|Subsidising the poor: A noble move by Govt|
|Tuesday, 24 January 2012 00:00|
We thus welcome measures being taken by the Government to cushion the vulnerable families. Last month the Government announced a grain loan scheme to cushion communal farmers until they get their harvest. Alongside it was a free grain programme for vulnerable families.
Now the Government is set to give cash to 300 000 families. They will get between US$10 and US$25 to meet food and health care needs. Most of the beneficiaries would be those households headed by children and the elderly. The HIV/Aids pandemic has devastated a lot of families, robbing them of the bread earners. Now it is the grandmothers and grandfathers that are carrying the burden of raising children orphaned by HIV/Aids. In quite a number of cases it is children who are taking care of their siblings.
It is such groups that desperately need assistance. The money proposed might not be much, but it will go a long way in helping these families to keep going. Getting US$10 is quite a challenge for many vulnerable families, especially in rural areas. The Department of Social Welfare now needs to find ways of getting this money to the families without any extra expenses. Previous programmes such as the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) have proved cumbersome for some of the intended beneficiaries who ended up not taking up the assistance. According to the department's director, Sydney Mishi, the Government is introducing a "harmonised cash transfer system" for the poorest families. The details of the cash transfer system have not been made public and until the details are available there will be concern about how efficient it is going to be. Governments by nature are bureaucratic organisations known for complicated ways of getting things done.
The transfer system, we are told, will run under the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Phase II. We cannot vouch for the efficiency of that programme either. We hope it will be different from previous government programmes in terms of the ease with which services are accessed. We have also had complaints from pensioners who are expected to travel long distances to get money that is not enough to cover their travel expenses. Government needs to enlist services of the corporate sector, especially the financial services companies, who have developed cost effective ways of transmitting money to all corners of the country. Money can now be transmitted electronically and collected at a local agent, who often is a trusted businessperson. The vulnerable families should be able to access their money without having to board a bus. If that money gets to them and they also access the grain, then they will have a fighting chance to go through the economic difficulties.
It is better to give the vulnerable families cash than to introduce a general subsidy that will also benefit the rich. It would be grossly unfair to have taxpayers subsidising the rich. It should be the other way round.
There are still more opportunities to cushion the vulnerable members of our society from the hardships we are currently facing as a nation. The senior citizens still need to be cushioned from transport and medical costs. We are aware that in government hospitals they already have access to free medical assistance. But getting to the hospitals becomes a challenge because we currently don't have a proper urban public transport system that would be amenable to programmes meant to assist the vulnerable members of our society.
We need to strengthen other community based support systems for the poor. One concept that should have been promoted vigorously is the Zunde Ramambo programme where chiefs were given agricultural inputs to grow food on behalf of the vulnerable members in their community. We thought this was a noble concept that was allowed to lose steam when the inclusive government came in. It is still possible to have traditional leaders playing the role of being custodians of the poor in their communities without necessarily subjecting such programmes to party politics, which is perhaps the concern of the other parties to the Global Political Agreement.
All these are stop gap measures. What we need in the long term are programmes that will lift these people from poverty and enable them to stand on their own. This will be achieved if the children have access to education to the highest level possible. We need to be sure that programmes like the Basic Education Assistance Module and the University Cadetship programme are working efficiently and easily accessible by the vulnerable groups.