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Developmental Dimensions of Activating the National Social Registry - Press Release

25 apr 2023

 

Ramallah, Tuesday, April 12, 2023: The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) held a roundtable session entitled “Developmental Dimensions of Activating the National Social Registry” with the participation of a select group of specialists, experts, and stakeholders, in person at the Institute's premises or via Zoom. Dr. Ahmed Majdalani, Minister of Social Development (MoSD), Mr. Samer Abdul Jaber, Country Director and Representative of the World Food Program (WFP), and Dr. Bader Al Araj, lecturer at Birzeit University, presented their interpositions on the Background/discussion paper.

In his opening remarks, the Director General of the Institute, Mr. Raja Khalidi, emphasized the importance of the subject, which comes within the framework of the Institute's domain of interest and constant follow-up of recent economic and social issues. MAS holds periodic roundtable sessions to discuss these topics, as a tool for proposing policy recommendations that are useful to the decision-making process, he added. He stressed that social development issues have become an important focus of MAS work in recent years and this latest contribution adds to that record. Khalidi also extended gratitude to Heinrich Böll Foundation (Palestine and Jordan) for supporting this session, as part of a strategic partnership in place for several years.

 

MAS’s Background Paper

In her presentation of the background paper prepared for this session, Researcher Iman Saadeh pointed out that this session discusses the role social registries play in governmental social policy, in terms of their contribution to setting inclusive policies, as well as fulfilling an operational role as an information system. Saadeh explained that these registries are dynamic, functioning according to a principle that ensures that citizens can register continuously; as any eligible citizen can apply for social protection assistance by registering in this Registry. This contributes to achieving inclusive social protection. She added that registration is possible through a website, specially designed for this purpose, or by visiting the MoSD’s physical Directorates and seeking the help of the ministry’s staff.

 

As a first stage, all current recipients of the MoSD’s services - whether the cash transfer program or any other program- will be added automatically to the National Registry.  For this purpose, since the end of 2021, the MoSD’s staff, and its trained researchers, have carried out field visits to update the data of 142 thousand households that were already registered with the Ministry. Anyone who feels he/she needs MoSD assistance or services is allowed to apply for such assistance or service, by registering on the National Social Registry, where eligibility is examined.

 

Dimensions of Social Protection in the National Social Registry and its Relevance to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The National Social Registry services a comprehensive social protection package covering both economic and social dimensions, which is in line with the concept of multidimensional poverty.  Also, the poverty equation it uses is based on variables related to household consumption expenditure to identify material poverty, in addition to various indicators measuring levels of social deprivation. Saadeh added that the Registry includes an aid package that covers various dimensions of social protection and cash and food assistance. It includes health insurance, access to health services, rehabilitation services for the disabled, school fees exemptions, and protection and rehabilitation of battered women and children. Therefore, activating the Registry contributes to achieving several goals of the 2030 SDGs.

 

 

Opportunities and Benefits of Applying the National Social Registry

As pointed out by the researcher, the MoSD should be the leader of the social development sector, and not just a service provider. On one hand, the Registry will ensure that the access of beneficiaries to the Ministry’s services and assistance, or other governmental and non-governmental partners, is subject to a special equation that guarantees justice, and equality, and is based on an assessment of eligibility. On the other hand, by using a computerized system linking the various providers of social protection services, and reducing efforts and human intervention, the Registry will ensure quick, easy, and effective access to services/assistance by those who are eligible.  In addition to mapping needs, the Registry will provide a roadmap for service providers, and make their networks’ links with beneficiaries more transparent and clearer. Setting clear priorities may encourage international and local donors to contribute to supporting the social protection system, each according to its specialization and financing agenda.

 

Challenges to Activating the National Social Registry

The application of a national Social Registry is highly costly, especially in such a financially difficult situation with the available modest budgets. Also, the Registry will face technical obstacles, and it will need constant maintenance and development. This will require capable human resources and adequate financing. Although 13 memorandums of understanding were signed with partners, the parties still need more time to adapt their systems to ensure their compatibility with the National Social Registry. In addition, technical coordination across involved ministries is needed, as each Ministry has a special protocol for assistance provided.  

Regarding human resources, they are limited in terms of efficiency and size (230 social sector researchers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip), and only a small percentage of them are qualified as case managers.  Therefore, MoSD needs more personnel and training. The infrastructure of the MoSD’s Directorates in the different governorates is still not adapted to the needs of citizens and their need for privacy when registering in the National Social Registry. Add to this, that lack of access to the internet, illiteracy, and electronic devices illiteracy plays a hand in depriving some poor segments of social protection services.

 

Critical Opinions and Potential Risks

For his part, Dr. Majdalani pointed out that the Palestinian national Registry has many advantages over several registries in neighboring countries; the latter is based on poverty, while the Palestinian national registry is based on multi-dimensional poverty. He added that the Registry is not a magic wand that can solve the problem of poverty in Palestine. It is a system that helps in dealing with the statistical issues of this problem. The importance of the national Registry lies in the approach of solution-based management; the poor are not dealt with individually but as a whole family.

He explained that the Registry aims to provide equal opportunities for all service seekers and prioritize the neediest of them based on an assessment of needs. It is expected that the Registry will help the ministry reach a wider segment of beneficiaries eligible for social development services and the neediest.

 

On the other hand, Mr. Abdul Jaber stressed the importance of constructing the social Registry for other contexts, like the social relief programs as well as for developmental programs in other cases, especially the Palestinian cause.  One of these programs that will benefit from the activation of the Social Registry is the Cash Transfer and Food Assistance program implemented by the WFP in Palestine benefiting nearly 400 thousand beneficiaries, the majority of whom come from the poorest households. Also, the Registry will enable the PA and its international and local partners to exercise more scrutiny over targeting, as well as focusing more on the latent and unused potentials of beneficiaries, rather than focusing only on their needs. He added that all social protection programs should focus on “lifting” beneficiaries out of the state of impoverishment to empowerment through supporting and auxiliary programs.

 

For his part, Dr. Bader Al Araj mentioned that though the Social Registry within the institutionalization efforts is necessary at this stage, some caveats must be taken seriously and addressed without delay to ensure that no one is excluded from support. One of these caveats, as he explained, is the lack of universal access for all the needy people from the different poor and marginalized groups. If the system remains limited to only those that it could reach, the human resources needed to energize it digitally and in the field were not recruited and wasn’t expanded to include all regions and segments that are still “left behind”, the strategic policy benefit of adopting such a Registry will be weakened. He noted that some critics drew the harsh conclusion that social registries have no role to play in modern social security systems. If governments want to transform their societies and support national recovery from COVID-19, they should, instead, focus on building inclusive and universal social security systems, along with other comprehensive public services.

 

Moving the discussion to a further level, other experts suggested that stakeholders should consider the idea of transforming the Registry, which currently targets the poor segments only, into a universal social Registry inclusive of the entire population, regardless of their material situation, to become an informational reference for the various social-development programs.

 

The participants agreed on several points; first, the Social Registry today is still a register of beneficiaries and does not constitute a unified social registry; second, the importance of the registry lies in being a tool for reaching beneficiaries and achieving the objectives of social protection programs; third self-registration through modern technological tools is also problematic for the poor, an issue of concern that must be kept in mind so that no one is left behind; finally the participants also noted the importance of developing a social protection law inclusive of all social protection components.

 

To download a copy of the full background Paper in English