MPs Question Sustainability Of SAGE Program

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In short
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee PAC has questioned the sustainability of the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment SAGE, a welfare program directed to the elderly people.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has questioned the sustainability of the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE), a welfare program directed to the elderly people.
PAC on Thursday found out that the program was not fully implemented in financial year 2010/2011 in which it was supposed to be rolled out.
The legislators were interfacing with officials from the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development which ministry is supposed to implement the program. The officials had appeared before PAC to answer to audit queries raised in Financial Years 2010/2011 and 2011/2012.

In the Auditor General's Report of 2010/2011, an audit query was raised under Physical Performance saying that several activities under the Ministry which, were planned for the year, were not fully implemented citing the Expanding Social Protection in Uganda which was allocated 36 billion shillings.
Jane Mpagi, the Director for Gender and Community Development in the Ministry, noted that SAGE was supposed to be a government commitment as counterpart funding to donor funding but that in the financial year 2010/2011 remained unfunded. She added that since the government money was not released that financial year they did not roll the program out.
She explained that in the following financial year the ministry got some funds and that instead of starting with the 14 pilot districts as earlier planned the ministry started also phasing out the pilot districts.
The SAGE program was commenced in 2009 as an initiative by Government of Uganda together with donors to start paying money to the elderly and vulnerable families in 14 districts. Each elderly person was to be given 25,000 shillings.
It was supposed to be a five- year program funded by the British Department for International Development - DFID, Irish Aid and UNICEF.
The 14 pilot districts included Nebbi, Nakapiripirit, Kyenjojo, Napak, Kiboga, Zombo, Kole, Kaberamaido, Kyegegwa and Katakwi.  Other districts included Kyankwanzi, Moroto, Apac and Amudat.
 Mpagi said that by September 2011, at least 3,215 beneficiaries got payments adding that in the same year the districts of Kyenjojo, Kaberamaido and Kibogo were covered. Other 11 districts were covered in 2012.
She also noted that last year they got some money and that they are now performing fairly well piloting the program in Yumbe which is 15th district.
Mpagi told the Committee that the Ministry has a roll-out plan which indicates that government can afford to have the Social Protection Programs for the older persons.
She added that they have interfaced with different levels of government citing parliament and cabinet and that the ministry has an instruction that they expand to all districts and that they are still carrying out analysis to see what option they should use to expand.
Maruzi County MP Maxwell Akora questioned the total budget for the program if it is to be rolled out in all districts of the country since the ministry found out that government could afford the program. He noted that it was important to know how feasible the program is without putting an extra burden on the tax payer or without broadening the tax base.
Akora noted that in a country where the majorities are exempted from tax and government has commitments of catering for free education and health, it is evident that the SAGE program cannot be sustained. He called it a political gimmick for elections.
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Pallisa County MP Jacob Opolot noted that sustainability is important and questioned the criteria the ministry used to select the 14 districts they started with.
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Mpagi said that she could not tell the total cost of the program but that the ministry carried out a study and came up with different options indicating how much it would cost to do a complete roll out by 2016, 2018 and 2021.
She also noted that they went ahead to find out what it costs to take older persons of 60 years or 65 years and that recently cabinet guided them to start at 70 years.
On sustainability, Mpagi noted that the gender ministry together with the finance ministry worked on the sustainability study and came to a conclusion that to implement the program fully, it would cost a maximum of 6.8% of the annual revenue increase.
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About the author

Olive Nakatudde
Olive Nakatudde is a URN journalist based in Kampala. Nakatudde has been a URN staff member since 2013.

Nakatudde started out in journalism in 2009 with Dembe FM radio in Kampala. In 2012, Nakatudde joined Voice of Africa as a political reporter. She has been a photographer since her journalism school days at Makerere University.

Nakatudde is interested in good governance and public policy, which she reports on intensively from the Uganda Parliament. She is a keen follower of cultural affairs in Buganda Kingdom and covers the kingdom's Lukiiko (parliament). Nakatudde also reports on education and health.