Inside govt’s race to fight poverty

By RICHARD LUYOMBYA

While a cloud of uncertainty still lingers over the economy as a result of Covid-19, about 300,000 Ugandans are slipping into poverty.

The number of poor Ugandans has increased from 8 million to 8.3 million during the 2019/20 financial year, according to the Uganda National Household Survey, 2019/20 with majority of these living in Busoga, Bukedi and Acholi sub-region.

But over the years, government has been designing poverty alleviation programmes for Ugandans, the latest being the Parish Development Model (PDM).

The Parish Development Model (PDM) is a strategy for delivering public and private sector interventions for wealth creation and employment generation at the parish level as the lowest economic planning unit.

The money is expected to transform 68 per cent households who are still engaged in subsistence agriculture, to commercialisation and result in an increased income for rural communities.

Prior to PDM was the popular Youth Livelihood Development (YLD) programme that was implemented under the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development to fight poverty among youth.

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Government’s poverty alleviation programmes stem from the 1997 electoral process when, according to Mr Kenneth Mugambe, director budget at the Ministry of Finance, high poverty levels were realised in the country by political leaders during the campaigns which informed the decision to prepare the poverty eradication plan.

Government also believes that nothing can better guarantee inclusive growth and employment for Ugandans than equitable participation of more Ugandans in the monetised economy.

“The budget is a political instrument. Much of the data in the budget is derived from information got from the electorate through political leaders during campaigns,” he says.

Subsequently, other programmes emerged such as presidential initiative on wealth and job creation (emyooga), entandikwa, rural farmers’ scheme, plan for modernisation of agriculture, bonna bagaggawale (prosperity for all) among others, all designed to fight and eradicate poverty.

To ensure efficiency, a poverty alleviation department in State House was established in 2000 as a clearing house for pledges made by the President in this war.

Alas, these programmes have not yielded the intended results going by President Museveni’s remarks in 2014 complaining of wasting Shs500 billion in anti-poverty projects.

He cited programmes such as National Agriculture Advisory Service and Northern Uganda Social Action Fund where funds were squandered without achieving the required impact.

He made the remarks while addressing National Resistance Movement leaders at the district level, Resident District Commissioners and Members of Parliament (MPs) from Karamoja and Lango at State House Entebbe.

Many of the programmes have either collapsed, or their life span has elapsed. Operation Wealth Creation is one of the few programmes that is still standing.

The President’s remarks perhaps seal the skeptics’ argument that the programmes are ineffective.

Before actualisation of PDM, the project received a backlash from lawmakers on the Budget Committee questioning the criteria that would be used to identify the beneficiaries while some accused government of smuggling the programme into the budget for political capital.

While defending the budget, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija said the money is meant to benefit 10,460 households across the country.

Possibly, the Members of Parliament (MPs) arguments are justified because a big number of the population is still producing for home consumption.

The 2O14 National Population and Housing Census revealed that 68% of Ugandan households relied on subsistence agriculture as their main source of livelihood.

The 2016 / l7 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) revealed that 39% of households (3.3 million) were in the subsistence economy; of which 24.2 per cent were agricultural households and 14.8 per cent were non-agricultural households.

Mr Mugambe acknowledged it during NTV talk show on: ‘The role of the citizen in the budget process’ noting: “Almost 68 per cent of the population is producing for consumption, hence the emergence of PDM.”

Mr Julius Mukunda, Civil Society Advocacy Group executive director says: “There is so much that has taken place at local government level but government has failed to profile it well.”

From July 1, the PDM takes effect.

But will this model be the ‘magic bullet’ to poverty alleviation in the country?

“For the first time, I am seeing an ordinary citizen picking a share of the national cake because PDM is going down to the grassroots,” Mr Mukunda said while at the same TV talk show.

How different is PDM? 

As opposed to YLD and other poverty alleviation programmes, PDM, according to Mr Ben Kumumanya, permanent secretary Ministry of Local Government adopts the parish as the epicentre of multi-sectoral community development, planning, implementation, supervision, and accountability. The parish chief is the frontline technical officer in the implementation.

“Our initial plan was the Sub-county but we realised it was a bit far from the citizens. The objective is to bring all these issues to the lowest unit of government so we think the parish is nearer to the citizens,” Mr Mugambe justifies. 

Criteria of accessing cash 

Detailed guidelines on how to access the cash are expected to be published in July according to Mr Mugambe.

However, citizens will access funds from their parish institutions unlike before where money was housed in one institution. For instance, KCCA managed the YLD funds.

Each parish will constitute an inclusive parish development committee (PDC) whose political and administrative stewardship will be under the parish local council II chairpersons and the parish chief respectively. The PDC will be supported by the Sub-county and district technical planning committees.

The brains behind the execution of the model say putting money at the parish level will ease access to funds and the parish chiefs who are closer to the communities can easily do a needs assessment of each individual interested in the cash because they are familiar with each other.

Before resources are distributed, PDC will first conduct mindset change training which are key in preparing the communities to make good use of the money.

“You need mobilisation and mindset change to prepare citizens because at the end of the day they need to identify creditable projects,” Mr Mugambe says

Key to note in PDM implementation is that the cash will be directly sent to the parish through a revolving fund.

“We as the Ministry do not expect a refund but rather expect cash to rotate around community level hence developing each other,” Mr Mugambe explains.

PDM budget

At least shs253b is allocated for implementation of the project and shs56.9b for mindset change and community mobilisation.

The model targets about 10,694 parishes in agricultural production.

However, Mr Asad Lukwago, an audit partner with KPMG said in a post-budget webinar organised by the latter that the money allocated to each parish is not enough to achieve the intended goal.

Mr Mukunda disagrees. He says: “This is pocket change to some people but in a parish, it is going to cause a big change.” 

PDM cash is expected to be released on every 10th day of the first month of each quarter which is July –September, October- December, January – March, April- June.

In addition, the parish model has seven pillars including production, storage, processing and marketing, infrastructure and economic services, financial inclusion, social services, mindset set change, and parish-based management information system, government, and administration.

The model was conceived under the National Development Plan III aimed at improving incomes and welfare of all Ugandans at the household level.

The goal of PDM is to increase household incomes and improve quality of life of Ugandans with a specific focus on the total transformation of the subsistence households (both on-farm and off-farm, in rural and urban settings) into the money economy, as well as eradication of poverty and vulnerability in Uganda.

The lead implementing institution is the Ministry of Local Government as the finance Ministry releases the cash.

Pre-implementation conditions

Before execution, government will first recruit parish chiefs responsible for mobilisation, conduct data collection exercises of the communities’ mindset change training.

Mr Mugambe says aproximently 54,000 parish chiefs will be recruited.

Special groups like women, youth, and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) will be given priority.

Caution

Although Mr Mukunda thinks monitoring money at the local government level is simpler, he advises communities to ensure that the money is put to good use.

“At the parish level, people know each other, hence they can identify who can pay back but they should ensure that money is not squandered,’’ Mr Mukunda says.

He also advises government on blowing poverty alleviation programmes out of proportion.

“Our politicians sometimes are not realistic with their pledges. For example, promising to eradicate poverty immediately creates anxiety among the citizens,” he says.

Implementation is expected to start in October after recruitment of parish chiefs and mindset training.

Seven pillars of parish model

The Parish Development Model is made up of seven pillars. These pillars are implemented by both public and

Private sector institutions at the central and local government levels.

1. Production, Processing and Marketing (Value Chain

Development)

2. Infrastructure and Economic Services

3. Financial Inclusion

4. Social Services

5. Community Data (Community Information System)

6. Governance & Administration

7. Mindset Change

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