Govt asked to expedite review of SAGE

SOROTI– The Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development [MGLSD] has been tasked to expedite the review of the eligibility age for the beneficiaries of the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment [ SAGE ].

Through SAGE, the government gives out a monthly stipend of Shs 25,000 to persons aged 80 and above eighty in different parts of the country.

Late last year, Betty Amongi, the Gender Minister, said her ministry was working and finalising a document to be presented to Cabinet and Parliament, seeking to lower the age of the current SAGE beneficiaries from 80 to about 65-70.

While launching a report on child-sensitive social protection in Kampala in November 2021, Amongi said her ministry was in discussions with other stakeholders to agree on the new age limit for the SAGE beneficiaries.

This follows complaints from people who have not clocked 80 years, accusing the government of sidelining them since the majority are below 70 years.

On Thursday while meeting with the officials from MGLSD led by Minister of State for Elderly Affairs, Dominic Gidudu, Samuel Enangu the LCV Vice-Chairperson Soroti asked the ministry to speed up the process to have government consider reducing the age to at least 65-70 years so that more vulnerable Ugandans benefit from the programme.

The minister was in Soroti district to monitor the implementation and strides SAGE programme has made in the lives of the beneficiaries.

Enangu argued that elderly persons aged 65-70 years old are few for government to afford, adding that it’s unfair for the constitution to describe an old person like that who has clocked 65 years, but when it comes to such a program, it considers those above this age.

This according to him, would increase the program coverage with more beneficiaries brought on board.

“Setting the SAGE beneficiary age to 80 years and above has left out a big number of vulnerable elderly persons,” Enangu said.

The Soroti district LCV Vice Chairperson also urged that a number of older persons are dying before they reach the age of eligibility for the grant.

Enangu further noted that many of the elderly have not benefited from government programs like the Operation Wealth Creation-OWC and Emyooga among others due to limiting factors such as advanced age.

SAGE was enrolled in Soroti district in 2019.

While presenting the performance report to the minister Margrate Emuria Acayo, the District Community Development Officer (DCDO), said the district has a total of 2,074 beneficiaries.

She explained that the district has so far five (5) phased payments, three under Post Bank and two under Centenary Bank, the new service provider.

In the last five phased payments, Soroti district has spent about Shs 1billion ,” she said.

In his part John Odongo, the district councilor representing the elderly persons at Soroti district council asked government to also consider increasing the payments to the elderly.

He proposed that the payment should be increased from the current Shs2,5000 to at least Shs50,000 monthly given the high cost of living.

Though the Shs2,5000 government gives to the elderly persons under SAGE programs has helped improve the lives of the beneficiaries it’s not sufficient to meet their daily pressing needs due high commodity prices,” stated Odongo.

Meanwhile, Jane Akiror, the Principal Secretary to the Soroti district acting Chief Administrative Officer said many older persons are being left out because of lack of National Identification Cards.

According to her some of the older persons were weak during the time of registration and didn’t have the strength to line up in long queues.

She urged that government needs to urgently address the issue of National Identification Cards as a prerequisite for the elderly to benefit from SAGE.

Akiror, said that other mechanisms should be thought about because a number of older persons didn’t register for identification cards.

Paul Onapa, the head of Expansion Social Protection Program (ESP) under the ministry of gender said the financial limitations made government to put the eligible age at 80.

However, he revealed that the ministry has taken the issue of reducing the age of beneficiaries to 65 years from the current eligibility age of 80 years because it is a concern that has come out across the country.

Meanwhile, Amongi, in her speech read by the State minister for elderly Gidudu on her behalf, said the issue of lowering the age cap for SAGE beneficiaries and increasing the pay is being supported by both Cabinet and Parliament.

“But this has to wait for the allocation of resources most properly in the next financial year 2023/2024’’, she said.

She said the ministry continues to engage with National Identification Registration Authority [NIRA] to ensure that older persons who did not register for the National Identification Card yet qualify to benefit from SAGE are registered.

She said 12,000 older persons who never registered during the National Identification Card registration exercise have been registered in the mope outreaches by NIRA across the country.

“Such outreaches will continue to reach others who remain unregistered, we are also partnering with NIRA to provide a solution to older persons who understate their age during the mass national identification exercise,” the minister noted.

The minister also added that they are collaborating with the local government to constitute a sub-county data committee to verify older persons whose dates of birth were understated during the process of registering for National Identification Cards.

This exercise will begin in the 10 districts of Agago, Kakumiro, Igaga, Maracha, Lwego, Kotido, Ngora, Bundibunjo, Seema, and Budaka.

“The issue of ID registration is very critical because it’s now a requirement by Bank of Uganda for one to have NIN to be able to open a bank account, yet the senior citizens grant is delivered through Centenary Bank, the payment service provider, it’s my humble appeal therefore that as leaders, we continue reaching out to the aged and assist them register and benefit from SAGE and other government programs,” Amongi urged.

Data from the Ministry of Gender indicates that out of the 200,500 older persons targeted under the SAGE national rollout, a total of 174,873 beneficiaries have been verified and paid bringing the total number of older persons reached as of December 2021, to 332,973.

The 25,627 older persons not yet covered are those that are either not registered with NIRA or have registered but have errors with their national IDs.

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