For the majority of people in many low-income countries (LICs), basic social protection remains a pipedream. While there is universal social protection coverage for people in high-income countries (HICs), four in every five people in LICs, and nine in every ten people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) have no basic social protection.
Sub-Saharan Africa faces not only the problem of scarce resources, but it seems that policy makers, for a long time, have shied away from even discussing the issue. Influenced mainly by the conservative macroeconomic policy, social protection in developing countries has largely been perceived as a luxury that only rich countries can afford. Even after studies conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Africa and Asia show that provision of basic social protection for the poorest is affordable in the poorer countries, many policy-makers in developing countries have remained reluctant to explore the available possibilities.
This informed the basis of my excitement when the government of Ghana outlined a number of different social interventions such as the planting for Food and jobs which will go a long way to guarantee food security, the free senior high school program which obviously has increased enrollment and contributes significantly to attaining sustainable development goal 4 of ensuring an inclusive and quality education for all, the Nation Builders Program (NABCO) which could be classified as both an active and passive labor market intervention considering the program structure, one district one factory which if properly implemented would stimulate rural economies by providing jobs, the continuation of the school feeding program which is an in-kind transfer aimed a delivering good nutrition and ensuring a healthy pupil population among a plethora of other interventions.
All these sound perfect for increasing productivity which should drive the economy and create more opportunities for growth and development.
The NABCO PROGRAM which this article examines, unfortunately exposes the crust of the issues which have always hurdled our strive to increase our standards of living as a people in this country and reflects a certain lack of true commitment by the political class to indeed raise the standards of living of the very people who elected them into office.
Indeed pressure has always been great on successive governments to formulate and implement policies that will solve the most pressing problems of the people- in this case unemployment but the responses of governments past and current seems to always leave a big vacuum in implementation which they use every other election year to make a case for re-election and then it becomes a cycle.
Zeroing in on the NABCO program, when the objectives of this noble program was spelt out to include;
- Provide temporary employment
- Improve skills and employability
- Improve public service delivery
- Improve revenue mobilization
- Improve access to basic public services
I was excited at the idea, because for the first time we were going to have a well taught out and coordinated program which could in itself achieve comprehensive impact without being harmonized with any other programs.
The idea of training participants to increase their skill and employability particularly caught my attention, I thought to myself, this will go a long way to solve the notion of 'half baked' graduates because this was going to compliment what ever participants had already learnt in school, sharpen their skills and improve their adaptive skills to different working environments and also boost their interpersonal skills making it possible for them to co-exist with a diversity of people at work.
The program is also structured in a way that, participants were asked to select a region and district of their choice. This, participants were made to believe would inform their posting in the case that they were employed under the scheme and was expected to help cut down on living cost and the cost associated with finding accommodation and moving.
In an era where the youth have been accused of being lazy, lacking drive and not being innovative enough, this was the perfect program to galvanize the youth and for that matter young graduates to prove their worth in the various partner institutions and to challenge the status quo.
After the long talk, the program finally kicked off somewhere in November last year, 7 months down the lane of implementation, the program has been bedeviled with a lot of issues ranging from posting to payments of monthly stipends.
The program design looks perfect but implementation leaves much to be desired. The idea of posting participants to their selected districts was soon lost in rolling out the program and some participants were posted miles away from their locations or selected districts.
Eager to be gainfully employed and to begin to contribute to national development and contrary to the notion that the youth are lazy and unwilling to explore, participants posted out of their selected districts accepted the challenge and moved immediately to their posted institutions to start work, some travelling miles everyday to work and back, while others took up loans for rent.
The ability of any social protection program to achieve its intended impact rest solely on the way it is implemented.
Income security which is one of the main pillars of the program can only be achieved when income is regular and consistent. Income security is important for both society and the economy. If people have secure incomes it helps to prevent them from falling or remaining in poverty. They are also less likely to be subject to inequality. In addition secure incomes facilitate people to contribute to the economy. At an individual level, income security greatly enhances everyone’s ability to live a life of dignity. This however can only be achieved if income is regular and consistent thereby allowing recipients to plan their lives, save and spend to stimulate local economies. This was one of my biggest expectations of the NABCO program. Once young graduates were going to be guaranteed a minimum income of Ghc700, they could plan, save and invest in their future while also spending to stimulate the local economy, however participants seem to be working and hoping to get paid when the government feels like paying. The existing situation, where participants of the program are owed stipends in excess of two months in arrears defeats the purpose for which the program was set up. More worrying for me is the fact that this is not peculiar to just the NABCO program but cuts across most of the other noble ideas such as the planting for food and jobs even when we were made to believe that this country sits on enough natural resources capable of funding most of these initiatives?
Disturbing for me also is the government's inability to tackle the issue and the on going PR strategy to blame this on participants of the program, claiming a mismatch in information given by participants. It is ironical that after 7 months these mismatches are yet to be resolved.
My heart goes out particularly to those posted out of their selected regions or districts as they are inevitably the ones who suffer more from this system failure, even when they are lucky to get paid for work done three months ago, they still go through the inconvenience of having to queue in very long lines at the bank to access the money via the e-zwitch platform thus if the platform is not down like always. Is the government using a self-targeting strategy (making the resource provided relatively unattractive – so that only the poorest will want it) ? Is it fit for this purpose? If not why all this stress? legitimate questions to ask aren't they?
I believe that, it is time that the government begins to consider a comprehensive impact evaluation and to conduct a reassessment of the program to make important changes that will ensure that the program achieves great impact In its three year lifetime. The plight of the trainees aught to be considered paramount and the need to address the existing problems to ensure the program fits the social, political and economic context of our country currently cannot be over-emphasized .
The issues are real and have far-reaching consequences for those engaged in the program, everyday that the stipend is not paid, trainees continue to inch towards their wits end. The attitude of rolling out populist programs for the applauds should end now. As a country, we cannot continue to create programs to empower the youth and citizens only for those programs to become poverty traps in their right as a result of poor planning and implementation.
Any plan to recruit more trainees in the face of these issues should be halted and the existing issues resolved first.
The trainees should also be part of the process and properly informed on measures being taken to pay the three months stipend owed them, else it will only give credence to the existing perception among trainees that, monies released for the payment of their stipends have been invested in fixed deposits or T-bills by managers of the program, if not why a consistent three Month interval in payment?
BySALIFU MBA MUSTAPHA
Community Leader- MBA Foundation
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