In his quest to salvage the nation from the grips of unemployment and poverty, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has again launched the National Social Protection Strategy and Implementation Plan and the social safety Net Program to support extremely poor households and vulnerable communities throughout the country.
Addressing stakeholders in Magburaka, Tonkolili District on Monday, President Koroma said “as a government committed to improving the condition of the common man and woman, we are determined to overcome challenges, build a unified system and ensure that we have more resources to increase the coverage of social safety nets for a large group of poor and vulnerable households. We have started in earnest in the four districts of Bombali in the North, Moyamba in the South and Kono in the East. We intend, with the support of our Partners to scale up to additional districts until we cover the whole country”.
The Government of Sierra Leone in collaboration with the World Bank and UNICEF had established a Social Protection Policy in 2011 which has culminated into a Social Safety Net programme to support extremely poor households and vulnerable communities throughout the country.
The programme which was launched by His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, in Magburaka, the headquarter town of Tonkolili – one of the country’s poorest districts – is financed by a US$7 million grant from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), a US$300,000 grant from UNICEF, and US$1 million from the Government of Sierra Leone. Overall, the programme seeks to identify and assist poor and vulnerable households across the country, including those affected by the Ebola outbreak.
“In the last few years Sierra Leone has achieved remarkable economic growth and progress in the areas of health, education and food production. Poverty has declined in the last decade, though we still have large numbers of poor people. My government has ensured significant improvement in access to public services, such as primary education and maternal and child health, though, significant sections of the society still experience difficulties in using these services. My government is very committed to removing these difficulties by expanding services and putting in place social protection measures for the poorest and marginalized amongst our people.
“We demonstrated our commitment to social protection of the common man and woman in our Agenda for Change. My Government also adopted a National Social Protection Policy in March 2011, which was further developed into the Social Protection Pillar in the Agenda for Prosperity. This has informed the development of a Social Protection Strategy and Implementation Plan with strong institutional arrangements, strengthened coordination mechanisms (under the leadership of my Chief of Staff), pragmatic funding plans, robust program management and evaluation systems and appropriate means for addressing capacity constraints.
“…whilst we have reduced poverty, we remain committed to protect the over 150,000 poorest households from sinking into further economic difficulties, prevent the 413,000 moderately poor households from sliding into extreme poverty and promote the livelihoods of at-risk population.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, the Ebola Virus Epidemic has caused unprecedented economic, social and humanitarian impacts on households of all income levels but the shock to the common man and woman is particularly severe. This is why Social Protection is important now more than ever before. We must not only cushion the effect of poverty, we must strive to ensure that social protection also becomes building blocks for lifting our people out of poverty. That is why we will work harder to mobilize more resources to reach more extreme poor households and harmonize and coordinate the different social protection interventions across all levels of government,” President Koroma continued.
“This new Social Safety Net program builds on the country’s Agenda for Prosperity whose core objective is to achieve middle income status by 2035 by reducing the number of Sierra Leoneans below the poverty line. It will strengthen coordination and implementation of social protection programs that improve nutrition and health services, and access to education, in order to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty”, said Saidu Conton Sesay, Chief of Staff in the Office of the President.
Progress in social and economic sectors has suffered a serious blow during the Ebola outbreak with many deaths, loss of livelihoods and income, delayed schooling, and a number of children orphaned by the disease. Therefore, this Social Safety Net programme is intended to mitigate these impacts and support people to lift themselves out of poverty and live productive and dignified lives.
Kaifala Marah, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development said, “This Social Safety Net program was developed in line with Sierra Leone’s development agenda, institutional and financial conditions and capabilities, and we hope that it will create a sustainable system to address the biting problems of poverty and inequity in the country.”
Basically, the program will provide regular cash transfers to 21,000 extremely poor households, benefiting 126,000 people, including children, Ebola survivors, and other vulnerable people. Cash transfers will enable families to buy food, send children to school, and protect assets such as livestock.
“The country has come a long way in moving from an uncoordinated approach toward building a coherent social safety net system capable of protecting the poorest and most vulnerable, including from shocks such as Ebola. Continued progress in this direction will become even more crucial in view of the devastating impact of the Ebola outbreak and as the country transitions back to the Agenda for Prosperity. The Bank remains committed to supporting the Government in these efforts”, said Francis Ato – Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone.
Though the initial phase of the programme covers only 14 percent of the approximately 147,000 extremely poor households in the country, it is a starting point for an accelerated pace to address the issues of poverty and inequity, and help poorer families cope with the Ebola aftermath. More than 2,700 beneficiaries have already started receiving the cash transfers.
“The progress made is great but the needs are greater! And as this programme is being implemented, we must keep in mind those children in the poorest households, undernourished and sick and more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday,” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “UNICEF will continue to work with the Government and other partners in defining long-term national financing strategies to protect and expand expenditures on effective social protection programmes.”
The programme will be implemented by the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) and will include monitoring mechanisms led by the Anti-Corruption Commission to ensure resources reach the intended beneficiaries.