What you need to know:
- In a change of heart, the Opposition NUP party MPs now say elections are over and they must seize the ruling NRM party presidential initiative on job and wealth creation, saying it’s time to work for the people.
From December last year, Mr Haruna Kyeyune Kasolo, the minister State for Microfinance has been traversing the Buganda Sub-region monitoring Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (Saccos). These Saccos got funds under the Emyooga Fund, government’s poverty alleviation programme.
Emyooga, or the presidential initiative on job and wealth creation, was kick-started in 2020 and targets mainly 18 beneficiary groups, including restaurant owners, boda boda riders, women entrepreneurs, carpenters, salon operators, journalists, people with disabilities (PWDs), fishermen, mechanics, performing artists, and taxi operators.
Each constituency, according to the Ministry of Microfinance, and the Microfinance Support Centre (MSC), which disburses the money and also gives technical support to the programme, has received Shs560 billion, with each Sacco getting Shs30 million.
The exception are Saccos formed by local political leaders that get Shs50 million each.
Mr Kasolo’s visit in Buganda was always going to be intriguing because the Opposition’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party swept most of the elective seats in the region during last year’s elections. This means minister Kasolo, during these meetings, which are organised at the constituency level, has been facing off with people who had campaigned to bring down the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party regime.
It’s not just Mr Kasolo who has been caught between a rock and hard place. The NUP party MPs too have found it hard to draw a line between a programme that could potentially help their constituents get to save and get loans, and their politics of fighting to remove the very NRM party government that is implementing Emyooga.
When Mr Kasolo visited Mukono North Constituency on January 19, Mr Abdallah Kiwanuka, the area MP, sought to remind him of the many poverty alleviation programmes that the NRM party government has introduced but have not been effective.
“We have seen many programmes here that this government has hyped but have never worked out,” Mr Kiwanuka, who defeated Mr Kasolo’s former Cabinet colleague Ronald Kibuule, said.
Indeed, in the 36 years it has been in power, poverty alleviation has been one of the key objectives of the NRM party. But many of the programmes have failed because of the politics of the day.
But in distinguishing Emyooga from the previous government-sponsored poverty alleviation programmes, Mr Kasolo has been marketing the programme as non-partisan, while at same time making veiled digs at the Opposition.
“The President recently instructed the RDCs [Resident District Commissioners] to stop fighting the Opposition,” Mr Kasolo has repeatedly said throughout the tour. “Because he has come to the realization that there is no Opposition and the only problem we have is poverty. That is why we are focusing all our energies on poverty alleviation through programmes such as Emyooga.”
The Emyooga programme started in the heat of the 2021 election campaigns and many Opposition MPs in Buganda have told the minister that they had interpreted the programme as a cash bonanza by the ruling NRM party targeting voters.
“Our people, at first, didn’t understand the programme. It was initiated during the campaign period and they thought you wanted to lure them into the NRM party, that is why you can’t see them here,” Ms Hanifa Nabukeera, the Mukono Woman MP, who belongs to NUP, said.
“Even I didn’t understand this programme at first, but since the elections are done and the programme is still here, it is time we mobilise our people to join these Saccos since this is taxpayer’s money,” she said.
Minister Kasolo has repeatedly defended the timing of the programme, saying government continues to operate whether elections are on the horizon or not.
“The minister of Works continues to construct roads during elections. The minister of Health continues to construct health centres during the elections, but you want the minister of Microfinance to stop working because of elections?” he asked.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not just the Opposition groups that misunderstand the aim of Emyooga programme.
Even RDCs, NRM party-leaning MPs and NRM-leaning district chairpersons have informed the minister that the ruling NRM party’s supporters had taken the funds as a token of appreciation for their support to the party.
“At first, people thought the President was giving them ‘a handshake’ for supporting him,” Kyotera RDC Moses Ddumba told Mr Kasolo when he visited the district on January 17.
“That’s why we arrested some people who had refused to repay their loans but now since the training has been done by the Microfinance Support Centre, people now know that this money isn’t for ‘eating’,” he said.
Mr Kasolo has been categorical that while the central government has given out the money, individuals are expected to repay the loans to their Saccos so that other members also get the chance to borrow.
“The money is for the Saccos and you must pay back,” Mr Kasolo said.
“Whether you are yellow [party colour of the NRM] in and out, if you refuse to pay back, we shall arrest you. We don’t care, we shall arrest those who refuse to pay back this money. That’s the role of the RDCs,” he warned.
Speaking about politics, when he visited his home district, Mr Kasolo came face-to-face with Democratic Party’s John Paul Lukwago Mpalanyi, who defeated him last year.
Minister Kasolo said, for now, his aim is not local politics in the district but rather the implementation of Emyooga, which he said is going to be a success.
