By Mantoe Phakathi
The Deputy Prime Minister’s Office (DPMO) convened a two-day workshop of stakeholders from different government ministries, UN agencies and civil society organisations to review the draft National Social Assistance Policy of the Kingdom of Eswatini.
The workshop, which drew 30 participants from various government entities and international organizations, was held on May 04-05 at Piggs Peak Hotel while other delegates participated online.
Supported by UNDP Eswatini, the workshop gave the participants an opportunity to produce an action plan for the implementation of the revised policy. The DPMO published the draft policy in 2018, with support from the European Union, but remained a draft since then.
Speaking at the official opening of the workshop, Principal Secretary at DPMO, Mr. Makhosini Mndawe, extended his appreciation to UNDP for both technical and financial support to the exercise. He also acknowledged UNDP’s support in bringing a consultant, Stephen Devereux, to facilitate at the workshop and contribute towards the review process.
Mr. Mndawe said social assistance refers to government programmes that provide minimal level of income support to individuals and households in extreme poverty. These programmes lend support either in the form of direct cash transfers or a variety of in-kind benefits such as food, education, health, to name a few.
Currently, the Government of Eswatini is providing grants to the following groups of the population: elderly, persons with disabilities, orphans and vulnerable children and war veterans and their spouses. The government also distributes food to destitute families and builds them houses through the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and Eswatini Baphalali Red Cross Society.
Other social assistance is administered in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of Agriculture.
“By extension, social assistance and social protection in Eswatini are coordinated under the DPMO but there are no coordinating platforms and mechanisms for social protection among development partners or between development partners and the government,” said Mr. Mndawe.
Therefore, his office anticipates that once the policy has been finalised and adopted, Eswatini will have a clear government machinery to guide the implementation, commissioning and monitoring of all social assistance and all social interventions in the country.
Mr. Mndawe further acknowledged the following development partners for their contribution to social assistance in Eswatini:
· European Union – 2016-2019 – provided technical and financial assistance for the development of the draft National Social Policy under the Social Protection System Project in Eswatini
· UNICEF – 2018 – conducted a quantitative assessment of the Social Assistance System in the Kingdom of Eswatini which identified gaps in the existing programmes.
· World Bank – 2012-2016 – implemented a cash transfer programme in four Tinkhundla sites and did another diagnostic work to be published soon.
· WFP – over the years provides meals to OVCs in pre-primary centres and supports government in providing meals to primary schools. During emergencies, WFP provides emergency assistance to affected families.
Addressing the same event, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Ms. Shaima Hussein, noted that the review process was timely considering the impact of COVID-19, whose first anniversary since WHO declared it a pandemic was in March. Ms. Hussein noted the negative impact of the pandemic on societies, communities, livelihoods and the wellbeing of families, redefining the overall everyday life of people all around the world, making the need for social protection even more urgent.
“The human development index was estimated to suffer a steep and unprecedented decline in 2020 for the first time in 30 years since the measure has been computed,” she said, addressing the participants virtually.
COVID-19, which had infected 18 460 and claimed the lives of over 670 people in Eswatini at the time of writing, added a further strain to the country with a poverty rate of 59 percent and extreme poverty at 21 percent. Meantime, 32 percent of the country’s population is food insecure while the Kingdom is rated the 10th highest in the world in income inequalities since 2014.
Hussein, who was addressing the participants virtually, said governments and societies face unprecedented policy, regulatory and fiscal choices as they act to save lives and set a course for a sustainable future.
“The choices made today if made well could be the tipping point to transform our societies and our planning for the better,” she said.
UNDP has developed its offer which is called “a pathway beyond recovery, towards 2030” to turn the greatest reversals of human development into a historic leap forward with the Sustainable Development Goals as the compass. Therefore, said Hussein, social protection – cash transfers, universal healthcare and access to basic services – was identified as one of the critical pathways to uprooting the inequalities that permeated societies before COVID-19 and that are still visible today.
“UNDP echoes the call by the UN Secretary General for all vulnerable countries and will support countries to leverage fiscal capacity effectively,” said Hussein, adding: “Public-Private sovereignty will be critical to build resilient social protection systems that can weather shocks, build strategies for informal sector workers, for example, and design new jobs that support youth-led interventions.”
(Mantoe Phakathi is the Communication Specialist at UNDP Eswatini)