By Amin Kef Sesay
President Julius Maada Bio has challenged the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) to commence the expansion of Social Safety Net Project nationwide, adding that he expects them to administer the programme effectively at all levels.
President Julius Maada Bio made this statement while launching the first phase of Sierra Leone’s Social Safety Net Project to strengthen livelihood systems through job creation schemes for the poorest, skills development initiatives and micro-enterprise schemes. The event took place in Kenema, Eastern Province, on Thursday 27 February 2020.
Addressing the ceremony, with ordinary citizens, local chiefs, government officials, legislators, diplomats and development partners in attendance, the President announced that: “With all of these and more interventions, we hope to level out perceived poverty and inequality disparities and build a skilled labour force with greater earning powers that will also engage in entrepreneurship, and increase national productivity”.
He said he was pleased to recognise the support of the World Bank, UNICEF and DfID, under whose aegis his government had provided predictable income support for almost 183 thousand beneficiaries – used equally for better quality nutrition (40%) and school expenses (44%) while about 12% was used for investing in productive activities or coping with unexpected events.
“So there is a net allocation to investments in the health, nutrition, and education of children. Government further advocated with the World Bank for an additional 30 million USD in order to expand the Social Safety Net Project to 16 districts in the country and to further strengthen the key building blocks of the country’s basic national safety net system.
“There is also additional funding set aside as an emergency preparedness fund. This additional funding will provide quarterly income support of Le 450 thousand per household targeting 210,000 persons including at least 13,000 persons living with disabilities, for a period of three years. This intervention will increase the access of poor households to basic services such as health, education, and nutrition,” he said.
President Bio further stated that the said additional financing would also deepen the impact of the Safety Net Project with respect to human capital development outcomes, adding that they hoped it would close gaps, promote behaviour change by increasing demand for health and education services, expand inclusion to the disabled, and improve crisis mitigation and response systems.
He also referenced the country’s national development plan to say that his government had invested heavily in education across board and believed that the outcomes of such human capital development initiatives would not only mitigate the impact of the risks and vulnerabilities among the poor in the medium to long term but it would also create the right platform and environment for inclusive development.
“So free quality education, free healthcare, expanded school feeding programmes, greater access to outpatient health services are all good for our poorest populations. The Medium-Term National Development Plan establishes a sound framework for social protection initiatives. Across all districts, there is a special focus on people living with disabilities.
“Government has already established the Social Insurance Scheme which replaced a dysfunctional civil servant and armed forces pension scheme. We have increased pension payments and initiated the provision of social cash transfers to the aged and vulnerable. My government’s wage, tax, and pensions policies have been driven by the need to close income disparities and put more money into the hands of the poorest and the most vulnerable,’ he informed his audience.
He ended by saying that of most importance would be the implications of such a project for childhood nutrition, expanded access to healthcare, support for access to education, especially for poor girls and by extension for the future of the country.
“We aspire to a country where old age, disability, gender, and socio-economic class can no longer dictate the limits of our capacity and achievement… where we will keep the poorest children in school, prevent malnourishment and stunting, support their healthy growth and development so that they not only realise their full potential by age 18, but also go on to become skilled, healthy, and resourceful adults,” he said.
In his welcome address, Chief Minister, Professor David John Francis, said that as a district they were pleased to host the launch of the project and for the confidence shown by the World Bank towards the New Direction Administration. He commended them for their strong partnership with the Government in helping the needy.
Commissioner of NaCSA, Bockarie Kokofele, said that the project, which catered for 35,000 households, would target predominantly women as key beneficiaries with 13,000 being persons with disabilities. He said that the additional financing would help government to expand the project to other parts of the country.
Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, said that the project was in line with the President’s agenda for human capital development, adding that it would help to empower persons living with disability to be self-reliant. He called on beneficiaries to make good use of the project.
World Bank Country Manager, Gayle Martin, congratulated the President and the Government of Sierra Leone on the launch of the project, adding that it could only be done by visionary leaders. She said that the Bank was providing US$30 million as part of their efforts to help the Government reduce poverty in the country.