Social insecurity

  • The current social security system is ripe for corruption and fails to help those most in need
- TEJ PRASAD ADHIKARI
Social insecurity

Apr 29, 2014-

Billions earmarked for the government’s social security plan are going to waste as the existing state mechanism is fraught with problems. The random distribution of allowances has been mostly misused, instead of being properly utilised. The remedy to the social security system should thus start with the evaluation of the distribution mechanism and a quest for reform.

The social security scheme gained momentum in Nepal after the CPN-UML minority government introduced the Old Age Allowance Programme without any planning in December 1994. Since then, several other fragmented cash transfer programmes in the name of vulnerable groups have come into existence. For instance, Rs 200 is provided to all children under five in the Karnali region and to poor Dalit children in the rest of the country. Likewise, there is a cash transfer programme for a limited number of partially disabled people and Rs 500 to all members of endangered ethnic groups; Rautes get Rs 1,000 every month from the government. According to the National Planning Commission, there are currently more than 40 different social security schemes operated by different ministries. But many of them are neither widely known nor able to produce the desired effect.

Corrupt transfers

The VDC secretary has a pivotal role in distributing all kinds of cash provided as social security allowances at the local level. This responsibility rests with the ward office bearer in municipalities. As provisioned in the current mechanism, the secretary identifies eligible persons and distributes the allowances. One should not be surprised when secretaries then create fake identities and pocket the allowances. The system has been designed in such a way that the same person plays both the roles of prosecutor and judge in many kinds of transfers, ie, collecting applications, approving them as eligible and distributing grants. Thus, the system is problematic.

Whatever is successful with the social security programme is due to the interest of local people and the media functioning as a watchdog. A civil servant, despite being honest, cannot remain sincere due to the existing mechanism. The system is not equipped to carry out proper monitoring and evaluation, and efforts have not been made to rectify this situation. One of the primary responsibilities of the VDC secretary is to keep a record of the Vital Registration System. The terrible condition of this system reflects a failure to engage people with the state machinery and in development planning. Moreover, many VDC secretaries claim that they are overburdened due to multiple responsibilities in the absence of local elections. In fact, the jhole office of the VDC indicates an ineffective existing structure and the dire need for a reliable alternative structure. Besides, activities related to social security are not the main focus of VDC secretaries.

Centralised planning

At the central level, a kind of tangible articulation of social protection was seen in the formation of the National Steering Committee on Social Protection (NSCSP) in November 2009. The Committee was formed under the member-secretary of the National Planning Commission and included joint secretaries from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labour and Transport Management, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Local Development and Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The NSCSP was formed with the aim to articulate a comprehensive, implementable, efficient framework with a judicious mix of various measures.

However, since its formation, the NSCSP has reviewed neither the existing social protection systems nor their delivery. The Committee hasn’t identified nor appraised the various options of social protection along with the financing and delivery mechanism. Its failure to even define social protection in the local Nepali context means that one cannot expect it to spell out and appraise a diverse plan for the short and long term.

The current need, therefore, is to bring the current system into debate among stakeholders, experts and planners so that the social security mechanism can be made more effective, efficient and appropriate for the Nepali context. A huge amount of the social security fund has yet to be utilised due to a lack of proper mechanisms. The contributors to the fund are unknown, so are the intended beneficiaries. The existing system is unable to produce results so there is a tug of war between trade union leaders and bureaucrats, particularly in the utilisation of the funds. Some trade unions advocate the conversion of tax into a social security fund. However, their interest is limited to holding the fund rather than using it for wider beneficiaries, including informal workers, which account for more than 80 percent of the economically active population, and females, whose work has yet to be acknowledged in the national accounting system.

Changing the system

It is the right time to develop a structure all the way from Singha Durbar to the villages, that is equipped with the technology to hold and make public reliable data. A proper monitoring system to replace the old post office needs to integrate components associated with public service needs with social security measures. This structure must be designed to ensure that transfers are regular and predictable and that beneficiaries can rely on it for the well-being of their households or any other economic opportunities. The system must also address the grievances of people if the service delivery is not as predicted or planned.

If this system works, it will effectively contribute to the reduction of poverty and vulnerability. The social security system is relevant to everyone, as it is a universal programme that all citizens can avail of during the course of their lives. Hence, there should be a life cycle approach to social security. Developing a sense of responsibility and confidence in people can help instil a willingness to pay taxes for their own future benefit. Accordingly, a proper tax record system can help people take ownership of the system and publicly inform others about their contributions. In doing so, the vital registration system has to be well-developed as a civil registration system where each household folder records the basic socio-economic and demographic information of household members. Then, the system can be developed to explore potential beneficiaries. This can easily reduce fake beneficiaries. All we need to reform the social security system is the design of its implementation.

Adhikari is a demographer

Published: 30-04-2014 09:19

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