the money to the nearest village.
Albert Barekye, the general manager, operations, at Post Bank, says that now beneficiaries get paid at the nearest sub-county headquarters.
“We registered them and simply use biometric data and fingerprints. In few minutes they can access their money,” he said.
Peace Mutuuzo, the state minister for Gender and Culture Affairs, said the main challenge is shortfall in the budget and unpredictable releases arising from fluctuating domestic revenue.
She said this is why delayed payments can run up to five months.
“Nonetheless, I am glad to inform you that for the current financial year, 87 per cent of the SAGE money has been released and a supplementary budget to cater for the funding gap has been approved,” she said.