By Leonard Mukooli
Mbale-It’s a chilly Monday morning and I have just arrived in Kapchowra town the home to this year’s 5000 meter Olympic gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei.
It’s about 10 am but clouds are still suspended the skies with high hopes of rain falling.
A quick tour of the town shows every one is busy doing something of their daily routine like Boda-boda ferrying sucks of Irish potatoes and other loading it onto trucks as it (Irish potatoes) has become one of the major cash crop.
However, we have moved along with minister of trade and cooperatives who is on the fact finding mission to ascertain the progress of Emyooga program in this beautiful landscaped town Sabiny speaking people.
Clad in brown t-shirt with a blue apron wrapped on top with a blue faded pairs of jeans and brown shoes is Dison Kareng the proprietor of royal café restaurant in Kapchorwa town.
He emerges from the backyard with a great smile to the kitchen to respond to the customers’ orders. Kareng mixes three cup of coffee as he asks one of the waitress to serve the customers.
And in span of fifteen minutes, front part of the restaurant is filled up and he asks the incoming customers to take up seats at the backyard side where he recently made an extension after acquiring money from the Emyooga seed fund.
Kareng is the leader of royal café restaurant association and belongs to the mother group of Kapchorwa restaurant owners’ Sacco.
His association recently secured 2.3 million part of which he has used to expand his restaurant so that he is position to serve the growing number of customers.
Kareng reveals that it only took him two days for his loan to be approved.
“This money is helping boost my business because this covid19 lockdown had hit us hard as we were not making great sales like we used to” said Kareng.
He added “We are putting this money to the right use to see that our business grows as well as transform our lives at individual levels. We are hopeful by the end of this year there will be a great progress”
Kareng’s success story seems an oasis in the desert as many of the duly and fully registered members belong to other Sacco’s have never received a penny.
Justine Yeko the Kapchorwa district commercial officer revealed that out of 35 groups registered in the district, 9 only have been able to receive Shs. 127m, adding that district received Shs1.27b seed capital but only have been disbursement to the beneficiary groups.
“The funds entered our accounts late last year but just to process the bylaws and the certificates has taken us over 10 months for the groups to start accessing their funds yet the money is stuck on the accounts and banks are making profits off it” said Yeko.
Geoffrey Sande the Sebei sub region Emyooga focal point person noted that the microfinance support Centre is frustrating the program in the region as it has not trained nor delivered he certificates to the beneficiary groups yet the these the core requirements for them to access funds.
“We are happy with president’s vision for this government but the implementing agency has done so much to frustrate his efforts” Sande said
Adding “For the case of Sebei sub region micro finance support center working tooth and nail to fail the president’s efforts as they have deliberately made it habit not to deliver certificates on time for the beneficiaries to access funds”
Ritah Namuwenge the national coordinator of Emyooga said, the initiative started last year with the aim of improving livelihood of Ugandans under specific enterprise through cooperative body movement system.
She noted that the program targeted Ugandans in the informal sector under 18 clusters among which included Boda-boda riders, taxi drivers, restaurants owners, welders, market vendors, women entrepreneurs, youth leaders, and people living with disabilities, performing artists, veterans and fishermen, among other.
Adding each of these were to form a Sacco and were meant to receives shs30 million as seed capital.
Poor preparation and timing
However, just like the ‘new bride’ ushered into a home were several failed marriage have been manifested, Emyooga program came at the time where government has tried several programs to uplift people from poverty.
The program was launched at the epitome of politics last year and the manner through which it was introduced to the population, it seemed like it was ‘free political’ money being dished out for people to use.
Irene Nambafu the Busoga regional coordinator notes that there are so many confusing guidelines in the program that seem to have affected its operation.
“There were no clear guidelines on who was to what, from where and how as one supposed to do it. Like in the start commercial officers where nowhere in this program yet they are the yardstick and this showed us the sign of ill preparation” noted Nambafu.
Given the political tempers at the time, politicians were
Namuwenge, affirms that because of the poor preparation, program facing a lot hiccups.
“From the time of inception, there have been mushrooming guideline that kept whole process confused.
Phiona Kakayi the Sebei region Emyooga coordinator highlighted there were no clear guidelines as there was no information on what has to be done at a particular time.
Call for policy development
James Muganza the Jinja district commercial officer noted that the program is having its current challenges simply because lack of clear guidelines.
“We couldn’t have had the challenges that we are having from inception because when you critically look at the guidelines that we have, our role are clearly stipulated” he stated.
“Our core role is mobilization, sensitization and registration it’s so unfortunate that some of our colleagues moved an extra mile to conduct activity that are beyond our mandate in the program because of the mushrooming guidelines from MSC and these are making us work like thugs” Muganza added.
