By Song Sophoat
April 30, 2013: Mr. Song Sophoat (Deputy Director of the Academic Foundation Department) and ten Foundation Year students were amongst over 300 participants who attended a workshop to discuss ‘Equity and Social Protection in Cambodia,’ organized by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) and hosted at the Council of Ministers.
In her introductory remarks, Ms. Rana Flowers (UNICEF Representative) said that social protection is an important right of all citizens and a key responsibility of national and sub-national governments. She highlighted some of the various social protection instruments available: thus cash scholarships, income transfers to poor families and nutrition supplements to young children help develop an educated, healthy generation with enhanced productivity, which speeds up economic growth.
Following this, H.E. Ieng Mouly (Chairman of CARD) delivered the keynote address, in which he raised three important questions for all participants to consider: (1) How to implement a national strategic of social protection for
building social equity? (2)What are the important activities of basic administration in order to ensure that a social protection program is effective? (3) What activities for the development of social infrastructure and human construction
should be included in a basic development plan?
Regarding the present situation in Cambodia, H.E. Ngy Chanphal (Senior Minister of Special Missions and the first Vice-Chairman of CARD) observed that the social safety net for workers and the poor has not yet become an efficient system. The provision of quality public health services is still limited. In spite of numerous achievements in the health sector, the maternal mortality rate is still high. The progress in promoting health care services, sanitation and clean water in rural areas needs to be speeded up to meet the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals.
For the poor and vulnerable, there is the need to find a balance between: helping the poor to cope with social, economic and climate shocks, relieving chronic poverty and promoting their human capital to enable them to break the cycle of poverty and to participate in improving productivity and contributing to economic growth. H.E. Ngy said that to foster sustainable long-term growth and reduce volatility, there is the need to promote good governance, invest in stable and accountable institutions resilient to shocks, ensure the rule of law and fight corruption, work for the, empowerment of women and girls, invest in young people’s development and ensure universal learning, expand social protection schemes and access to health care. H.E. Ngy highlighted the need for a basic social protection package which addresses the human capital constraints of early childhood, the promotion of school attendance, working-age seasonal unemployment and old age vulnerability.
H.E. Dr. Sann Vathana, noted that social equity is underpinned by values of social justice and human rights: the fundamental rights of every human being, every child, regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, income, physical attributes, geographical location or other status. Moreover, H.E. Dr. Sann highlighted the key strategies for promoting equity such as investing in high impact low-cost interventions, innovations in service delivery, strengthening equity-focused monitoring and making equitable investments.
The third session was a workshop, where all participants were divided into three groups in order to discuss about the integration of social protection in provincial development plans at the present time, and in budget plans and future plans. The three groups had similar answers. Almost all provinces try do this activity, but there are some challenges such as difficulty of implementation, a big target population but only small money, not yet clear allocation of money for social services, limited human resources, lack of training, and lack of mechanisms for social protection. Thus, all discussion groups suggested that having training and a pilot test of social protection in some specific area, and raising social protection and social services in commune and provincial meetings.
In the concluding session, H.E. Dr. Sann Vathana observed that the implementation of social protection for the poor and vulnerable means that it is very important to have tools to enhance the social equity, especially for investing in social protection during childhood based on nutrition, education, health and sanitation which make national economic growth.
In his closing remarks, H.E. Yim Chhay Ly (Deputy Prime-Minister; Chairman of CARD) considered that the workshop, with its focus on the framework linking national strategy – most especially the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) which was approved on 18 March 2011 – to social protection and social equity, had achieved a lot and thanked all participants from different ministries, institutions, development partners and others. He concluded by providing some recommendations for the relevant ministries to consider. First, social protection has to be considered as investment for national development, by not only reducing the poverty but also expanding markets and building human capital with high knowledge and skills. Secondly, there is the need for development plans by the sub-national authorities, especially at the provincial and commune levels. Finally, whilst we can build a very long road or a big bridge or a high building in 1000 days and this infrastructure will still serve our country’s needs 10 or 20 years hence, yet in the same 1000 days, we can invest in supporting nutrition, child growth and development of future leaders,
“so I, H.E.D.P. Yim Chhay Ly, suggest that all leaders of Basic Administration try to focus on the social protection and put it in commune and provincial development plans in order to build Cambodian society with equity and pay the way for children and youths to become good leaders for our country.”
The workshop, focusing on a life-cycle-based, child-sensitive approach, was a tremendous learning opportunity for those attending. The opportunity and the challenge is now to draw up a list of clear priority actions that will benefit the poor and vulnerable, especially women and children: while many social protection schemes and programs have been implemented in health, education, and social affairs, gaps remain for vulnerable groups like poor households with children below six years-old, pregnant women and children in lower secondary education. Thus there is the need for a stronger implementation of the NSPS in partnership with national and sub-national authorities, with the assistance of the UN to support capacity development in the designing, implementing and monitoring of the NSPS’ social protection instruments.
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