Private schools in Acholi grapple with accumulated loans

todayNovember 5, 2021

By Rosemary Anena
A number of private schools in parts of Acholi sub region are struggling to offset loans acquired from financial institutions prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. In March 2020 when government of Ugandan closed schools and other public places, many school proprietors who normally service their loans using school dues were left with the burden to seek alternative sources of income to offset their loans.
Robert Olanya P’Okot, the proprietor of Messiah Nursery and Primary School in Omoro district says the main challenge has been the inability of parents to pay fees during the lockdown. This prompted some school proprietors including him to pick loans to run their schools.
“For instance my school here could not entirely depend on contributions from parents for running school activities especially at a time when some parents have been rendered jobless and this left us with no option other than to run to banks to ask for loans. There is just no way we can operate without money,” he said. With operations of these institutions dependent on dues paid by learners, a number of school proprietors have had to auction personal belongings to offset loans acquired by their schools. “We have nothing else to do at this point in time. I had to sell off some of my personal properties like land, electronic equipment like photocopying machines and commercial juice blender to pay for the school loan. I think my school would be sold by now if I didn’t sell these things to meet the financial needs of my school,” said Charles Kilara, the School Director of Destiny Nursery and Primary School in Bardege Layibi division in Gulu City.

President Yoweri Museveni mid this year pledged a 22billion shillings financial support to private school teachers to shoulder chokes following the outbreak of COVID-19 last year.
According to Juma Mwalula, the secretary general Uganda Private Teachers’ Union, President Museveni directed the provision of the cash bailout following several complaints by private school teachers across the country after their salaries were halted by their respective schools.
The president also announced at the time that private school teachers were to make part of the list of beneficiaries of the presidential initiative on job and wealth creation Emyooga programme, in order to receive funds to enable them set up set up income generating projects.
But Mwalula said there was an alleged conspiracy by some education ministry officials to manage the fund, noting that it had been removed from the stewardship of the Microfinance Support Center and put under the ministries of education and finance.
George Mwaka William, the Director Mount Olive Good Shepherd primary school in Gulu City who also doubles as the Coordinator of EDIFY Uganda, a Christian Non Governmental Organization in Northern called on government to fast track the pledge made by President Museveni to support Private Schools through their Associations like Northern Uganda Private Teachers’ Association to ensure private teachers receive the promised support.
The Gulu Branch Manager, FINCA Microfinance Limited, Alex Muhame said that their clients who are unable to offset their loans within the required time have been given an extension for them to meet their obligations. “We have many affected schools which borrowed money from us. So as Finca, we agreed to restructure the loans such that those who are unable to pay their loans within the agreed time were given holidays until schools open while those with alternative sources of income had their loans restructured,” he said.

The Minister for Finance and Economic Development, Matia Kasaija, in August this year advised private school owners to sell their school assets to repay bank loans instead of asking for government bailouts. Nevertheless, he promised to dialogue with Bank of Uganda to find a way forward on how best the School Proprietors can be helped. According to media reports, about 9 million learners have enrolled in private institutions right from Pre-primary to university and other Tertiary Institutions. The sector is also said to employ more than 350,000 teachers and 241,000 non-teaching staff, and support over 800,000 suppliers of goods and services, contributing Shs 1.2 trillion annually.

COVER PHOTO: Pupils attend school before the coronavirus lockdown cropped in. A number of schools are struggling to offset loans. Courtesy photo By Rosemary Anena

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