In 2007, when the government commenced its Sh2,000 monthly stipend payment for the elderly as one of the Rapid Response Initiatives against old age poverty, a number of critics dismissed the scheme.
Sceptics saw in the cash transfer programme an escalation of the political culture of easy cash handouts that would have little impact on the ground.
More than 10 years down the line, the initiative stands out among the bright spots in the dark sea of political governance, one which portrays an image of a State that cares for senior citizens.
What started off as a pilot scheme in Thika, Nyando and Busia districts, has expanded to cover the whole country, with a total of 523,129 citizens aged over 70 years registered to receive the March stipend.
Unfortunately, the first round of the enhanced old people’s cash transfer (OPCT) scheme, which is about to start in March is already rocked by a misplaced argument as to whether pensioners need to be included in the list of beneficiaries.
From inception, OPCT has primarily been about the poor and vulnerable. Age is a secondary factor. Among its rules, a beneficiary must not be in gainful employment, with regular incomes or already enrolled in any other Cash Transfer programme.
As such, pensioners are technically knocked out because they are deemed as having a regular income. All that is required from the Labour ministry is to monitor data on beneficiaries of the National Safety Net Programmes to ensure that individuals do not receive taxpayer cash from multiple channels.
Otherwise, the OPCT has generally worked by giving the unproductive elderly cash to spend in the immediate locality, producing enormous multiplier effect.
But the scheme is a means to some end. After a decade of trial, our argument should have progressed, from the basic question of who should benefit to an evaluation of the whole scheme. We should be discussing how OPCT can be improved to increase physical and human capital in poor households.