Feature Article of Sunday, 11 August 2013
Columnist: Abbey, Charles Othniel
Worrying signals on social protection in Ghana: critical perspectives
“A decent concern for the poor is the true test of civilization” – Dr.
Charles Othniel Abbey
The beginning of 2013 saw the creation of a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection by the John Mahama-led administration, giving signal to its governmental intent of placing social protection within mainstream governmental policy direction. Although personally it falls short of my wish for a Ministry of Social Development whose name and meaning is unambiguous and gives a clear focus (as exemplified in some countries) , it is an important step particularly when the new Ministry is led by an experienced development practitioner, Nana Oye Lithur.
The creation of this ministry was without drama and controversies as persons (both social commentators and some media personnel), in their inquiry on what constituted social protection demonstrated little understanding on it and chose to focus on persons and their associations with others. The intent of this article is to try and explain what social protection is, its relevance to the generality of Ghanaians, highlight current issues that do not augur well for national cohesion and development, and suggest pathways to addressing some of the critical issues.
International organizations, academic institutions and researchers have given several definitions to the term social protection. UNICEF’s definition particularly appeals to me: social protection is the set of public and private policies and programmes aimed at preventing, reducing and eliminating economic and social vulnerabilities to poverty and deprivation (UNICEF, Social Protection Strategic Framework, emphasis mine). Notwithstanding the many definitions, there are shared views on the objectives that underlie social protection – efforts at helping individuals, families and / or citizens to mitigate, prevent or cope with natural and man-made risks that affect their livelihood and survival. These natural and man-made risks include floods, drought, earthquakes, fire (which have been persistent lately in Ghana), economic slow-down, social exclusion and inequality across age, geographic and other demographic characteristics.
Whilst the foundations of social protections has been around for quite a long time, social protection as a term in development discourse has become very prominent for about the past two decades. In recent times, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has been at the fore-front on social protection together with other UN agencies through the UN Chief Executives Board (UNCEB) and international NGOs like the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW). Particularly, the global food, fuel and economic crises of late 2007 - 2009 left in its wake adverse effects on children, women, disabled and families of marginalized and vulnerable people. Countries’ progress towards achieving the millennium development goals in key areas such as poverty reduction, quality healthcare and education, among others were seriously derailed (UN 2011, The Global Social Crisis). In Ghana, although national statistics indicated that poverty had been halved ahead of the 2015 deadline, the 2010 Population and Housing Census has confirmed fears of researchers and development practitioners about widening regional as well as urban-cum-rural disparities in the poverty reduction efforts. The sad reality is that the nice big picture of a reduction in poverty does not reflect the details.
Thus, in a renewed surge to place social development side-by-side with economic growth and planning in order to address issues of social exclusion, inequalities and poverty which have a long term effect on sustainable development, the heightened conscience of the global development community has helped to firmly place social protection on the agenda, with some practitioners referring to it as the new kid on the block.
Relevance to the ordinary citizen
One may wonder of what relevance social protection has to the well-being of the man walking on the street, or the trader whose wares got destroyed in the recent fire outbreaks, or the child hawking on the streets of Accra, as well as a host of others.
To begin with, social protection generally covers three areas:
• Social transfers – social assistance provided by public and civic bodies to those in danger of falling into poverty for which recipients are not required to pay for them through premiums or taxes. In Ghana, popular examples include the school feeding programme, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (cash transfer to the elderly, orphan and vulnerable children, etc) and the Capitation Grant.
• Social insurance – consists of providing various forms of support to recipients in times of hardships that contribute to the creation and sustenance of the scheme, and usually managed by governments. Again, the National Health Insurance Scheme in operation in Ghana is a classic example of a contributory scheme.
• Social legislation – the legal framework that defines and protects citizens’ rights, and ensures minimum civic standards to safeguard the interests of individuals. Examples are the Labour Act, Children’s Act of 1998, maternity and paternity leave, minimum and equal pay legislation, among others.
The above examples clearly show that social protection covers the entire phase of a person’s life: from pre-birth (maternity leave) to birth (birth registration / childcare policy) to childhood (school feeding / capitation) to adolescence (free laptops distribution) to youth (youth employment programmes / skills training) to adulthood (minimum wage legislation / social security) and old-age (cash transfers / pensions). Other social protection measures such as national health insurance scheme, disaster relief and assistance, provision of anti-retroviral drugs, subsidies (which is being eliminated on petroleum, fertilizers, etc) and user fee abolition across many services provided go a long way to help the ordinary citizen to be “protected” across the various phases of his/her life.
