First Lady and Education minister Janet Museveni is opposed to President Museveni's 2016 campaign pledge of providing free sanitary pads to school-going girls across the country.
While on the campaign trail in 2015, Museveni pledged to provide sanitary pads to all primary girls if Ugandans were to vote him back into power in the 2016 general elections. Despite being declared the winner, the presidential pledge has never been fulfilled. Janet was today questioned by MPs sitting on the education committee why the pads have not yet been provided in schools as promised.
Janet told MPs that she doesn't agree that government should be providing sanitary pads to students anyway, but that if the government is to do it, then it must be done in a sustainable way through a well funded national project. In the past, Janet has said provision of school lunch and pads should a responsibility of the parents and not government.
"For me, I don’t think that government should have a project that supplies reusable sanitary towels for our children because really that is not the best way to provide sanitary towels. If government must do this, it must be the best way and so even if it takes some time, it is better that we find an investment that will start this project and sustain it then we can be able to supply sanitary towels to all schools. For now, it has not been able to even begin because of that problem, we have to find efficient funding to sustain that project." said Janet.
Janet said international donors have cut the contributions to Uganda's national budget and some sectors like education have been negatively affected. The education ministry, for example, will only receive Shs 1.68 trillion against the proposed Shs 3.28 trillion, she said.
The free sanitary pad distribution exercise was expected to start in the 2017/2018 financial year but the ministry backtracked on the promise, saying there is no money. Busia Municipality MP Geoffrey Macho warned that it was a season of politicking and that the failure to implement the presidential pledge was going to cost the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party votes.
Jonam County MP Emmanuel Ongiertho said that it was unfortunate that the pledge made during the previous election is yet to be fulfilled when the country is preparing for the coming 2021 general election.
Interestingly in 2017, jailed Makerere University research fellow, Dr Stella Nyanzi started the free sanitary pad distribution in schools but faced resistance from Janet herself. Nyanzi started a campaign under the theme "Pads-For-Girl-Child Uganda" to fundraise money to buy pads and distribute them to schools.
The campaign attracted several people including women rights activists and NGOs, which saw the distribution of reusable and disposable sanitary pads to various school girls.
In her response then, Janet expressed reservations about Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) spearheading the distribution of sanitary pads to schoolchildren without involving the ministry. She said that there was need for the ministry to be involved to ensure that the pads are appropriate for children.
Janet said the education and sport sector allocation has been cut by over Shs 111 billion in the financial year 2020/21. She said that the reduction is on account of the donor-funded projects that are expected to exit the Public Investment Plan (PIP) upon conclusion.
The projects include; Support to implementation of Skilling Uganda, Albertine Regional Sustainable Development Project, Uganda Teacher and Social Effectiveness Project and Higher Education, Science and Technology Project.
Out of the proposed Shs 3.286 trillion sector budget for the coming financial year 2020/2021, 1.810 trillion (55 per cent) is wage, 963.66 billion (29 per cent) is non-wage, 307.59 billion (9 per cent) is Government of Uganda Development and Shs 204.45 billion (6 per cent) is external financing.
According to Janet, the sector's share of the national budget is reducing from 10.4 per cent in the current financial year 2019/2020 to 9 per cent in the coming financial year 2020/2021 against an increased population of learners each year.
"This ceiling in allocated resources constitutes a strain in the provision of quality education. Pupils in UPE have increased from 7,474,600 in 2018 to 7,624,490 pupils in 2019. Learners in USE have increased from 669,922 in 2018 to 707,980 students in 2019," said Janet.
She said that if the education sector budget is not increased, they will not be able to carry out some critical and strategic activities that make a significant push in the transformation of the Education and Sports Sector.
Some of the activities highlighted include; review of the 1992 Government White Paper on Education meant to provide modern policy guidance on necessary reforms to drive the sector, operationalization of the National Teacher Policy and the TVET policy due to absence of funds to establish the Teacher Council and TVET Council, implementation of the new lower secondary curriculum across the country and others.
The others are; operationalization of the yet to be completed seed secondary schools, inability to roll out the Early Grade Reading Methodology to 27 districts that do not have it yet and participation of the National Sports and Athletics teams in events like AFCON, Olympic Games, CHAN and others.
The minister also noted that understaffing continues to pose a challenge to the sector right from primary schools to universities. She cited that the 22 per cent staffing levels in the Public universities is of concern.
She said that the declining financial allocation in the face of increasing enrolments at all levels of the education system has left the sector with critical unfunded priorities to the tune of 1.686 trillion.
Janet, however, said that her ministry will be able to complete the development of the implementation standards and guidelines for the TVET policy maintain capitation grants for UPE at Shs 10,000 per pupil per year, provide instructional materials to primary, secondary and BTVET institutions worth Shs 15.5 billion and complete construction of 117 seed schools embarked on under the first phase of the Uganda Inter-Governmental Fiscal Transfer Program (UgIFT) among others with funding of 29.72 billion.
Worker’s MP Margaret Rwabushaija expressed concern about the decline in the budgetary allocation to the Education sector. Ongiertho noted that it was surprising that the education sector budget is cut year in, year out even when the First Lady is the minister of Education.