Authored by Sarah Pacutho | On: Wed, 11/19/2014 - 15:40

The Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF) in partnership with Development Research and Training (DRT) organized a strategic meeting with Uganda Local Government Association (ULGA) to engage on the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) programme and the Social Protection Agenda. The meeting was held on the 12th November 2014 at Muyenga International Hotel with over 15 participants that included CSOs (DRT, Help Age International, and UNNGOF) entire ULGA Executive and the media.

Ms. Sophie Kange, UNNGOF Capacity Development Coordinator, informed participants that CSOs formed a coalition (Uganda Social Protection Platform - USPP coordinated by UNNGOF) that would spearhead social protection issues in Uganda. Its main objective is to promote increased awareness on social protection among key stakeholders, Civil Society, policy makers, politicians, local governments, professionals and the general public in Uganda.

Participants expressed dissatisfaction towards government for the funds lost to corruption. They advised that if well utilized, stolen funds will enable SAGE roll out in all the districts. A member noted that government is not committed to prioritizing SAGE. In addition, participants asked Government to improve service delivery so that old people can access services. This is because SAGE will be unsustainable if services like health, water and sanitation are not improved.

A representative from the Kyegegwa praised SAGE for restoring hope amongst elders because they viewed government as caring and therefore developed love for Uganda. He added that non beneficiaries fr0m neighbouring districts were crafting means to enrol on SAGE which is evidence that the program is highly demanded.

In the meeting, CSOs challenged ULGA to mainstream social protection within their local government budgets, establish social protection committees but also ensure that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that elders benefit from other programs in their districts just like other marginalized groups have benefited.

The meeting was organized as part of USPP engagement strategy in order to have a critical and formidable force to galvanize efforts in advocating for policy change and adoption of the social protection- SAGE programme. The meeting provided space to share USPP strategies and proposals as well as agree on a framework to work together in taking forward the agenda with great impact.

“We value ULGA as a key partner who is the government closest to the ordinary citizen, with the capacity and mandate to influence a pro citizen development agenda,” said Ms. Kange. She emphasized that through USPP, CSOs’ work relates to promoting social protection or providing social protection-like interventions as a measure of tackling extreme poverty and addressing risk and vulnerability in Uganda.

The ULGA President, Mr. Gume Fred, appreciated the role civil society plays in advocating for social protection in Uganda. He noted that youths increasingly leave their parents and shift to towns in search of employment and survival, while the parents are left helpless and vulnerable. He informed members that Uganda’s life expectancy increased to 53 years yet the retirement age stood at 60 years.

“How can people receive retirement benefits from government when they are close to death? Government should establish a policy of ensuring that people receive retirement benefits earlier so that they plan for their lives and families early enough,” said Mr. Guma.

Mr. David Lambert Tumwesigye, Advocacy Advisor on Expanding Social protection Programme (ESP) under Ministry of Gender Labour & Social Development told members that government was committed to roll out the SAGE programme but challenged with lack of sufficient funds to sustain the program.

Mr. Tumwesigye noted that SAGE had reached 110, 334 beneficiaries in 15 districts, a draft Social Protection policy framework had been approved by MGLSD management, and a detailed Programme Plan of Intervention (PPI) was being developed. The policy framework and PPI will be submitted to Cabinet by December 2014. The Social Protection is part of the Uganda Vision 2040 which shows government’s commitment to social protection issues.

He however highlighted that low literacy levels among beneficiaries expose them to risk of manipulation and fraud by payment agents. He called for more advocacy and engaging government and parliament to ensure that there is total commitment so that all districts are enrolled onto SAGE Programme.

Moving forward, a number of actions were generated such as; conducting exposure visits for non beneficiaries to establish how the program is changing lives, need for ULGA representation on USPP, conduct more awareness and sensitization about social protection schemes, work through and with media to expand the campaign, develop position papers on social protection and engage policy makers, formalize CSOs and ULGA partnership with an MoU.