“Since there are gaps that are existing within the emyooga program, I pray that the whole program is revisited and a clear policy is developed to end this confusion because the fact is what where guidance that microfinance support Centre is giving, are not with the law” he advised.
When in the process of opening up the accounts for the beneficiary saccos, MSC dictated on what on the banks that they were to use and immediately opened accounts for the beneficiary groups.
Kakayi notes that the whole process of account opening made it people have doubts in the program.
“Microfinance support center just informed from nowhere that accounts had been opened for the group without their consent or knowledge, a thing that surprised many of us” said Kakayi.
She adds noting that “the reason to as why people have not taken this program serious they have not felt that sense of ownership of the program from the start”
“Government seems to be forcing the idea onto the people and when you see how microfinance support center is frustrating the process of accessing the boney, they their doubts keep increasing and this is very dangerous to the program”
Nabafu revealed that given the high tempers of politics last year, the minister of microfinance entered memorandum of understanding with specific banks where this money was to pass through.
“The mistake a realized now whereas microfinance had listed the banks that people could open up the accounts with, they had already put the money with certain banks of their preference” Nabafu.
Delays in accessing funds
Fredric Gume the minister of trade and cooperatives confirmed to this paper that his ministry has no pending certificates of any Emyooga sacco he however wonders why many groups across the country have not been able to access their funds yet.
“Government put this money to help poor people uplift themselves out of poverty but if it’s over 9 months since the money when microfinance released the money onto the accounts and beneficiaries have not accessed it, there is no logical sense” said Gume
Adding “There is something wrong that needs to be investigated because we seem to have given banks funds to increase on their operational capital and denying our people the opportunity to thrive”
He notes that people should be given their money if they have fulfilled all the necessary documentation.
Limiting funds withdrawn
In survey that this paper made, in the districts of Sironko, Kapchorwa, Bulambul, Mbale, Tororo, Palisa, Busia and Budaka, it revealed that the beneficiaries who had qualified to get the 30 million had been denied the opportunity by the banks to withdraw all their money.
However, Gume notes that saccos should not be limited on the amount of money they are to withdraw by the banks.
“These are independent bodies by the cooperative law and they are entitled to use their money thus there is no need for banks to limit them on how much they should withdraw”
Add in anyway, which does the bank rely on to deny saccos their seed capital. This could connivance to hoodwink the beneficiaries”
Namuwege explains that the reason for the denial of all cash withdraws from the bank is temporal adding that this is only there to restrain any loss of members saving in case it happens.
“We have UGX 27 bn of people’s savings at the moment so should we make a mistake and this money is lost, then this will mean that we also have disappear in thin air”
She adds “The enterprise we are supporting are for people who earn their money in the hard way thus we need to be more careful and cautious in the way that we handle their money because if loose it we could kill very many families”
She further notes “for Sacco’s to be fully entrusted with risk management, they need a lot of training so that people’s saving are safe guarded and the liquidity management”
Adding that “For this case, the training was not adequate thus there still gaps thus we need to strengthen on that particular aspect before we let the members withdraw all the money”
Politics at play
As it well manifested in the eyes of the public through mainstream media and social media, that whoever needed get money from government at the time had to associate themselves as a member of the people-power movement and there was a lot of money being dished to silence them.
And most politicians rallied on it.
“We have on several cases approached the center for training and delivery of certificates but they always ask for facilitation or allowances to have them deliver the certificate to the groups so that they can access the funds” he said.
On matters of recovery rates, Gume directed that saccos should be left to be independent in taking their own decision adding that commercial officers should interfere with the affair of the saccos for they are independent.
“You are not going to operate a sacco as in a group model, these are cooperative and have a guiding law. All sacco pay 8% on recovery loan so I don’t know where you are getting this 14%. So from now on ards let the sacco leadership be in charge to ensure that they recover the money with in their terms” said Gume.
“This program was brought to mitigate the factor high charges that our people face when they get to banks thus we need to let them have favorable terms under which they can pay the money” Gume emphasized.
Need for reform
However, Gume believes that the two ministries need to come to the table and harmonize the gaps and come up with the clear policy that will help on streamlining the program.
“The cooperative law and lenders act need to be married to streamline some of the gap to enable the smooth running of the program and we are going to handle this at the upper level with my colleague from microfinance” said Gume.
He further, appealed to the commercial officers to reform and do their work as mandated by law and further urged them to redeem themselves from dubious works.
“You are not going to clean your name when doing the same dubious things, you need to reform otherwise we are all bound to losing our jobs” Gume noted.