Thus, rightly so, social protection is a human rights issue whose need and importance to the right to life and survival of every citizen is rooted in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions to which Ghana has acceded to. As an active player in international affairs, it is not surprising that the government has demonstrated in part that it understands the direction of global thinking and approach towards integrating social protection in particular and social development in general within the overall national growth and development strategies. Notwithstanding this show of partial understanding, the reality check and actions (whether acts of commissions or omissions) show very troubling signs, which when not averted, addressed and decisively dealt with in a timely manner would derail progress achieved across several sectors, hamper new efforts and virtually undermine sustainability and continuity.
First of all, to note that Ghana’s flagship cash transfer initiative, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty programme which provides bi-monthly cash support of about GHc8 – GHc15 to persons such as the aged, caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children and others is in arrears for over 8months (Ghana News Agency, 25 July 2013) is highly unacceptable. To make it worse, for government to wait for this long period before releasing the funds in the first place defeats the very essence of the objectives of LEAP. Indeed the announcement of release of funds to settle arrears cover the year 2012 when we are past half-year 2013! (www.graphiconline.com/30 July 2013). This is not the first time these avoidable delays are happening. The Ghanaian Times published on 10 August 2011 (captured on myjoyonline.com) about the release of funds to settle six-month arrears payments of November 2010 to April, 2011.Of what use are funds to these extremely poor and vulnerable persons (as they are described in LEAP documents) when they are not given these beneficiaries when they are needed? As can be seen from above, from 2010 to 2013, the LEAP is for most part of the time always in arrears. Thus whilst the cash transfer is supposed to serve as a safety net for these extremely poor and vulnerable so their situation gets better (and become poor instead of extremely poor), the country inflicts upon them more hardships by making them fall out / slip through the safety net we “pretend” to provide them.
I risk being labeled a doomsday seer by suggesting that the current trend would well continue into year 2014. Yet, in the country’s National Social Protection Strategy (which has always being a draft since 2008), the LEAP programme is touted as the flagship social protection intervention in Ghana! If this is the flagship, what then remains of the others?
Surely, a look at the Ghana School Feeding Programme, which is to provide one hot meal a day to pupils in beneficiary public schools across the country is under serious stress, and which goes to the very root of its survival. The national coordinator has admitted the Programme is broke and has appealed to government to save it from collapse (www.myjoyonline.com /30 July 2013). Of course, it is in the news all over that more than 5000 caterers of the school feeding programme have not being paid for services rendered by them for several months. As a result, not only is the regularity / number of days for providing these meals not being met, but also suppliers of foodstuffs to the caterers have refused to extend further credit facilities offered to the caterers. Consequently, the businesses of these suppliers are being affected, the caterers are running away from their shadows, our children / brothers and sisters who are to be served the daily meals have their rights being trampled upon. The reason? Failure on the part of government to release funds in a timely manner (I intend dealing with the subject of political economy choices and competing needs on the issue of government funds under the heading pathways, so please hold on). A check on an initial programme evaluation of the school feeding when it was piloted in 2005 showed how it tremendously helped to increase enrolment, retention and in several places improved the gender parity in the schools that benefitted (GSFP, 2007). It is not surprising that the MDG 2 and 3 were showing very strong results for Ghana. Is it our intention to slide back on the gains chalked so far (albeit that the health and nutrition outcomes of the school feeding programme is lacking)?
