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General News of Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Source: Public Agenda

Minister Defends Dolling Out Money to the Poor

Before it is officially launched, the National Social Protection Strategy christened Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) involving direct transfer of money to people considered extremely poor is high on the news agenda with arguments both for and against it.

Critics in particular have argued that the policy is nothing but a political ploy by the NPP to reward its card bearing members or persuade voters in favour of the ruling party.

In the words of Mahama Ayariga of the opposition NDC, the policy is nothing but a "miserable handout meant to recruit more voters."

The arguments prompted the Minister of Manpower, Youth and Employment, Nana Akomea, to jump to the defense of the policy saying on Thursday that it is not an invention by government but rather an adoption of what has been successfully implemented in other developing countries all over the world.

He mentioned Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Zambia and Puerto Rico as countries where the policy has been introduced and is helping alleviate the most extreme forms of poverty.

He argued that the criticisms fall flat in the face of the realities of extreme poverty on the ground and that in any case it was the responsibility of government, whether in an election year or not, to put social intervention strategies in place for the benefit of vulnerable members of society.

He said the design team involves both local and international experts who have integrity, and who have been involved in the policy's success in the other countries and that stakeholders are invited to monitor the implementation process.

While admitting that dolling out money is not the solution to poverty the minister said the programme is complementary of other social protection strategies like the capitation grant, the school feeding programme and the mass transportation programme, which are all aimed at poverty alleviation. "It is a useful complement to the national development agenda."

The programme involves direct cash transfers to identifiable households who find themselves in extreme poverty situations. The amount ranges from 8 to 15 Ghana cedis with households having orphans, aged people and people with disability benefiting more. The technical definition given for a household under the project is "all people who eat from a pot."

The latest Ghana Living Standards Survey document indicates that nearly 30% of the population is extremely poor, and this is the target group of the project, which is aimed at protecting them from shocks.

Nana Akomea explained that the project would be implemented within an initial five-year period with a total budget of 26 million new cedis. The government of Ghana is providing 20 million cedis whilst the DFID and UNICEF assist with the rest.

In a defiant response to the argument that the project is a campaign ploy, Nana Akomea said his government is in fact going to step up on its developmental programmes this election year.

He said road construction, health care services and other social intervention measures would all receive a boost in the course of the year and that if they lead to voter sympathy for the NPP "why not."

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