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Harnessing social protection during pandemics

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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.

Horizontal expansion

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.

 

Recommendations

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.

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Union Assurance empowers its policyholders by introducing free COVID-19 life coverage

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Union Assurance PLC being one of the largest insurance solution providers in Sri Lanka has further established their commitment towards the nation by staying true to its promise, ‘Your Life, Our Strength’. In turbulent times such as COVID-19, the company has taken initiative to persevere and adapt by responding to customers’ needs irrespective of the unanticipated circumstances presented.

The free COVID-19 cover has been reinstated to support both existing and new policyholders to ensure additional protection during these uncertain times. The cover provides a free death cover up to a maximum of LKR 1 million per policyholder. This free cover is valid for a period of one month commencing from 02nd November 2020 to 01st December 2020.
Union Assurance was also recognized as one of the first life insurance companies to offer hospital cash benefits for quarantine treatments since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The company therefore assures all its valued policyholders this initiative would be continued in which hospitalization per day claims directly resulting from COVID-19 will be considered from 20th October to 31st December 2020.

Amidst grave adversity Union Assurance strives to provide its unwavering commitment in offering the best in class protection coverages to its policyholders while ensuring that their families are financially empowered to face any challenge and uncertainty.

Jude Gomes, Chief Executive Officer of Union Assurance stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health, economic and social crisis and has affected people from all walks of life. We offer this timely protection cover free of charge to provide our policyholders the added peace of mind that the future of their families will be secured during these uncertain times. The specialty of this cover is that it is not just limited to our existing policyholders but is also offered to new customers and thereby giving Sri Lankans access to secure the future of their families.”

To obtain more information about this free COIVD 19 cover, call the Union Assurance 24-hour hotline on 1330, email: info@unionassurance.com; or chat with the company on www.unionassurance.com
Union Assurance is the oldest private life insurer in Sri Lanka, and is a member of the John Keells Group, Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate. Union Assurance completes over three decades of success in the industry with a market capitalization of Rs. 18 Bn, a Life Fund of Rs. 38 Bn and a Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of 434% as at August 2020. Set to empower the Sri Lankan Dream, Union Assurance offers Life Insurance solutions that cover education, health, protection, retirement, and investment needs of Sri Lankans. With 76 branches and an over 3000-strong workforce, Union Assurance continues to invest in people, products, and processes to remain agile and responsive to emerging changes in the Life Insurance industry.

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Ideal Industries acquires home grown e- commerce major Takas.lk

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Ideal Group, headed by visionary entrepreneur Nalin Welgama, in keeping with his ethos of growth through innovation, made a move pertinent with the “new normal” by acquiring one of the pioneers in the Sri Lankan e commerce industry, Takas.lk.

Having invested heavily in developing capacity in the Sri Lankan automotive sector, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Ideal Group of Companies, Nalin Welgama, is determined that a Sri Lankan built and operated company be in the forefront of e-commerce in Sri Lanka. “The Ideal Group has and always will be driven by innovation, hence our foray into the digital space with Takas.lk is both timely and appropriate, said Welgama. “We promise to strengthen Takas.lk, making it the most valuable e commerce company in Sri Lanka. The collaborative synergies of the Ideal Group of Company’s island wide touch points will further enable us to provide an unmatched service, hitherto not experienced”.

Takas.lk commenced operations in 2012 and since then has grown to be a household name in Sri Lanka. Indeed, Takas was the first company to introduce cash on delivery (COD), and enable the tokenization of credit cards. Since inception Takas has taken great pride in being a Sri Lankan company that has served Sri Lankans both here and abroad, adding value and giving satisfaction. Furthermore, the technology stack-which Takas operates on has been built completely in-house, and to date has enabled e-commerce businesses in Sri Lanka as well as overseas markets .

Speaking at the launch which was limited to a few stakeholders due to the Covid situation, Founder and Executive Chairman, Ideal Group of Companies, Nalin Welgama said “e commerce is the way of the future and is the new normal. e-commerce is here to stay, and even when the Covid situation eases, our life styles and methods of business have been irrevocably transformed. We will focus on expanding market share as more companies move their businesses online. What will be key from here onwards will be sustainability of demand from newly acquired merchants. The Covid 19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of online shopping and with it the gross merchandise volumes. Therefore we must capitalise on the prevailing strong e-commerce trends and provide many businesses a life line during these challenging macro economic conditions.”

As per statistics, Sri Lanka’s annual domestic e-commerce sales value including services is an estimated US$40-60 million. This is expected to grow to $400 million by 2022-23. “Currently, only 0.3% of Sri Lanka’s total annual retail sales ( $13 billion) are via e-commerce, thus the opportunity is huge”.

 

Takas.lk is known for its large manage-market place for electronics and under the new ownership will expand on this range of products.

Since it’s acquisition by the Ideal Group, Takas.lk has quickly expanded into the gift giving segment, daily essentials, and cakes/flowers. ” We will be working with Sri Lankan suppliers and empowering them, giving them the ability to function on a basis of ‘business as usual’ during these difficult times”. Takas’ new location on Rosmead place too is more convenient and better equipped to service their customers.

 

Subsequent to the acquisition, the existing Takas.lk management team including Lahiru Pathmalal will remain to guide the company through its transition and will work together with the Ideal team for a stipulated period in their current roles, ensuring a seamless transition. Commenting on the acquisition, Co founder Takas.lk, Lahiru Pathmalal said, “having been a part of Takas.lk from day one, I have a strong understanding of the key operations required for the success of Takas. I like to think I have a creative approach to the industry, and this combined with the wealth of resources the Ideal Group brings to play in the e-commerce game, makes me excited and motivated to help shape its future.”

Under it’s new mantle, Takas.lk has a vision of becoming ‘The’ one stop-shop for all consumer requirements and is committed to follow a service first philosophy!

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SLT Mobitel awarded prestigious ‘Project Management Excellence Award – 2020’ by PMI

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SLT Mobitel, achieved yet another significant milestone by bagging the most esteemed Project Excellence Award (PMI) 2020, by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for its Stage VIII Project themed “Project Rural MPowerment”.

Conceptualized to empower every Sri Lankan with digital inclusivity, the project facilitated rural areas by providing 4G technology across the country. Having embarked on the project in 2018 with two leading strategic partners, namely, Huawei and ZTE, the Mobitel team concluded the project 5 months ahead of its planned schedule. This multi-million-dollar endeavor involved establishing 5400+ base stations including over 3000 4G LTE nodes. As a result, people in and around the rural areas were provided with supreme connectivity and extended broadband coverage.

In 2019 alone, Mobitel made an investment of over USD 100 million in expanding its network and will invest another USD 25 million in 2020 to provide superior connectivity and broadband experience to every Sri Lankan. Having completed just before the COVID-19 outbreak, the project enabled school children to continue their education through e-Learning platforms and helped the corporate sector to adopt to the WFH concept with no interruptions. Further, the project not only enabled people in rural areas to connect with the world but also empowered the SME sector by facilitating them with broadband accessibility thus increasing their contribution to the national economy.

Commenting on the achievement, Lalith Seneviratne, Group CEO, Sri Lanka Telecom Group said “Being recognized internationally for a national level project by the Project Management Institute is a tremendous honor, and I would like to thank the Team Mobitel for their untiring commitment, dedication and loyalty to complete this project in record time. This high level of achievement has not only brought glory to Sri Lanka but has also shown that the skills and capabilities of local professionals to compete in the international market as well. I would like to thank our valued stakeholders, government officials and the PMI Sri Lanka Colombo Division, who went above and beyond duty extending their invaluable support in helping us to secure this coveted accolade”.

(SLT)

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