13 July 2012

Liberia Validates Draft Social Protection Policy

Liberia yesterday made another history when it validated its first ever comprehensive Social Protection (SP) strategy and policy, thereby joining 20 other African nations with SP strategies.

The policy was validated after three days of intensive stakeholders' discussions and scrutiny in Monrovia, which succeeded three regional consultations covering the 15 counties early this year.

Social Protection is defined as a package of policies and programs implemented as part of public action that provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks and promote efficient labour markets, with the aim of reducing food insecurity and deprivation and increasing resilience to shocks, as well as ensuring equitable access to basic services and adequate employment.

Liberia has had no organized social protection policy in place. Various groups and organizations including government and donors work on fragmented programs in the sector, with little or no impact, according to report.

The strategy and policy was developed by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs in consultation with key stakeholders from the Counties, the Social Protection Steering Committee (SPSC) and a range of Ministries and development partners, including local government and civil society. Planning commissioned a study of existing social protection interventions in Liberia and held regular meetings and consultative processes to complete a draft strategy and policy which was validated yesterday.

Gender Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell told the closing ceremony yesterday that Liberian has made another history by drafting and validating its first ever SP strategy and policy. She said the strategy and policy will bring all people, especially the very poor, into an inclusive development of the country.

The Gender Minister further described the strategy and policy as a "historic opportunity" to fostering and implementing the government's "social contract" with the people.

Madam Cassell the document will now be sent to the National Steering Committee on Social Protection for review, sent to the cabinet for approval before it land at the National legislature for passing into law.

Gabriel Fernandez, National SP Coordinator told the Informer that he was happy that "Liberia has now joined over 20 countries of Africa that have developed SP strategies with a policy at its center recognizing the government's social contract to seriously address extreme poverty and ensuring that vulnerable population, households, and groups will be brought into the process of development."

He said he was happy that Liberia has been able to undertake a participatory and broad base consultation with key stakeholders of the country including county superintendents; paramount, clam and town chiefs; local and international partners, students, women and youth groups among others.

The views gathered from the stakeholders helped shape the strategy and the crust of the policy.

The government of Liberia, under the strategy, will create a social protection fund, using a basket funding mechanism, to align finances from disparate sources including government revenue, development partner and private sector contributions, behind national objectives laid out in the sector strategy.

This will improve oversight of social protection resources allocated across the budgets of a number of line ministries and improve coordination and impact of expenditures by reducing transaction costs, according to except of the draft document.

It will support efforts of the Government of Liberia to engage development partners in guaranteed long-term financial support for the sector in the interim while national revenues increase. This is in line with the Paris principles for aid effectiveness.

According to the policy document, in 2013 the Ministry of Planning, currently heading the policy derivation and Ministry of Finance will begin consultations with relevant line ministries and donors regarding the adoption of a multi-donor pool for social protection financing.

The rights, obligations and coordination arrangements of this government-donor partnership will be spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding. The fund will be overseen by MoF and could be made up of a multi-donor trust fund and pooled government accounts.

Provision will be made for parallel funding through use of a joint financing agreement, for those NGOs and institutions that are unable to put their resources in a basket fund. They will be allowed to implement projects that align with the implementation plan and design for Social Protection programs developed under the strategy and that do not duplicate other efforts.

The development of a coherent social protection system - including consolidation of prove interventions into fewer, more integrated, long term social protection instruments and the development of a pooled funding mechanism - are strategies that will support the efficient reallocation of present contributions over the next 5 years, according to the document.

Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh, delivering the keynote address at the opening program of the three-day validation Monday said the crafting of the Social Protection strategy and policy for Liberia can never be more opportune in the country's history. "With 48% of our population still festering living in abject poverty, social protection will provide us with capable instrument for bringing this excluded group into the mainstream development process," he indicated.

He described the validation exercise as "historic" and a "giant step towards the completion of this critical government milestone."

The Finance Chief said the Government looks forward to a strategy and policy that will protect the poorest and most vulnerable households from sinking further into destitution, prevent the moderately poor from sliding into extreme poverty, and promote livelihoods of the at-risk population.

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