With a US$ 15m Covid relief kitty ready for rollout in Uganda by GiveDirectly, an American based International NGO, the donors had hoped to bring a huge level of relief and joy to many low-wage workers and needy Ugandans whose livelihoods have been battered by the Covid induced lockdown announced in March 2020.
But without warning, government suddenly blocked the rollout of the US$15m kitty, trapping the would-be beneficiaries between grief, anger and frustration.
GiveDirectly has been operational in the country since 2013 providing direct cash handouts to needy Ugandans but was ordered to indefinitely suspend its operations in a September 9, 2020 letter written by the interim executive director of the National Bureau for NGOs, Stephen Okello.
Okello claimed that an investigation had found that GiveDirectly’s cash handouts were likely to make Ugandans lazy, promote idleness, domestic violence, dependency syndrome and tension within neighbouring villages. Okello also cast doubt on the source of GiveDirectly’s cash.
Interviewed, Michael Kayemba, the country director of GiveDirectly, said before he received Okello’s letter, his NGO was not aware of any investigation. He said he was shocked to learn about a completed security investigation yet the NGO officials had not been summoned by the Bureau to be heard despite holding their last meeting with the Bureau on August 28, 2020.
The suspension of GiveDirectly’s operations dashes hopes of a cash relief for the targeted 190,000 recipients.
According to Kayemba, 48,000 individuals have been enrolled and 22,000 had already received at least the first batch of their monthly Shs 100,000 cash handout. About 29,000 people recently enrolled and are expecting their first transfer. Lira had 40,000 enrollees, Mbale, 29,000, Gulu 16,000, Moroto, 5,000, Mbarara 38,000, Kabale 10,000.
This kitty is funded by USAID, a US federal agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance, while the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office formerly DFID is funding 55,000 enrollees in Kampala (Kamwokya, Kisenyi, Bwaise, Katanga, Naguru-Katale, Ndeeba-Kabowa, Katwe, Kyebando and Kasubi).
Though the NGO Bureau claims the source of GiveDirectly’s funds is unknown, documents and approvals signed between different government entities including ministry of Finance, Local governments, ministry of Local Government, Kampala Capital City Authority show government officials were fully in the know.
The Permanent Secretary ministry of Finance Keith Muhakanizi in a letter dated July 7, 2020 to the USAID Mission director said; ”reference is made to our meeting held today, 7th July 2020 to discuss the above proposed program in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Kampala.
During this meeting you noted that, this Program is part of your COVID-19 Economic Response strategy. This is to confirm that my minister has no-objection to this program and therefore implementation of the same can commence.”
An MOU set to expire on December 31, 2020, is titled: Cash relief for COVID-19: Providing a Lifeline for low-income Households in Kampala Capital City and selected districts signed between GiveDirectly and Minister of Kampala and Metropolitan Affairs Betty Amongi and Minister of Local Government Raphael Magyezi on April 17, 2020.
The minister of state for Kampala Metropolitan Affairs Benny Namugwanya and minister of General Duties Mary Karooro Okurut signed off as witnesses. Under the MOU, KCCA was to nominate three technical representatives to the project, provide guidance and technical assistance on targeting criteria, assist GiveDirectly to ensure that as many needy people as possible are reached, facilitate the NGO to obtain beneficiary data including phone numbers, National IDs from the telecoms and other government agencies.
The MOU justified the cash grants as support for the needy deprived by the coronavirus lockdown.
“As His Excellency President Museveni noted in several Covid-19 addresses, many Ugandans live hand-to-mouth without any savings to cover a period with no income…these necessary public health measures are going to cause severe economic and livelihood hardships. These impacts are felt across Uganda, although particularly acute in urban informal settlements where residents are renters, don’t grow their own food and overwhelmingly likely to be employed in the informal sector.”
Each adult was to receive $25 (about Shs 100,000) per month to cover both food and other essential non-food items. Beneficiaries facing eviction would get $50 (about Shs 200,000). The cash offer was meant to run for a period of three months.
In his address on March 18, 2020, President Museveni placed the country under a partial lockdown by closing all Educational Institutions, suspending communal prayers in Mosques, Churches or in Stadia and other open air venues. He also closed all discos, dances, bars, sports, music shows, cinemas and concerts were all suspended etc.
The lockdown squeezed the livelihoods of many.
Ministers; Magyezi, Amongi and PS Muhakinizi couldn’t be reached for an interview. None picked their known cellphone numbers by press time.
But Francis Anguria, the LC-1 chairman of a beneficiary village; Okobwa village, Okobwa parish, Bukedea district, said GiveDirectly went to his home area in January 2020. He said people who got cash were able to send children to school, build houses and improve their livelihood.
Anguria was not aware the program had been blocked by government. He disputed the government claim that such handouts make people lazy.
“…Take for instance those who built houses, that money was not even enough because to build a simple house you need like Shs 5m and what GiveDirectly gave was less than that money, which means that people worked for the remaining money,” Anguria told The Observer on Monday.
”Me as an individual I did not get, but I know for a fact that between 250-300 people got the money. The first installment was Shs 1.7 million per person and the second installment was Shs 1.62 million,” Anguria said of the poverty alleviation project.
Walter Ocitti, the LC I chairman of Kanyogoga in Gulu, said government ”was just jealous” and wondered why they blocked individuals providing money to their vulnerable people yet they failed to provide the needed relief during the trying times of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Kayemba wondered why ministers including Magyezi hailed the grant initially as an important relief for vulnerable Ugandans in the newly created cities if they doubted the source of the money.
It seems the state had been itching to close in on GiveDirectly because in a letter dated, June 22, 2020, Okello referred to the June 4, 2020 meeting in which a number of issues were discussed including cash grants, beneficiaries, funders, operational districts, annual returns and MOUs with different stakeholders.
“The Bureau acknowledges the documents so far shared, however, for further clarity about your organization, the Bureau is requesting for additional information”.
This included the incorporation certificate in US, details of officers in the US, certificate of good conduct of the founders, details of all the beneficiaries per district and per project and their phone numbers, details of the physical address in the US, list of all local and foreign staff including their salaries and NSSF, MOUs with telecom companies that remit the money.
According to Kayemba, GiveDirectlu has already transferred over $40m in unconditional direct cash to more than 50,000 households in Uganda targeting coffee farmers to promote productivity, refugees and other vulnerable communities in Lamwo, Kyegegwa, Iganga, Bukedea, Kiryandongo and Kampala.
The GiveDirectly cash is sent directly on the beneficiaries phone eliminating middlemen that so often fleece people.