Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen distinguished national and international guests,
Dear All Participants!
It is my pleasure to be here in the opening of this important national forum on “National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerable People in Cambodia”. Taking this opportunity, I would like to praise the management and officials of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development for organizing this forum. I highly value the management and officials of the council who have done a splendid job and realized numerous achievements for the country and the people in the area of social protection, especially for the poor and vulnerable both in urban and rural areas.
This national forum is of great importance for the management and senior officials of the Royal Government who are in charge of overseeing social and local development work so that they can monitor and review the policy and updated progress of priority areas, especially in the face of the global economic crisis and climate change.
I am convinced that the National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerable People which is being disseminated in this forum is the actual implementation of the National Strategic Development Plan Update 2009 – 2013, the socio-economic agenda of the Royal Government. This clearly reflects the firm determination of the Royal Government in restoring and developing the economy as well as alleviating poverty incidence and realizing the CMDGs.
The Royal Government of Cambodia updated its National Strategic Development Plan in 2009 to reaffirm its focus on pro-growth and poverty reduction strategies, including the expansion of social protection coverage, assisting the people to adapt to crises, creation of human capital, productivity improvement, sustained and equitable growth. This clearly indicates that the Royal Government still considers the poverty reduction and social protection as its priority as it is working extremely hard to alleviate poverty incidence by: (1) ensuring long-term growth of 6- 7% per annum, (2) distributing the benefit of growth equitably, and (3) ensuring the sustainable use and management of natural resources.
In particular, over recent years, the Royal Government has been doing its utmost to overcome all impediments caused by the global economic crisis and domestic natural disasters and, as a result, we achieved decade’s average growth of 6% and poverty reduction was trimmed to 26% in 2009.
In 2011, the growth was initially projected to reach 7%, but due to uncertainty surrounding the US and EU economies and impact of the recent flood, we lowered our growth prediction to around 6.4%. Annual inflation rate was contained at 5.5%. Our international reserve has been increased to USD 3 billion, equivalent to 4 months of import. The poverty rate declined from 47% in 1993 to 30% in 2007, followed by further decline to 26% in 2010. We are convinced that the poverty rate will be further trimmed to 19.5% in 2015 to correspond to the CMDGs.
Moreover, the Royal Government of the Fourth Legislature of the National Assembly also gives high priority to the implementation of social safety net policy, including the improvement of workplace conditions, the enforcement of the Law on Social Security, the implementation of pension scheme for disabled workers and their dependents, and protection of workers governed by work regulations and assurance of work-related accident for all workers. Along with this, the Royal Government has been providing support to the disabled and families of the dead soldiers, as well as veterans and retirees through the implementation of a far-reaching pension system by continuing the implementation of the national social security fund.
Within this context, the Royal Government will further enforce the Law on National Social Security Fund and the Law on the Establishment of the National Veteran Pension. The Royal Government will continue to increase the salary of civil servants by 20% each year and take charge of paying 6% of the civil servants’ salary to the national social security fund till the end of the current Royal Government’s term.
In general, the social safety net or social protection are not something new to the society of Cambodia. In particular, the Rectangular Strategy – Phase II stipulates good governance in social protection by strengthening institutions and cooperation with development partners, and expanding social services and rescue programs. Along with this, the Royal Government has formulated the National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerable People to transform our vision and target into a real implementation to respond to the concern and needs of the people, especially the poor and vulnerable. The implementation of this strategy will require the strengthening of existing interventions and institutional capacity, and creation of new programs to address current loopholes. The next step of this strategy’s implementation is to identify short-term actions to maintain the stability and sustainability of social protection progress achieved so far. In the medium and short term, the national social protection strategy will prioritize the establishment of an efficient and sustained social safety net system that focus on the poor and vulnerable, with social welfare services for the vulnerable. In the long term, the National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and the Vulnerable will define a sustained and deepened framework of social protection for all Cambodian people, with provision of acceptable package of basic needs and services.
