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الموقع تحت الإنشاء

النسخة التجريبية من موقع النهضة العربية (أرض)

Panelists stress the necessity of developing the public sector and the role of the private sector in combatting COVID19 crises @ ARDD’s Regional Dialogue Series on Social Protection Series in the Arab World 2ND Session


The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held its second virtual regional dialogue session on Tuesday, April 21. The series moderator H.E. Dr. Sawsan Al-Majali, started the session by pointing out that despite the success of the health measures taken by countries to combat the pandemic, the lockdowns have affected all classes, noting that, “Some countries have taken measures to alleviate the economic impact of the crisis, such as reducing interest rates and social security systems.


The main topics that were discussed within this session included: the reality of social protection services such as social protection and welfare programs that are now in place in the Arab world; the plans to address vulnerabilities in Arab societies such as humanitarian and relief programs; development and charitable programs such as poverty reduction programs; and activities and initiatives based on religion such as donations such as Zakat money.


The session aimed to assess the status of social protection and social security for all segments of society. The session panelists included: H.E. Reem Abu Hassan, former Minister of Social Development in Jordan, H.E. Daoud Al-Deek, Deputy Minister of Social Development in Palestine, H.E. Ayman Al-Mufleh, Secretary General of the Hashemite Jordanian Charitable Organization, Dr. Hania Sholkamy, Principal Researcher in the Takaful and Dignity Program for Social Assistance and Monetary Remittances and Associate Professor at the Center for Social Research at the American University in Cairo in Egypt, Rana Jawad, founder and convener of the Social Policy Network for the Middle East and North Africa/Lecturer in Social Policy at Bath University, UK.


In the context of Palestine, according to Al-Deek, Palestine “is fighting the Coronavirus pandemic in addition to the epidemic of occupation whose interventions hinder this fight.” He added that Israel has opened sections of the segregation wall to hinder the efforts of the Palestinian Authority in controlling the pandemic, which takes Palestinian workers in the occupied areas into consideration. Despite this, the Palestinian authorities have managed to provide support, as social assistance was disbursed to 115,000 poor families, amounting to 380 million US dollars, with most of this assistance directed to the Gaza Strip. In addition to supporting thousands of families with food aid, authorities are giving special care to elderly, people with disabilities, children and women’s shelters by supplying these groups with food and hygiene materials. Al-Deek noted that the fully computerized social protection system has helped to speed up the process of dealing with those who are newly poor due to the crisis, and distributed aid in cooperation with local community institutions and Zakat committees.


At the local level, H.E. Ayman Al-Mufleh affirmed that the Jordan Hashemite Charitable Organization (JHCO), as part of the social protection system set up by the Jordanian government, is working within a plan that refers to the unified national registry provided by the Ministry of Social Development. Al-Mufleh added that JHCO prioritized daily workers who have suffered the loss of their income, as well as helping Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps as well as the Yemenis and the Sudanese people that are in need. He noted that the international organizations in Jordan were not able to  respond adequately due too to the required procedures. He also said that JHCO is working in cooperation with civil society organizations and local associations, to distribute parcels in in a manner that preserves the dignity of the recipients, and added that monitoring systems are in place and that they are keen to avoid negative transgressions.


As for civil society’s role in this crisis, H.E. Reem Abu Hassan said that “The lockdown requires civil society to support the state, and that the role of associations is to provide the authorized entities of the state with the names of the affected and needy families.” She added that the associations can help with other issues that are difficult for the government to provide, such as psychological support and legal advice for affected families, while the state takes charge within the process of cash transfer for daily workers.


Abu Hassan expressed that social welfare during this Coronavirus pandemic is represented by direct aid, while social protection includes a wider system such as health, housing, work, education, and other financial aspects. She further placed emphasis on the priority of daily workers and the need to collect unified information in on social welfare needs. Abu Hassan pointed out the importance of remembering the Zakat Fund and its role in social protection and highlighted the issue of social aid funds and enhancing its role and complementarity. She added that this crisis entails an opportunity to move forward and develop priorities, especially in extending social protection to cover more groups such as daily workers, residents from Gaza and the children of Jordanian women.


Emphasizing the importance of comprehensive databases with regard to social protection,  Dr. Hania Sholkamy shared an overview of the state of social services in Egypt, stating that “5 million families applied to obtain cash assistance within the solidarity and dignity program, three million of which were deemed eligible”.” She added that the Egyptian government performance gives priority to the most affected groups, with allocating programs for workers in the informal sector. Sholkamy highlighted the necessity of raising the ceiling of these databases to include more people in need, adding that sterilization and cleaning materials should also be included in addition to food aid parcels, and she stressed the need to have a more structured and institutionalized process. Sholkamy pointed out that this crisis has revealed the degree of neglect affecting the public health sector, and that it should be a priority considering its major deficiencies. She also added that Egypt should exert significant efforts to start a program of public works to be implemented on every health unit and other related facilities.


Reflecting on the Arab region, Dr. Rana Jawad questioned “whether the current problems perpetuate inequality in Arab countries or create new opportunities for social protection.” She added that marginalization, isolation, and vulnerability had a long history in the Arab world, and COVID-19 has made all vulnerable in terms of people and countries, adding to the necessity of comprehensive social protection systems. She shared that the Arab states have failed to act properly because their approaches have been reactive rather than institutional.


Jawad stressed the importance of statistics to inform the government of what is happening in society. This includes the status of informal workers, lists of new names of families who have become recently in need. She questioned the possible role of international organizations and international financial institutions, highlighting the need for universal basic income especially for countries with young societies in order to strengthen social protection systems, especially in the Arab world.


As for the recommendations in face of the Coronavirus pandemic, the panelists stressed the importance of establishing systems and laws for social protection. These should be concerned with the health conditions of all segments of society and based on research and comprehensive statistics. For the current circumstances, the necessity of continuing to distribute various forms of assistance in the face of the expected economic difficulties was stressed, and some panelists pointed out the importance of global Zakat mechanisms and how they can be utilized.  Further, it was suggested that in light of the current situation, universal basic income could be paid for both women and men in need for a period of 6 months.


The speakers agreed on the importance of supporting the role of the public sector in the face of COVID-19, and on the necessity of reforming institutional structures and systems to ensure social protection. The role of civil society in supporting governments with outreach was also highlighted. They also stressed the important role of the private sector in supporting the public sector as the main driver in the developmental wheel, and stressed that developing  public health infrastructure will provide social protection as  the public health infrastructure is the engine of the economy, and that Arab states need to be prepared to deal with crises. The speakers also recognized that public health is a key entry point for joining efforts in the Arab world and that social welfare is a collective, not individual, experience.


The speakers also called on the private sector – which has influence that ranges from social services like health to food to communication – to fulfill its duties which are not only limited to donations, but also involve support to communities by lowering prices and accepting less profit margins in the crises rather than exploiting it, as well as preserving workers’ rights and supporting them.


Finally, the panelists concluded that this crisis serves as a reminder of the basic principles of equality and the provision of work and life opportunities for every person, and that the world is living in a new stage that requires all countries to focus on an efficient, developed public sector. They recognized that the Arab world is not poor, but in order to utilize our resources, economic institutions and systems must cooperate and build on the principle of goodwill and public interest.


In conclusion, H.E. Sawsan AlMajali reflected on the ways that the COVID-19 crisis has restored confidence in governments in many countries, and has highlighted the importance of focusing on the government’s role in supporting the public health sector, and demonstrated the need for civil society institutions to continue to play a role in raising awareness and providing psychosocial support to vulnerable communities.