Thirdly, the plight of special schools that provide child care and development to our disabled brothers and sisters is another glaring signal on the worrying state of social protection in Ghana. Currently, there are 34 special schools for the deaf, dumb and intellectually disabled scattered across the country. Not too long ago (May 2013), their association at an annual meeting decried their deplorable condition and how it was adversely affecting their service delivery to Ghanaian citizens, children for that matter. Feeding grants, goods and services subvention and associated support were in arrears for over 1year. Since these schools do not charge any form of user fees such as is allowed the mainstream schools, heads of these schools were left with no option than to close down their schools. The situation persisted till continuous advocacy by African Development Programme supported by as JoyNews, e.TV and a host of other media organizations across the country reawakened the conscience of government to rectify the problem (www.peacefmonline.com/16 May 2013). Indeed, in a usual tokenism manner, half of the current term’s goods and services grant was released with nothing given for feeding. The further silence on when and how the arrears from May 2012 would be settled by government was very loud. Creditors of these schools upon hearing of the partial release of some funds are already on the tails of the heads of these schools. Of course, this is not an issue of half a loaf is better than none! What is at stake is the future of our children and their right to education, survival and holistic development as well as the disregard for meeting educational commitments and the inclusion of persons with disability in national development. (At the time of this article, there is no clear indication as to the release of the remainder of outstanding allocations for this term and arrears of 2012.)
The current hot topic virtually obscuring the above three issues is that of the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA), formerly National Youth Employment Programme. Thanks to the ground-breaking investigation by journalist Manasseh Azure, duty-bearers of the GYEEDA became conscious of right-holders’ (citizens) awakened sense of demanding accountability. Not only did his investigations reveal deep rooted lack of transparency, misappropriations and gross mismanagement but as “leaked” sections of the Inter-Ministerial Committee report states, “the challenges with GYEEDA border more on a breakdown of systems and procedures, financial impropriety and incompetence” (www.myjoyonline.com /July 2013). What is amazing is the fact that government has kept the report to its chest, with the public feeding on intercepted excerpts from persons / organizations with copies of the report. After close to two weeks of the Presidency receiving the report, another review committee has been formed to study the report. So, for all the period of the two weeks, in whose possession was the report? And for what use? Or gathering dust, till a review committee was deemed fit? In any case, the proper thing is for government to release the report not only because it helps for constructive debates and discourse as to the way forward for GYEEDA, but it is also well within our right to know what the report contains. GYEEDA exists as an entity financed by the taxes of the Ghanaian, hence acquiring an irrevocable right to exact accountability from persons who expend these resources on our behalf. Clearly, with a disconnect between the various levels of implementation and a lack in use of standard operating procedures (if they even exist), it was only a matter of time that GYEEDA (which was supposed to be a reorganized entity from the NYEP) would find itself in the current situation. This is affirmed by excerpts of the “leaked” report as published by myjoyonline.com (23 July 2013) which highlights a “lack of any transparency in the choice of service providers, the award of contracts and the visible breaches of the 1992 Constitution, the Public Procurement Act, the Internal Revenue Act and the Financial Administration Act”. Unlike the above three social interventions highlighted, GYEEDA seems to be the one with a predictable stream of funding (albeit not backed by any legislation), a necessary condition for the smooth implementation of any social intervention. I cannot leave out the case of relief support and assistance to persons affected by disasters, particularly the ongoing fire outbreaks across the country. Disaster management and relief services are an important feature of social protection measures. Not too long ago, after NADMO (national disaster management organization) had indicated their lack of resources and relief items to help victims of floods particularly in Accra, their real need was further exposed and confirmed after the infamous Agbogbloshie fire disaster. NADMO as an entity was virtually on holiday when the major fire incident occurred at Kantamanto (in the central business district). In order not to portray the Kantamanto traders as neglected ones, it took another fire disaster at the Agbogbloshie market before government announced a GHc2million fund to help victims of both fire disasters.
In a TV discussion on e.TV morning show (24 June 2013) and also published on www.adpgh.org (29 June 2013), I cautioned that this move would be severely tested when other fires occur elsewhere and specifically in market places, asking whether similar funds would be created by central government? Further fire outbreaks have shed more light on my caution. Thus, it was pitiful yet laughable that those residents in Ga South whose homes were destroyed expected that a call on NADMO to come to their aid would yield any dividends. Further to the creation of the GHc2million fund and the move by the Social Protection Ministry to collaborate with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and NADMO to undertake compilation of persons affected in both fires, personal checks revealed that some affected persons are yet to be registered. After the GHc2million fund announced by government, as usual of us as Ghanaians, we all have assumed the plight of the affected mothers, brothers and sisters of ours have been resolved. The case is rather the opposite!