Along with this, the Royal Government is also implementing social protection-supported activities by improving human capital in health and education sector, and other social sector activities as well as other social interventions including the (a) reduction of the poor’s vulnerability, (b) natural disaster relief measures, (c) assistance for the effected people, (d) the expansion of rehabilitation and integration programs for the disable, drug addicts, trafficking victims and under-age wrongdoers, and expansion of welfare programs for elders, orphans, widows, poor families with women as heads, female victims, the homeless, veterans and their families (e) the prevention of crime and protection of community safety at communal/sangkat level, district/khan level, municipal/provincial level and national level by cooperating with development partners and other stakeholders.
Moreover, the Royal Government has been implementing the ideology of “letting no one die of starvation nor ignorance” in addition to the social protection mission, especially for the poor and vulnerable people. Through implementing this ideology the government has been providing foods for those people in need during the farming season and has been prepared to tackle any problems that arise from unexpected flooding or drought. For instance, during these past two-three months the government has taken immediate measures and paid high attention to the wellbeing of those flood affected victims both during and after the flood by helping regenerate farming activities to ensure that no one die of starvation nor ignorance.
Taking this opportunity, in order to ensure social protection for the poor and vulnerable people with broad participation from all relevant stakeholders and to ensure effective reduction of poverty and urban and rural gap, I would like to raise the following recommendations:
- Coordination: Social protection for the poor and vulnerable people is a cross-sectoral work which requires the coordination and harmonization of effective intervention and cooperation among competence ministries/institutions as well as active relation with development partners and civil society organizations that support this sector. Since most programs of social protection are cross-sectoral in nature, I would like to urge for the strengthening of facilitation mechanism heads by the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Sector Development and Rehabilitationand relevant ministries/institutions to avoid work and regional/geographical duplication, harmonize policy options and work procedures and to coordinate the use of resources and budget provided the government and development partners.
- Identification of the poor and vulnerable people for policy implementation:In order to transform social safety net into a comprehensive and broad social security regime, Cambodia must be careful with the issues of social fragmentation which cause by paying unbalance attention on certain group of people within our society. Hence, I would like to urge comprehensive and broad identification and update of poor and vulnerable families identity frequently across the country. At the same time, I would like the Ministry of Planning to cooperate with sub-national authorities in leading the work of updating poor families identity program frequently and seeking the possibility of expanding its coverage nationwide.
- Sub-national administrative roles and capacities: To realize the objectives of such strategy requires the combination of programs that cover chronic poverty and starvation and those programs for human resource capacity development that could transform the vulnerable and poor people into effective production force of the nation in order to actively contribute to country’s socio-economic development. The roles of sub-national authorities are crucial and necessary for coordinating work implementation, identifying the poor and vulnerable people, and monitoring and evaluating the efficiency of strategy implementation at the sub-national level. Taking this opportunity, I would like the working group of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Sector Development and Rehabilitation to closely and effectively cooperate with the Ministry of Interior and the National Committee for Sub-national Democratic Development in order to strengthen the roles, responsibilities, and capacities of sub-national officials in fulfilling their duties and effectively implementing the social protection strategy.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: The monitoring and evaluation of intervention programs and the whole strategy is necessary for assessing the social protection policy in Cambodia. The national strategy for social protection is a live document which is flexible to changing circumstances and the sources of vulnerability as well as assessing the systematic lessons learnt from past implementation of programs and intervention. At the same time, even though the monitoring and evaluation of special programs and intervention will be carried out by competence ministries/institutions, I would like the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Sector Development and Rehabilitation to play a coordinating role and cooperate closely with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Council for the Development of Cambodia, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Planning, to conduct general monitoring and provide technical consultancy for the implementation of the social protection strategy. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Sector Development and Rehabilitation should also prepare independent monitoring on the strategy to support dialogues that consists of true information on how to coordinate the preparation of further strategies.
Before ending, I would like to urge relevant ministries/institutions at the national and sub-national levels, national and international development partners to abide by the general principle of comprehensive implementation of programs as laid out in this strategy paper to ensure effective implementation as planned.
Finally, along with the opening of the National Forum on the Dissemination of National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerable People in Cambodia, I would like to wish Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen with Four Gems of Buddhist Blessing.