After several years of struggle, meetings and negotiations the Government of Uganda has finally operationalised the National Council for Older Persons Act 2013.
The act provides for the establishment of the National Council for Older Persons, a creation of a secretariat and also elections of representatives of older persons to lower councils, District and Parliamentary leadership levels.
At the Parliamentary Level, Government endorsed the creation of five slots for older persons representatives and elections were held in January last year.
The Pioneer members of the Older Persons Members of Parliament are :- Dominic Mafwabi, Gidudu, Hon. Busingye Penninah Kalenge aka [Maama KMisanja] Jorum Tibasiima. Akum Catherine Mavenjina and Peggy Waako Joy.
The Government further created a cabinet slot for older people and Gidudu Mafwabi Dominic was appointed by the President to take up the slot of State Minister for Elderly Affairs.
It is hoped that the Minister and his four other colleagues will act as a voice of the Elderly in parliament while, Honorable Gidudu Mafabi will be able to stand up for counting in cabinet and national executive meetings.
These are also expected to bridge the gap between Government, Parliament and the ordinary older person.
They are expected to ensure issues of the elderly are seriously attended to by Government, Parliament and all relevant stakeholders such as Non Government Organizations [NGOs] and Development Partners.
One of the current contentious issue is the welfare of aged people in Uganda.
Government is currently supporting the elderly with a monthly grant of twenty five thousand shillings [25,000/-] to those at age 80 and above.
Experts and Researchers argue that this is too little considering the levels of poverty in the country. They want the money increased to at least one hundred thousand shillings [100,000/-] The cutoff point of eighty years for the beneficiaries is also said to be unfavourable and want it lowered to at least 60 years.
Fortunately, all the five MPs have committed themselves to ensuring that these issues are raised at the floor of Parliament at an appropriate time.
Research has also indicated that ill – health is a major source of worry and stress among older persons in the country.
Common health problems among older persons include hypertension, stroke, diabetes, heart diseases, trachoma and blindness that often lead to complications and permanent incapacitation.
Poor health reduces that capacity of older persons to generate income and curtails their productivity.
Older persons can hardly afford the cost of travelling to health centres their health problems are compounded by the lack of money for seeking appropriate medical attention or buying drugs for non – communicable diseases. Research has further revealed that elderly persons suffer abuses such as theft, burglary, dispossession of property by individuals, families or the community.
In some areas, the elderly are accused of witchcraft thus being tortured or assaulted. This situation arises because, the elderly live in isolation and are too frail to defend themselves and there are no mechanisms to protect them. These scenarios deny older persons from living secure and dignified life. The issue of Land grabbing and property destruction is not new to many readers of this article.
Research conducted by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development further painted a dark picture on water and sanitation situation. The study released recently indicated that older persons travel long distances in search of clean water while those who cannot afford to walk depend on contaminated water which put their health at risk. Pit latrine coverage is equally poor while most such facilities are not old age user friendly as older persons usually have difficulty in squatting.
You might have heard of cases where old people have died in bathrooms. It is from this background that we think that operationalization of the National Council for older persons Act 2013 is a timely move by Government and will definitely go a long way in improving the welfare of Uganda’s Senior Citizens.
Certainly, the five members of Parliament for older persons including honourable Gidudu Mafaabi have some homework to do over the next five years, but the mission is achievable provided they work as a team and cooperate with the rest of the 524 other MPs on top of reaching out to lower older, persons councils at district and other levels.
Apart from the Parliamentary and National Levels, Government has also operationalised the creation of District, City and Lower Councils older persons committees across the country.
In Kampala for example, a total of 12 councilors were elected to represent older persons with at the authority level and each of five city divisions besides, that each village, parish and sub parish in Kampala now has a council for older persons.
Each committee has a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, General Secretary, Secretary for Publicity and Secretary for finance. At the city level the council for older persons otherwise referred to as Kampala Capital City Authority Council for older persons”, is chaired by Francis Anthony Lubowa Deputized by Captain Francis Baabu. Other members are :- Mr. John Mary Byaruhanga Secretary General, Madam Margret Ssaali is Secretary for Finance while, Henry Baguma is Secretary for Publicity and Committee Spokesperson.
The committee led by its Chairman Anthony Lubowa is engaged in consultations and meetings with several stakeholders on a range of issues with an aim of creating awareness and building consensus among the political elite and general population on issues related to older persons.
The most successful meetings so far was the one with the KCCA Executive Director Dorothy Kisaaka and her Technical Team. She pledged maxim support to the KCCA older persons committee and immediately permitted members to hold their meetings at City Hall Boardroom.
She further pledged to allocate an office and a Secretariat to the committee to improve on service delivery.
Madam Kisaka also offered to set up special centres for vaccinating older persons against covid 19 pandemic and this has tremendously increased the vaccination against Covid 19 coverage.
Most aged city residents have benefited from this arrangement.
Besides, the city technical boss has promised to engage relevant service providers and state agencies to organize activities marking older person’s day.
As Uganda prepares to join the international community in commemorating the International Day for the Elderly on October 1, this occasion should give all relevant stakeholders an opportunity to reflect on the plight of all vulnerable elderly persons in Uganda.
However, this year’s event will be of a low scale because of the Covid 19 SOPs. Kisaaka says they will sponsor a symbolic activity for selected guests. Another fruitful engagement was that between Elders Councilors and the City Lord Mayor, Mr. Elias Lukwago at City Hall.
His Lordship the Mayor expressed gratitude to the KCCA Older Persons Committee Leadership for engaging him for away forward. He pledged to fully cooperate with the committee in ensuring the Elderly Live a dignified life in Kampala. His Lordship Lukwago said he will also ensure that there is a budget for older persons committees just like it is with the other similar city organs.
Happy International Older Persons Day celebrations on October 1st 2021.
Henry Baguma, is a Journalist and Secretary for Publicity KCCA older Persons Council.