By Henry Baguma
After several years of struggle, meetings and negotiations, Government has finally operationalized the National Council for Older Persons Act 2013.
The act provides for the establishment of the National Council for Older Persons, a creation of a Secretariat and also elections of representatives of Older Persons to lower, District and Parliamentary Leadership Levels.
At the Parliamentary Level, Government endorsed the creation of five slots for Older Persons Representatives and elections were held in January this year.
The Pioneer Member of Parliament Representing Older Persons are – Hon. Dominic Mafaabi Gidudu for Eastern Region, Hon. Businge Penninah Kabingani for Central Region, Hon. Tibasiima Jorum for Western Region, Hon Akum Catherine Mavenjina for Northern Uganda and Hon. Peggy Waako Joy for Female Representation.
It is hoped that the five MPs will act as a voice of the Elderly in Parliament and a bridge between the ordinary Elderly and Government agencies. They are expected to ensure issues of the Elderly are seriously attended to by Parliament and all stakeholders such as NGO’s and Development Partners.
One of the current contentious issue is the welfare of aged people in the country. Government is currently supporting the Elderly with a monthly grant of 25,000 shillings to those at age 80 and above.
Experts argue that this is too little considering the levels of poverty in the country. They want the money increased to at least one hundred thousand shillings.
The cutoff point of 80 years and above is also said to be unfavourable and want it lowered to at least 60 years.
Fortunately all the five Honourable Members of Parliament for Older Persons have committed themselves to ensuring that this issue raises at the floor of parliament at an appropriate time. Research has also indicated that ill- health is a major source of worry and stress among older persons.
Common Health Problems of the Older Persons include hypertension, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, trachoma and blindness that often lead to complications and Permanent incapacitation. Poor health reduces the capacity of older persons to generate income and curtails their productivity. Older persons can hardly afford the costs of travelling to the health centres.
Their health problems are compounded by the lack of money for seeking appropriate medical attention or buying drugs for non – communicable disease. Research has further revealed that Elderly Persons suffer abuses such as theft, burglary, dispossession of property by individuals, families or the community. In some areas, the Elderly are accused of witch craft thus being tortured or assaulted. This situation arises because, the Elderly live in Isolation and are too frail to defend themselves and there are no mechanisms to protect them. These scenarios deny older persons from living secure and dignified life. The issue f land grabbing and property destruction is not new to many readers of this article.
Research conducted by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development further painted a dark picture on water and sanitation situation. The studies indicated that older persons travel long distances in search of clean water while those who cannot afford to walk depend on contaminated water which put their health at risk. Pit Latrine coverage is equally poor while majority of such facilities are not old age user friendly as older persons usually have difficult in squatting.
It is from this background that the operationalization of the National Council for Older Persons Act 2013 is a timely move by government and will definitely go a long way in improving the welfare of Uganda’s senior citizens.
Certainly the five members of Parliament representing older persons have some home work to do over the next 5 years, but the mission is achievable provided they work as a team and cooperate with the rest of the 524 MP’s.
Apart from the Parliamentary and National Levels, Government has also operationalized the creation of District, City and Lower Older Persons Councils across the country. In Kampala for example, a total of 12 councillors have been elected to represent older persons both at the authority level and each of the five city divisions.
Besides that, each village, sub parish and city division in Kampala now has a council for older persons.
Each Committee has a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, General Secretary, Secretary for Publicity and Secretary for Finance.
At the City Level, the Council for Older Persons otherwise referred to as “Kampala Capital City Authority Council for Older Persons,” is chaired by Mr. Leonard Lubowa Deputized by Captain Francis Baabu. Other members are Mr. John Mary Byaruhanga Secretary General Madam Margret Ssaali is Secretary for Finance while Henry Baguma is Secretary for Publicity.
The Committee led by Chairman Leonard Lubowa is currently engaging several leaders and stakeholders on a range of issues with an aim of creating awareness among the political elite and general population on issues related older persons.
The most fruitful meeting so far was the one with the KCCA Executive Director, Madam Dorothy Kisaka and Technical Team. She pledged maximum support to the KCCA older persons committee. Madam Kisaka offered to allocate an office at City Hall and also deploy staff for the secretarial work.
The City Executive Director further directed Public Health Department to create special centres for vaccinating Older Persons against COVID 19 Pandemic.
This program has already started across all the five divisions of KCCA. Beside, the city boss has also promised to engage service providers and other state agencies to organize an Older Persons Festival in Kampala as part of the activities to celebrate this year’s International Day for Elderly on October 1st 2021.
Henry Baguma is a Journalist Working with UBC Radio and Secretary for Publicity KCCA Older Persons Council