Although Parliament last week passed the law putting into effect the students' loan scheme, sources familiar with the initiative believe it will take much longer to be implemented. With the financial year almost half way, a government source told The Observer much more remains to be done. "I highly doubt this will be possible [this year]. We are halfway through this financial year. Besides, even after the law has been passed, there is need to establish the institutions that will implement the scheme, among them the board, recruiting of the technical team and the setting up of regulations as ought to be done," said the source. The source added that it would take at least two or three months to complete the process, suggesting that the intended beneficiaries would have to wait for the next financial year. When contacted for a comment two days before the law was passed, Education minister Jessica Alupo could not rule out the possibility that the loan scheme may take longer, although she remained optimistic. "For me, I am waiting for the law to be passed by Parliament before recess. And, if this is done, before the end of January, the president will assent to it and the law will be implemented, and hopefully by next semester the scheme will take effect," the minister said. Crash programme In June, while delivering the state of the nation address, President Museveni announced that student loans would be introduced, with Shs 6bn allocated to the ministry of Education and Sports for the scheme. But technical staff did not envisage the scheme taking off immediately. "Before we could finalise the process, we were told that the president needed this thing for this year and we had to work around the clock; which is why even when the money was allocated, there was no law to regulate the scheme," said a source. The government was in such a rush to start that at one point the minister of Education sought to implement the scheme even before the legal framework was in place. "How could this have been implemented without a law enacted by Parliament? So, we pressured them to bring the proposed law even when they had said they had come up with regulations. We did not trust it because they had no legal effect," said Joseph Ssewungu (DP, Kalungu West MP). In August, just two months after the budget had been read, the Higher Education Students Financing Bill, 2013 was introduced in Parliament. It took more than three months for the committee on Education and Sports to report back on its findings. Amended law Among the amendments introduced by the committee was the condition that before the students' loan scheme is implemented, national identity cards must be issued. This, MPs argued, would ease the exercise of following up beneficiaries and also ensuring that only Ugandans benefited from the scheme as provided for in the bill. Alupo expressed fears that this was likely to delay the scheme given the national IDs project is yet to be expedited. It is said that Parliament eventually waived this requirement. Whereas the original bill had suggested that for a student to access the loan they must have a guarantor, the committee was against this because, it argued, some students might fail to get guarantors. The beneficiaries, they suggested, should be held accountable for the loans themselves. Parliament also resolved to phase out the State House scholarship scheme. The Shs 30bn annually allocated to State House for that purpose will now revert to the ministry of Education for the loan scheme. The resolution which followed the adoption of findings of the committee on Education and Sports, observes that the Shs 6bn provided in the current budget for the students' loan scheme was too little. Parliament also recommended that parallel state financing schemes, for instance the 4,000 scholarships given annually to A-level leavers, should be progressively phased out. The other government scholarship schemes shall then be awarded to eligible students to pursue higher education in fields of study deemed by the board responsible for the loan scheme as critical to national and economic development. All scholarships currently offered by the government of Uganda , including bilateral scholarships existing before the commencement of this law, shall be vested in the board. In the same vein, the committee proposes that bilateral scholarships be awarded subject to conditions as agreed on with the donor country/agency. However, the committee proposed that before this comes into effect, students already on scholarship should continue to be assisted until they complete their courses. In the meantime, would-be beneficiaries can't wait. "I thought this was going to happen as soon as possible, but it is likely to be like the other initiatives that are announced before they are ready," said Dickson Ssentongo , a student at Makerere University . "Nevertheless, we are waiting for it regardless of the delays."
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