The above highlighted issues precludes others such as delays in releases of capitation grants to public schools, monies owed persons with disabilities (PWDs) by the district assemblies as a result of delays in their district assemblies common fund releases, removal of subsidies, and the list goes on. These major issues addressed above are also not happening in isolation of each other but rather all happening within the same length of time. Since it is possible to have an individual being a beneficiary in more than one of the social interventions highlighted, such a person’s ability to escape the trappings of further deprivation is out of the equation. Rather, the person’s circumstances become worsened and these have dire consequences on economic indicators, quality of individual life, social cohesion and national integration. Let not duty-bearers think that such a situation cannot explode beyond what we can collectively handle as a nation. The Arab spring and Ashaiman uprising are enough evidences we need. That is why the following areas for critical study are suggested as workable pathways in dealing with at least part of the troubling issues.
a. Creating an overarching framework for a coherent approach to social protection is imperative. The timing is ripe to expeditiously translate the current draft National Social Protection Strategy into a policy. When this happens, it creates the right environment to give clear vision, direction and approach towards national social protection.
b. But before the above is done, visible and serious steps needs to be taken by the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection to partner with civil society who have expertise / knowledge in social protection to initiate a national dialogue for a social protection floor. Just as minimum wage legislation does to at least guarantee workers rights and welfare, a national social protection floor helps determine the mix of public social interventions that can be sustainably supported by our national resources. This is in line with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) recommendation 202 on the social protection floor initiative. Government can expect the support of the UN system as there are global support systems and mechanisms for countries that practicalize the social protection floor initiative. This would mean that new and broader consultations would be needed as those undertaken prior to the drafting of the national social protection strategy have not had its full awareness creation and information sharing-gathering impacts.
These two suggestions are relevant to all the issues discussed above as deserving attention. c. A national social protection policy would help create the reliable funding source / pool that are severely needed for the survival of the Ghana School Feeding Programme and NADMO activities. This ensures regular, timely and sustainable flow of resources for the implementation of these programmes and attainment of objectives. Thus, the current efforts by the GSFP for school feeding policy although commendable, rather makes it more difficult for a holistic social protection funding source for all interventions including school feeding. Hence, it is my considered opinion that when the GSFP current policy formulation efforts see the light of day, it opens the door for all of these single programmes to start their own policies. Not only would time be wasted, but make it impossible for the realization of a national social protection policy that is encapsulating. I don’t support a gradualist approach which would create separate policies for all these interventions. Research shows that it is possible to have between 1% to 8% of a developing country’s GDP supporting a comprehensive national social protection system developed through consensus and broad stakeholder participation. Can Ghana afford it given the competing needs for national resources? Yes we can!!! In most western countries, spending on social interventions is equivalent to 15% of GDP and the world average is 7%. However, sub-Saharan African countries spend less than 2% of their GDP (Policy Briefs, RVHP/EPRI/IDS www.wahenga.net). UNICEF reaffirms that social protection systems can be sustainably financed. Affordability and financing are not only technical questions but also POLITICAL choices.
Bundy et al, 2009 in Rethinking School Feeding: Social Safety Nets, Child Development, and the Education Sector (World Food Programme / World Bank, Washington, DC) say unequivocally in reference to social interventions, particularly school feeding, that we are beyond the debate as to whether social interventions make economic sense in reaching the most vulnerable but rather how they can be designed and implemented in a cost-effective and sustainable way to benefit and protect those most in need of help today and in the future.
d. In the case of the LEAP programme, the needed robust systems for delivery of the cash transfer appear inadequate. Proper programme evaluation since its inception is yet to be done but each year new beneficiaries are added. Problems are compounded year by year and further make it difficult to reform the programme. Hence, new beneficiary enlistment must be suspended. Programme evaluation should be undertaken immediately, as this would give meaning to the single register being developed to help target beneficiaries across all social interventions. Whilst the donor partners have made counterpart funds available for distribution, government’s failure to perform its part of the bargain hampers this initiative. It is unconscionable for government to delay any further in paying all the arrears due the over 50,000 beneficiaries made up of persons aged 65years plus, orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as disabled persons. A serious effort towards undertaking a full scale independent impact evaluation before year 2013 ends is imperative. The realignment of portions of the previous Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare to that of Gender, Children and Social Protection is taking too long a time. What duty bearers (government officials) should realize is that they risk bearing the brunt of the anger of beneficiaries whose rights are being trampled upon should they wake-up to their rights. Civil society may be left with no choice than to engage these beneficiaries and educate them on their rights, in such a manner that may breed antagonism with undesirable consequences for all stakeholders. The point on a social protection policy creating the right fiscal space for funding is applicable to the LEAP as well to assure reliability and timeliness of funds to beneficiaries.
