Harnessing social protection during pandemics
Strengthening social protection systems is of critical importance to respond to shocks such as COVID-19. They play a vital role in addressing consumption shortfalls and supporting income and job security for affected communities. Many countries have been taking various measures to strengthen their social protection. These include social assistance measures like cash and in-kind transfers, social insurance measures like pensions, unemployment benefits, social security contribution waivers/subsidisation, and active labour market related measures such as wage subsidies and training measures.
The government of Sri Lanka too introduced a relief package that included both financial and non-financial assistance to help households that were affected by the pandemic. One of the key measures was a social protection measure, i.e. a monthly cash transfer of LKR 5,000 for two consecutive months (April and May 2020) to various vulnerable groups. This social protection measure was based on a number of existing social protection schemes like the Samurdhi cash transfer programme, disability assistance, farmers’ and fishermen’s pension schemes etc. In addition, committees were set up in each Grama Niladhari (GN) division/ward to identify and approve other deserving individuals and families for this cash grant.
Sri Lanka’s social protection response to COVID-19 showed a horizontal expansion/scaled-up coverage compared to the pre-COVID-19 level; it covered not only the current beneficiaries of the programmes considered (e.g. Samurdhi, elder’s assistance and disability assistance programmes) but also those who were in the waitlists as well as individuals and families selected by the Committees.
This social protection measure also indicated some level of vertical expansion, i.e. higher level of benefits compared to their pre-COVID-19 levels. Yet, the level of generosity of the benefits (compared to the pre-COVID-19 levels) varied from 0% to over 100% depending on the beneficiary category (see Figure). For example, over 100% increase in benefits was seen among the current beneficiaries of the Samurdhi and elders assistance programme while beneficiaries of the disability assistance programme and kidney patients allowance merely received their regular monthly allowance of LKR 5,000.
Despite the expansion, the cash transfer scheme had a number of limitations. Immediate/short-term measures like distribution of cash assistance are inadequate to sustain the recovery and to mitigate future crises. Long-term measures are required to strengthen Sri Lanka’s social protection.
• Integrated Social Protection System: The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for an integrated social protection system and a unified and coordinated structure at the national level as well as at the divisional level in Sri Lanka. The existing system is a fragmented system with parallel structures.
• Scaled-up /Universal Coverage: The pandemic has also shown that not only the poor and vulnerable, but all segments of the population require protection. This calls for a universal social protection system, including social protection floors.
• Digitisation of Payments: Digital payment systems are key to improve efficiency of the delivery process without delays and higher transaction costs, while complying with health guidelines to combat a pandemic. They do not require both physical mobility of people and payments in cash. Thus, it is time for Sri Lanka too to move towards a digital payment system for delivery of cash transfers.
This Policy Insight is based on the comprehensive chapter on “Harnessing Social Protection During Pandemics” in ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2020’ report – the flagship publication of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). The complete report can be purchased from the Publications Unit of the IPS.
Oil prices rise as Saudi Arabia pledges output cuts – Opec+
Oil-producing countries have agreed to continued cuts in production in a bid to shore up flagging prices.
Saudi Arabia said it would make cuts of a million barrels per day (bpd) in July and Opec+ said targets would drop by a further 1.4 million bpd from 2024.
Opec+ accounts for around 40% of the world’s crude oil and its decisions can have a major impact on oil prices.
In Asia trade on Monday, Brent crude oil rose by as much as 2.4% before settling at around $77 a barrel.
The seven hour-long meeting on Sunday of the oil-rich nations, led by Russia, came against a backdrop of falling energy prices.
Total production cuts, which Opec+ has undertaken since October 2022, reached 3.66 million bpd, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.
Opec+, a formulation which refers to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, had already agreed to cut production by two million bpd, about 2% of global demand.
Manpower services agency wins accolades for its contribution to foreign employment sector
Its MD says. ‘go abroad only if you can work hard’
Siraj Manpower Services, one of Sri Lanka’s leading foreign employment agencies, was honoured with the Three-Star Award at the ‘Golden Awards’ 2023, organised by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE). This award ceremony was organised to honour foreign employment agencies that have made a significant contribution to the development of the foreign employment sector, which is a major source of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka. Siraj Cafoor, Managing Director of Siraj Manpower Services, was presented with the award at the award ceremony which was held at the BMICH in Colombo under the patronage of Minister of Foreign Employment and Labour Manusha Nanayakkara.
Having been established in 2002, Siraj Manpower Services (www.sirajmanpower.lk) has earned a reputation in the field of foreign employment by winning the trust of customers for more than 20 years. It has been offering job opportunities in the Middle East countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia as housekeepers, drivers, sanitation workers, labourers and also jobs related to the apparel industry. All these workers are entitled to approved salary scales certified by the SLBFE.
“We always stand for the safety of workers who go abroad through our organisation. We work to solve the problems that arise in relation to the contracts that the workers have entered into. I must mention something special to those who go abroad for employment. That is, you should keep in mind that you go abroad only to work. Go abroad only if you can work hard. You have to remember that you are going abroad to earn some more money and achieve the advancement of your family.” said Siraj Cafoor.
Direct flights between Istanbul and Katunayake to commence from August
A special discussion between Turkish Ambassador – Demet Sekercioglu and Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation – Nimal Siripala de Silva took place last week at the ministry office. The aim of the discussion was to seek authorization to commence direct flights from the Turkish Capital Istanbul to Katunayake, Sri Lanka. The Chief of Turkish Airlines’ South Asia Office Fathi Bozkurt was also present during the discussion.
Currently, Turkish Airlines connects with Sri Lanka through a route that includes a stopover in the Maldives, resulting in an additional travel time of one and a half hours. The delay caused by this routing is not favored by travelers, as emphasized by the Ambassador.
The Chief of Turkish Airlines requested for time and space to be allocated in order to initiate direct flights between Istanbul and Katunaike, thus providing convenience for Turkish tourists and travelers who prefer visit Sri Lanka.
The Minister announced that the request would be forwarded to the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka and the Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) (Private) Limited. The aim is to establish direct flights between Istanbul and Katunayake starting from August this year.
Turkish Airlines, a renowned airline with a fleet of over 100 aircraft, offers flights connecting Europe’s Vancouver and New York. The Chief of Turkish Airlines said that the new service would not only benefit European travelers but also encourage them to travel to Sri Lanka.
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