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East African budgets: Age Demands Action campaign bears fruit

22 Jun 2015

Karimjabu, aged 75, is married with two children and 9 grandchildren. He lives with his wife in Dunga, about 18 kms from Zanzibar Town. (c) Judith Escribano/Age InternationalOur Age Demands Action campaign is bearing fruit if the result of the 2015/16 budgets released recently by the countries of the East African Community is anything to go by.

11 finance ministers of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi recently announced their budgets on the same day before their respective parliaments.

Action to improve older people's welfare

From Tanzania to Kenya, there was positive and encouraging news of some concrete measures planned for or being undertaken by governments to improve the welfare of older people.

For example in Tanzania, Finance Minister Saada Mkuya Salum told parliament that the government is committed to its goal of giving universal pensions to all older people.

"Currently, the government has put in place means of identifying all the older persons to get their exact number through local governments and local community's participatory systems. This will ensure that beneficiaries are identified and those eligible, get their cash transfers on time," she said.

Increase to older people's monthly payment

Saada said the government will begin facilitating such payments in the financial year 2015/16. By facilitation, the minister meant that the government will draft relevant bills, identify eligible older people and put in place necessary payment mechanisms.

She increased the minimum monthly payment for retirees from 50,000 Tanzanian Shillings (US$ 22) to 85,000 (US$ 37.5), which is an increase of 70%.

In Zanzibar, Finance Minister Omar Yussuf Mzee said a process aimed to ensure all older people living on the islands get a better pension, free medical care and free transport is going ahead.

Not on par with cost of living

However, Anaclet Rwegayura, a retired public servant based in Dar es Salaam said in a phone interview that the money the government gives out is not enough.

"Given the rising cost of living, this lasts only two weeks," she said, adding that the government appears reluctant to take measures that could improve older people's welfare.

In Kenya, Erastus Maina, HelpAge Kenya Country Programme Manager says that thanks to Age Demands Action, the government has increased funds allocated to older people from 5.9 billion Kenyan Shillings (US$ 59,853,229) last year to 7.4 billion (US$ 75,070,186).

Empowering older Kenyans

The Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Henry Rotich said the budget is a testimony of a government that deeply cares for its most vulnerable members of society.

"The money has been set aside for affirmative action interventions and social safety nets so as to empower these Kenyans and enable them actively participate in our economic development agenda," he noted.

According to Maina, the government has also for the first time set aside funds to cater for street families thus increasing to six, the target groups of people on cash transfer. These include older people, orphans and vulnerable children, people with extreme forms of disabilities, people with disabilities and street families.

HelpAge network must hold governments to account

Dr Geoffrey Mwau, Chief Economist Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, said Kshs 5.9 billion set aside for older persons in the financial year 2014/15 reached 164,300 older people. The Ksh7.4 billion is expected to raise this number to 308,300.

The task for the HelpAge network, according to Maina, is to scale up advocacy efforts including budget tracking to ensure that the whole amount is spent on the welfare of older people.

"It is our hope that the government's positive signs shall be consistent and the increment shall be witnessed annually. If this is sustained, then we will a time when all older people will be covered," said Maina.

Welcoming the announcement by the Finance Ministers in East African Community, Dr Prafulla Mishra, HelpAge International's Regional Director for East, West and Central Africa said: "It is encouraging to see governments acknowledging the role of older people in their economies and allocating funds for them.

"However, the needs of older people are still many and more needs to be done to ensure that they live dignified and productive lives."

Find out more about our Age Demands Action campaign.

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Henry Neondo
Job title: Regional Communications Officer, EWC Africa

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.