“We have elected leaders, for the next five years, take it or leave it. My role is to ensure Emyooga works throughout the country and I will work with all elected leaders whether they are from my party or not,” he said.
By the end of last year, Mr Kasolo was buoyed when figures released by Microfinance Support Centre showed that whilst the government had injected Shs231 billion as seed capital in the Emyooga programme, more than Shs40 billion had been saved by Saccos across the country, leaving the Opposition politicians no option but to embrace the programme.
“I ask that if there are government projects, we should support them because they are aimed at benefiting the people we lead. We recently met our principal (NUP party leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine) and what he emphasised is working for our people. Every elected leader should know they are government employees and should, therefore, support its projects,” Dr Twaha Kagabo, the Bukoto South MP, who belongs to NUP, said when Mr Kasolo visited Lwengo District on January 13, 2021.
“Every elected leader is a government employee and subscribes to the ruling party since it has the mandate. I ask my fellow NUP legislators not to contribute to the misery of our people. Let us tell our voters about these projects. There are contentious issues but when it comes to development, let us support programmes such as Emyooga. Let’s encourage everyone to come on board,” he pleaded.
If Dr Kagabo restricted his support to supporting government programmes, when Mr Kasolo visited Njeru Municipality in Buikwe District, Mr Jimmy Lwanga, the area MP, who belongs to NUP party, asked his supporters to move on after the elections.
“It’s time for working for our people. In football, even if somebody scores with the hand, as long as the referee counts it; that’s it,” Mr Lwanga said.
“We need to focus more on development by mobilising our people to participate in programmes such as Emyooga,” he said.
When minister Kasolo visited Mityana District on January 10, 2022, Ms Joyce Bagala, the area Woman MP, who is defending her seat in the Court of Appeal, said development programmes should always be a uniting factor.”
“Whether you are FDC[Forum for Democratic Change], DP, NRM, or NUP like me, you should participate in government programmes because the government is for all of us,” she said.
Even with that support, some Opposition MPs have some misgivings about the structuring of Emyooga.
“All I see here are NRM supporters,” Mr Fred Kaggwa Ssimbwa, the MP of Nakifuma County in Mukono District, said when Mr Kasolo visited Emyooga beneficiaries on January 20.
“We need this programme to be all-inclusive,” he said.
Mr Kasolo, in response, said the ruling NRM party supporters cannot be blamed for dominating the Saccos since they, from the word go, embraced the programme while Opposition supporters stayed away.
“When the programme was starting, the Opposition kept away, but with the [Emyooga] Saccos, the entrance is always open,” Mr Kasolo said.
“We need more people to join because the more the better. So, Opposition politicians should mobilise their supporters to join the [Emyooga] Saccos.”
Poverty Alleviation Project (PAP)
In 1994, the NRM government introduced the Poverty Alleviation Project (PAP) to stimulate income-generating activities among the poor and consequently reduce poverty.
PAP registered success in terms of extending investment capital to those income groups that would not have qualified to access credit from traditional financial institutions.
Entandikwa Credit Scheme (ECS)
In 1995, the NRM government instituted the Entandikwa Credit Scheme (ECS), a parallel state-sponsored credit scheme.
Unlike PAP, poor programme design, organisational laxity, weak credit delivery mechanisms, patronage tendencies, lack of, or inadequate supervision, and loan recovery problems frustrated the scheme. Likewise, the performance of the clients of ECS was poor as no serious material and social impact could be associated with the scheme.
This was partly because Entandikwa loans were diverted to consumption rather than investment in income-generating ventures.
Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP)
In 1997, the government came up with the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP). This provided an overarching framework to guide public action to alleviation poverty. PEAP was established on four major pillars, namely creating a framework for economic growth and transformation, ensuring good governance and security, increasing the ability of the poor to raise their incomes, increasing the quality of the life of the poor.
Following the introduction of PEAP, there has been some reduction in poverty but more is needed to be done to ensure all Ugandans move and stay out of poverty.
Govt’s poverty alleviation schemes since 1994
Prosperity for All or ‘Bonna Bagagawale’
In 2007, the NRM government came up with yet another idea of Prosperity for All, commonly known as Bonna Bagagawale. The programme was designed to use a Sacco-per-sub-county strategy to channel both agricultural and commercial loans at below-market rates to borrowers.
Unlike PEAP, policy analysts criticised Bonna Bagagawale on grounds that it lacked a blueprint to govern its implementation. They argued that it created a scenario where public officials were being politically pressured to perform functions outside their job descriptions.
Just like previous programmes under the NRM party regime, the scheme failed partly because it was rolled out during electioneering time.
In the end, people perceived the funds they received under the sceme as a reward for their votes, which led to misuse of the funds and the reluctance to pay back.