Uganda’s senior citizens who are aged between 60 and 80 years and living in poverty, have an opportunity tap into a new fund that was established through a presidential directive to offer financial assistance to the senior citizens establish businesses as a source of livelihood.
The chairperson of the National Older Persons Council Charles Isabirye revealed that the government of President Museveni fulfilled a pledge he made last year to provide funding for older persons to lift themselves out of poverty by giving them grants to start income generating activities.
Isabirye said that although the President had pledged UGX10bn as an annual grant for the Special Enterprise Fund for Older Persons, the government has so far started by disbursing UGX5bn.
Isabirye said: “His excellence the president promised UGX10bn every year as a grant for older persons aged between 60 and 80 years to start businesses. I can assure you that last week, UGX5bn was sent to the account of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.”
Isabirye however offered to taper the excitement of potential beneficiaries of the fund when he pointed out that the Ministry of Finance has slapped a moratorium on the disbursement of the funds, until the Ministry of Gender submits guidelines that will guide the management of the fund.
Isabirye revealed that some of the guidelines they intend to put forward include formation of groups of between 5 and 15 old persons in order to access the funding.
Although not yet decided, leaders of the National Council for older persons plan to insist that the money is given out as grants and not loans to old persons, as was promised by the President. If this is approved, this fund will deliver windfall cash bounties to the lucky beneficiaries, and make it different from the other government assistance programmes such as the newly established Parish Development Model or the Emyoga fund, where the money is supposed to be borrowed and paid back after a period of time.
Isabirye made the revelations while officiating at a meeting where district chairpersons for older persons committees from across the 28 districts of Buganda region agreed to create a common platform they baptized Central Region Older Persons Forum (CROPF).
The older persons leaders agreed to register CROPF as an association with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau.
Francis Henry Lubowa, the Chairperson of the Older Persons Committee in Kampala District was elected to chair the preparatory committee before formal elections are held at a later date.
Lubowa said the Forum was inspired by the need to create a common platform among the older persons’ leaders to form a common voice for advocating for the interests of the older persons.
He added that the forum would not only amplify the voice of the National Council for Older persons, it will also become a platform for networking and sharing of ideas on improving the well-being of older persons across the region.
Lubowa said the numerous challenges facing older persons ranging from poor health, human rights abuses especially the dispossession of land by children and young people, as well as the need to fix gaps in policies and laws to cater for the well-being of older persons, have not been prioritized by both state and non-state actors.
Lubowa mentioned that fact that even though there is a law that sets up leadership structures for older persons starting from the village up to the national level, most districts have refused to operationalize these structures by refusing to fund their activities, let alone provide for office space for older persons leaders at the district level.
“With the exception of very few districts, most of the executive committees for older persons have until now not been sworn in,” Lubowa said, adding that even for Kampala, although they were sworn in, they have not been given space to operate from.
Isabirye, the Chairperson of the National Council for Older Persons, which is housed in the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, hailed the Forum’s creation as a great initiative that will bridge the gap between the independent district councils for older persons to the national council.
John Mary Byaruhanga, a member of the Kampala district Older Persons Committee, explained that the Forum will also create synergies for bench-marking, and sharing of information between the previously independent district councils.
Forum good for government
The creation of the Forum, has already proved useful to government as well, as a a platform for obtaining feedback in the implementation of different government programs that target the elderly.
For example during last week’s meeting, the leaders of the Social Assistance for the Elderly (SAGE), were able to use one platform to get feedback on the challenges faced in the implementation of the programme using one forum as opposed to having to travel to all the districts to obtain the similar information.