A conference in Kathmandu calls for integration and harmonisation of social protection schemes
On 22 July 2019, social protection experts and government officials from Nepal, other Asian countries and beyond attended this high-level conference to exchange on harmonisation and integration of national social protection systems. Interested in learning from Cambodia, India, Malawi and Pakistan, Nepal expressed its commitment to move beyond fragmentation.
As he inaugurated the high-level conference entitled ‘On the path to Universal Social Protection in Nepal: The role of integration and harmonization’, Nepal’s Minister of Finance, Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada, highlighted the progress his country made in realizing social protection for all its citizens in line with its constitution. He described social protection as indispensable for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and underlined that ‘there is need for consolidation of existing schemes, for the elimination of duplication between them and for serious discussions amongst all stakeholders to ensure the schemes’ sustainability.’
The conference was jointly organized by Nepal’s Ministry of Finance and German Development Cooperation. It was attended by around 200 national and international social protection experts, several representatives Nepalese ministries and two Pakistani government officials, development partner representatives, civil society members and the media.
In her keynote address on the social protection landscape in Nepal Ms. Jasmine Rajbhandary, Senior Social Protection Specialist at the World Bank Group, said that it was time the focus shifted from setting up social protection schemes to improving their impact. To achieve this it was essential to establish an integrated policy framework, to harmonise existing systems, to improve their design and to enhancing their delivery.
Improving access and coordination – and raising funds through taxes
In a high level panel discussion facilitated by Mr. Ole Doetinchem, Program Director, GIZ Cambodia, representatives of various Nepalese ministries reflected on the need for an integrated social security policy, an integrated information database, and one embedded and consolidated overarching social protection system for their country. Introducing single registration would then allow citizens to register just once to access all schemes they were eligible for while it would also ensure integration and harmonisation between the different ministries responsible for the schemes.
Member of the National Planning Commission Dr Ram Kumar Phuyal pointed at the government’s overarching vision of reaching out to 40 per cent of the population over the next five years. To achieve this it currently prepares an integrated framework for social protection to avoid fragmentation between programmes.
Secretary at the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security, Mr. Mahesh Prasad Dahal said that the government is committed towards social security to its citizens, and that the inauguration of the social protection fund a week ago bore testimony to this.
Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Shreekrishna Nepal reminded panelists that all social protection programmes depended on Nepal raising sufficient tax revenue and that sustaining this revenue should therefore be a core concern. ‘If we talk about a rights-based approach and if it is supposed to be universal then we must also discuss how it will be financed, both from a financial management and from a governance perspective’ said Nepal.
Walking on a tight rope to balance expansion and integration
In another panel discussion moderated by Ms. Marlis Sieburger, Division Chief, Health and Social Protection Asia, KfW, Germany, panelists expressed the hope that the problems of fragmentation would be solved once a national identity card had been introduced. Mr. Dipak Kafle, Director General of the Department of National ID and Civil Registration, assured the audience that within the next three years Nepal will have a full-fledged integrated model of civil registration data management in place.
Mr. Ramesh Kumar Pokharel, Executive Director of the Health Insurance Board, reminded the panel that effective implementation of the overarching social protection policy depended on the quality of data provided to his institution. ‘Integration of data is very important but as long as we have no means of identifying the ultra-poor, the process of enrolling them in the health insurance cannot move forward.’
Mr. Tulasi Prasad Gautam, Administrator of the Employees Provident Fund, pointed out that the national ID system currently in preparation was not something totally new as it would replace the citizenship certificates now in use in Nepal. Asked if the ID cards would simply replace the current citizenship, which do not take account of children, Mr. Gautam replied that the local government in the rural municipalities will take care of these additional registrations.
Sharing international insights on social protection reform
The next session brought experiences from other countries into the debate: Social protection experts from Pakistan, India and Malawi shared their insights on how to move towards an integrated social assistance system and institutional coordination for social protection.
Mr. Ali Asjad Malhi, Vice-Chairperson of the Punjab Social Protection Authority, Pakistan, presented a number of tools that had helped his country build an integrated social protection system, including a National Socio-Economic Registry (poverty score card) for targeting beneficiaries, the use of the Khidmat Card for disbursement of cash and the integration of the many different social protection services into single window services.
Mr. Pappu PS, Project Coordinator of the Indo-German Social Protection Programme, GIZ India, described how India’s government first developed an operational and institutional framework to set the rules for the social protection system. Next, it created an information technology backbone to link beneficiaries with service providers and states with the central government while implementing the overarching social protection scheme ‘PM-JAY’.
Ms. Bessie Msusa, Senior Economist, Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Malawi, shared her government’s plan for a national coordination body for social protection which would be responsible for a harmonized grievance redress mechanism covering all existing social security schemes. Malawi’s government has also established an electronic payment mechanisms for all schemes and a basket fund mechanism to ensure and coordinate funding for them.
Germany’s commitment to supporting Nepal’s pathway towards USP
Before Mr. Mahesh Prasad Dahal, Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, spoke the closing remarks for this inspired conference, the Chargee d’affaires at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr Claudia Hiepe, underlined that German Development Cooperation together with other bi-and multilateral partners is committed and ready to support the Government of Nepal in navigating its course towards Universal Social Protection. ‘Social protection is key’ said Hiepe, ‘for ensuring that economic growth translates into improvements in individuals’ quality of life.’
Shiv Vishwakarma and Roland Panea, July 2019