Cambodia’s Challenges: Improve Social Protection
Thursday, 28 August 2014; News by Chheang Vannarith
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodia has enjoyed remarkable economic growth in the last three decades.
The average growth rate was 6% from 1990 to 2013. The poverty rate was reduced from 50% in 1993 to 20.5% in 2013. But, there are still 2.9 million people who earn less than $ 1.25 per day.
Many still live in vulnerable conditions due to malnutrition, lack of basic infrastructure, low quality of health care, low human capital, vulnerable employment, and risks caused by natural disasters, deforestation, overfishing, and other natural resource depletion.
Social protection is an essential tool in poverty reduction, promoting inclusive growth, and sustainable development. It gained momentum after the release of the National Social Protection Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerability (NSPS) in 2011. NSPS provides policy guidelines and action plans to strengthen social protection system in the country.
Four vulnerable groups are identified: infants and children, girls and women at reproductive age, households vulnerable to food insecurity and unemployment, and special groups. They are ethnic minorities, elderly, children and youth at-risk, orphans, veterans, homeless people, people with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, victims of violence and people living with HIV.
But Cambodia faces challenges when implementing social protection plans.
Social safety net programs are implemented in parallel with central government structures, failing to build capacity in local government to gradually take over safety net management. This generates a vicious cycle of low local capacity and sustained parallel implementation of programs.
Social safety net programs often have no clear responsibility and accountability. Limited coordination among social protection interventions has resulted in uneven coverage, duplication of efforts, and lack of sustainability and impact.
There is no systematic way of identifying beneficiaries. Many safety net programs still rely on ad hoc targeting procedures.
Feedback and complaint resolution systems – a central pillar for guaranteeing effectiveness of safety net interventions – tend to remain underdeveloped. Only a few programs receive feedback on their effectiveness.
As an underlying challenge, the budget for safety net implementation remains low.
The current fiscal policy is not oriented towards social protection, given that the state budget for education and health sectors are marginal. Taxation system does not function well, leading to a big loss of state revenue. In turn, it creates a serious shortage of national budget allocated to support the poor and vulnerable.
To reduce poverty and vulnerability in Cambodia, the quality of basic rural infrastructure needs to be upgraded, especially education and healthcare facilities.
More support is needed for children in rural areas through the expansion of scholarship programs and school feeding. The promotion of an integrated program also can help to reduce child malnutrition.
More investment is needed to expand the coverage of the Health Equity Fund – a scheme that provides free access to health care for the poorest – and raise public awareness of the importance of maternal health and child nutrition.
Cambodia should promote programs to enhance the profitability of rice production by providing improved seeds and more effective rural extension services to help farmers shift from subsistence to commercial farming.
More resources – both financial and human – are required to support the most vulnerable groups. Skill development can uplift the poor from the poverty trap.
Chheang Vannarith, a native of Cambodia, lectures on Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds, Britain. He is also an Asian Public Intellectuals fellow of the Nippon Foundation, of Tokyo, and a senior fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace.