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the government is promising a similar programme for disadvantaged women to cover the whole country.
This week, Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda launched what is dubbed as the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) expected to be a multi-billion shilling fund targeting to increase the competitiveness of vulnerable women in business.
Dr. Rugunda said: “This programme was approved by the cabinet of Uganda on 3rd February 2016 with the agenda of women’s access to financial services and equipping women with skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of products and service.”
“The funds will be accessed by women groups with membership ranging from 10 to 15, ” said Rugunda who added that the UWEP is yet another landmark initiative in implementation of the NRM manifesto in which ‘uplifting vulnerable groups including women is key’.
Although not entirely new, reportedly having started this financial year with Ushs3bn, Dr. Rugunda says that starting next financial year, the UWEP fund will rise to Ushs53bn and will cover the entire country.
Dr. Rugunda noted that special attention will be given to unemployed women, vulnerable groups such as single mothers, widows, survivors of gender based violence, the disabled, women living with HIV/AIDS, women heading households, slum dwellers, women in hard to reach areas and ethnic minorities.
Contrary to the longstanding government stance of steering clear of ventures involving cash such as lending money, the fund will be managed by the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development.
Rugunda emphasized that this is a lending programme rather than a grant for a political exercise to appease voters. The beneficiaries, he noted will borrow at zero interest rates.
Besides the timing of the announcement coming in the heat of the current presidential campaign, the UWEP programme comes against the background of many failed government programmes, the most recent being the Youth Fund.
Facing high youth unemployment, in 2013, President Museveni’s government announced the launch of the Ushs265billion Youth Fund with the view to helping young people start businesses.
The highly publicized fund was met with pomp and expectations. It was set to be administered by commercial banks with assessment of beneficiaries by local administration units such as Kampala Capital City Authority.
Three years down the road, many people agree that the youth fund failed to take off.
Mukono district Woman MP Betty Nambooze told The Sunrise that: “Everyone know the youth fund failed. I think they didn’t have money. Along the way, they tried to modify it by giving people cows and the last thing I heard about it was that NRM supporters had fought for the cows. So it died like similar government programmes,”
While most successful lending programmes cater for administrative costs as the starting point of expansion, but the UWEP fund will not require borrowers to pay anything on top of the premium. This means that government will incur an extra burden of managing the fund that covers the whole country.
And speaking to Frank Mugabi, the Communications Officer for the Fund this week, one gets the sense that this is a political exercise.
First, although the fund is meant to benefit vulnerable women, when asked if there is a limit to the amount of money to be lent, Mugabi said there is no limit to the amount of money to be lent out.
He said: “It is very flexible. The amount of money to be given will depend on the proposal of each group.”
The fund is also likely to be bogged down by bureaucracy considering that applications will have to go through a long process of approvals by committees set up at Sub county, District and Ministry levels, as pointed out by Mugabi.
The former minister of finance Maria Kiwanuka, who flanked the Prime Minister at the launch of the fund, will play an advisory role sensitizing women groups on how to do business.