e. As social interventions ought to achieve complementarities with one another given a set of conditions, a revised and properly working school feeding programme can incorporate the feeding needs of the 34 special schools in Ghana. One key area of spending for these special schools is feeding. Placing them on automatic beneficiary status would mean providing 1 out of their 3 daily meals. What then happens to the remaining 2? This is where the private-funded element of social protection becomes relevant. The World Food Programme can provide food aid to these schools as part of its supplementary school feeding programme in the 3 Northern Regions. Businesses in the food and beverages (manufacturing and trading alike) category such as Nestle, Papaye, TT brothers, Far East Merchantile , to name but a few must demonstrate serious commitment to corporate social protection (CSP) instead of the PR-driven corporate social responsibility (CSR). The era of CSP in place of CSR is here, where private-initiatives in supporting communities in which they operate fits into the development trends, identifiable needs and priorities, timely delivered and departing from the tokenism approach. A one of show of community support amidst heavy fanfare and picture-taking in the name of CSR is gone with the past (an article to discuss and share insights into what I call CSP and not CSR is in progress). Most parents of children in these special schools are said to be uncooperative with school authorities, especially in supporting school efforts. In one special school in Kumasi, parents started withdrawing their disabled children when management had proposed a weekly parent support of GHc1 per child since government funds had delayed for several months. Individuals and parents must not forget that the family role in social protection comes first before the state/public role. Informal social protection mechanisms provided by the family and community should be encouraged and deepened. After all, we as Ghanaians ever had a past and rich history of shared values and being there for one another. A revisit and rekindling of the past bonds of our common humanity is overdue.
f. On the GYEEDA issue, I fear that pro-liberal and economists would have cause to advance further arguments for a discontinuation of the whole concept. Indeed, on a morning show discussion on Joy FM with discussants including Messrs Kofi Bentil and Sydney Casely-Hayford when Manasseh broke the GYEEDA story, the point was belabored that there was an opportunity cost to the nation for continuing the GYEEDA adventure and should be scrapped. A case of throwing the baby away with the bath water! The opportunity cost of GYEEDA should be looked rather in terms of not implementing such a sustainable concept but rather unleashing the over 200,000 beneficiaries as unemployed youth on the country. Whilst the “leaked” report gives cause for a lot of anxiety, anger and frustration, it rather provides the timely opportunity to make things right with the programme, and many other social interventions. Putting on hold the current programme by way of not renewing modules whose service providers expire December 2013 is crucial. Further, no new modules be introduced and pending ones put on hold. These steps would provide the needed “breather” for critical thinking and restructuring. Current initiatives in rationalizing staff (appointments, job descriptions, etc), strategic plan development and organizational policies are very proper. It is obvious that for all these alleged rot to persist for this length of time points directly to a non-existent functioning Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system backed by an efficient Information System. If it existed, early warning systems would have shown signals to policy-makers and programme managers to take the necessary remedial measures. A body of critical research and knowledge exists in the area of M&E design and use in social intervention programs would offer great insights for policy makers and programme managers (Grosh et al, 2008 - For Protection and Promotion: The Design and Implementation of Effective Safety Nets). For now, until the presidency gives meaning to its professed commitment to open and accountable governance by publishing the Inter-Ministerial Committee report, the piece-meal approach and sometimes sensationalism in critiquing and proffering solutions would yield little dividends.
This article is by no means exhaustive of the many ancillary issues that relate to the above social protection measures in particular and social development in general. For anything at all, this piece seeks to provoke further debates and dispassionate discourse across board in order that governance would be meaningful to all citizens.
A refreshing observation is that the GYEEDA debacle offers a timely opportunity for sustained discussion on social development matters, especially in the wake of deepening poverty, increased cost of living and national economic distress. The realization that social development matters deserve a prominent place on the agenda table, albeit belated, is welcoming. For all Ghanaians and social development specialists like me, the clarion call is CARPE DIEM!!!