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ADB report finds Pacific countries ahead of Asia on budgetary support for social protection programmes
4:40 pm GMT+12, 10/09/2019, Philippines

By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Manila
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) says Pacific countries have progressed well in the last four years – allocating adequate resources in their national budgets to support social protection policies for the poor and vulnerable communities.
On average Pacific governments are setting aside at least six percent of their GDP to meet the costs of social protection and assistance annually. This figure is higher than the Asian average of four point seven percent of GDP, according to the ADB Report, the Social Protection Indicator (SPI) for the Pacific released in July this year.
The report assessed the effectiveness of social protection across the 13 Pacific Developing Member States of the ADB. The Social Protection Indicator (SPI) shows the level of resources invested in social protection, the extent of coverage, benefits level and distribution of expenditure in terms of poverty and gender.
One of the resource persons for the compilation of the Pacific SPI report, David Abbott told PACNEWS in Manila that very few Pacific governments recognise social protection as a single policy area.
Apart from Fiji, that approached social protection in a holistic way, other governments have individual programmes across different ministries that are not well co-ordinated, said Abbott.
“The programmes are not well co-ordinated and there are no linkage between them. This affects data collection because it’s very hard to know where to go to get the information.
Abbott, who co-ordinated data and information gathering for the ADB report admits more work needs to be done in terms of the coverage of social protection initiatives.
“The Pacific region is keeping pace, as it were, with their Asian counterpart. The reason for this is that some of the Pacific nations have very high levels of social protection mechanisms in place compared to others. 
“If you look at the figures published in the report, you will see that Timor Leste has recorded a high level expenditure including some of the north Pacific countries. But our biggest country in the region, Papua New Guinea has one of the lowest rate in the Asia Pacific region, with only one point one percent of its GDP dedicated for social protection. So we have the highest and the lowest and obviously because we have some countries which have high SPI, that pulls up the average for the region.
Abbott said one of the reasons social protection has not been a very strong policy area is because Pacific countries have strong traditional systems to look after their own vulnerable groups.
“There is a general feeling that traditional systems  are beginning to weaken as people move away from their own villages, their home countries and they go off to work in Australia, NZ or elsewhere, thus the need for government to step-in to fill the gaps.
Another challenge for Pacific governments is using promises of social welfare assistance to encourage people to vote for them.
“It’s an easy way for governments to make grand announcements to say we are going to give people over 85 years old $50 a month as an election promise. It sounds good but it will mean that the next time the election comes around, they will say, we have listened to the people and we will lower the age to 75 or to 65. What is happening then is that they are not looking at the future costs because if you bring it down to 75 or 65, then the number may double, so the amount you spend will get bigger every time because the population is aging. The number each year is increasing because health care is getting better and people are not dying young, and therefore the costs will go up, said Abbott.
ADB’s Senior Social Development Specialist in the Pacific Department, Ninebeth Carandang told PACNEWS the report is timely as it helps inform Pacific governments on their commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Social protection is a tool to meet those objectives, which recognises social protection as a multiplier effects to speed up the achievement of the SDGs, said Carandang.
“The main findings of the report in terms of social protection expenditure shows the region is spending around six percent of their GDP to pay for social insurance, social assistance and active labour market programmes. 
“Compared to the regional average the Pacific region is doing well. The regional average of 4.7% and the global average is 11.2% but till a lot of work needs to be done.
She said social insurance makes up most of the contribution by governments followed by social assistance and the active labour market is where the Pacific needs to improve on.
“National provident funds is an example of social insurance. Majority of our countries have provident funds for employed workers and Pacific countries also provide pension for elderly workers. But social insurance are biased towards formal labour, to those that are working. We have to find a way to include people that are earning in the informal sector. 
In terms of the coverage of social protection expenditures, the report said it is reaching 31.2 percent of intended beneficiaries. This means that nearly two thirds of eligible persons working in the informal sector in the Pacific are left without any support, said Carandang. 
Echoing Abbott, she said Fiji was doing very well. 
“In Fiji you have assistance going to disabled people, you have assistance going to poor people, you have assistance going to pregnant women and you have assistance going to the elderly. The Fiji Government is providing assistance to a broad range of vulnerable groups.
“The challenge now is how to sustain them. It’s not a one off thing because these vulnerable groups will always be there.
“It is not creating a culture of dependency. These people experience a high risk of poverty and are not on equal footing with the rest of the population.
“What this programmes ought to do is to have them step up, help them to eventually learn skills to be more independent and to maximise opportunities for income and livelihood generation, said Carandang.
The Social Protection Indicator is the first comprehensive and qualitative measure of social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific.


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