Remarks by UNDP Deputy Country Director, Mr. Bakhodir Burkhanov at the 2nd Vietnam Social Assistance Training: Development and Implementation of Social Assistance Policy

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Date: 18th Aug 2015
Event: 2nd Vietnam Social Assistance Training: Development and Implementation of Social Assistance Policy
Venue: Sai Gon Hotel, Ha Long City

Mr. Do Manh Hung, Vice-Chairman of the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly;

Deputies of the National Assembly, representatives of provinces, research and academic institutions;

Members of the MOLISA MPSAR drafting team and representatives of other line ministries;

Dr Michael Samson from Economic Policy Research Institute in Cape Town, South Africa;

Ladies and gentlemen:

I am very pleased to welcome you to the second Social Assistance Training Course supported by UNDP’s Social Assistance Project, which this year is jointly hosted with the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly and MOLISA. I thank Vice-Chairman Hung and his Committee members for joining as hosts of this annual event, and acknowledge MOLISA colleagues for their continued commitment to this initiative.  I note that Vice-Minster Dam will be joining the course later in the week and closing the session this coming Saturday.

Last year’s course was highly successful in laying the groundwork for drafting the Master Plan for Social Assistance Reform, which has been developed with additional support from our SAP project, and is now nearing completion. As such, this year’s course focuses on the finalization and rollout of the Master Plan. That includes consolidating policy ideas on which MPSAR is based and preparing for its rollout through the necessary institutional changes. This annual course also serves a more fundamental purpose of building a cadre of social protection policymakers and professionals. It brings the latest global thinking and transfers key analytical skills to Vietnamese practitioners.  

Our knowledge provider, the Economic Policy Research Initiative, based in Cape Town in South Africa, is well known in this field, delivering similar courses for well over ten years, notably the Chiang Mai-based course, Designing and Implementing Social Transfer Programmes.  

Ladies and gentlemen:

UNDP has long supported the Government’s efforts in substantive reforms to the social assistance system and we welcome the continued prominence this topic has been given. For a host of reasons connected to the challenges Viet Nam faces as a Middle Income Country, social assistance reform has, and will continue to be, a pressing priority. These changes are central to Viet Nam’s development path as a modern citizen-centered state. As countries reach middle income status, they face a series of major structural changes including urbanization, industrialization and internal migration. Nations like Viet Nam are also becoming more globally and regionally integrated, and therefore their populations become more exposed to economic and other shocks.

Effective social protection combats these new pressures by protecting households from poverty, preventing against exposure to risks, and by promoting productive behaviors and positive choices. It also plays a role in boosting and re-distributing growth, and in facilitating inclusion. Improved social protection is therefore critical – and social assistance becomes doubly important as it focuses on the most vulnerable and insecure.

Second, I would like to emphasize that Social Assistance, which by definition is financed by the public budget, is not a cost or a form of state charity, but an investment in national development. This message lies at the heart of the MPSAR research and drafting process. By limiting the risks faced by families and individuals, based on the contingencies faced during the Human Life Cycle, Viet Nam can achieve transformative developmental outcomes. These include stronger educational attainment, greatly improved nutrition, better health and greater longevity. In turn, Social Assistance supports family livelihoods and combats economic vulnerability and poverty. Transfer payments and services enable individuals to invest in their futures and for unexploited potentials to be realized – be it through participation in higher education and training, or via entrepreneurship and new business activities. Furthermore, an expansion of social assistance directly boosts local demand, often in the poorest of communities, and helps stabilize economies in times of recession. These pay-offs boost incomes and are reflected at the macroeconomic level through higher and more sustainable economic growth. Evidence gathered to support the MPSAR suggests a basic package of reforms in Viet Nam, involving additional expenditure of around 0.5% of GDP over a five to ten-year period, could yield reductions in poverty of 13% and lead to a 2% increase in GDP.  

Third and finally, I must also refer to the set of major tasks that we all – MOLISA, the National Assembly, UNDP and other partners – still face in making the progressive vision within the MPSAR a reality. Foremost, we need to arrive at a consensus position on the concepts and definitions. In turn, we must resolve the political fiscal constraints faced, given that reforms are likely to increase the level and coverage of social transfers.  And alongside this, further work is needed on the operational and institutional means of implementing an improved social assistance system.

Over the last year, through extensive dialogue and consultation, the drafting team has successfully formulated a modern but distinctly Vietnamese set of reforms. With the right support and technical assistance and given appropriate time, I believe MOLISA can roll out the necessary improvements. However, important political and financing questions that lie between formulation and rollout, still require further attention and impetus. It is here that the National Assembly can play a key leadership role. Modeled on the widely praised reforms in health insurance, which have seen coverage levels reach close to 70%, the Social Affairs Committee is uniquely positioned to broker the policy consensus within Government which would expedite the reforms and unlock the necessary policy decisions and resources.  

Moreover, the research to support the MPSAR, which we will hear about today and tomorrow, provides clear recommendations on how an enhanced system, based on wider coverage for children, the disabled and the elderly can be secured, by identifying savings from elsewhere and setting out any additional resources needed over the medium term. As I noted, this research also provides a compelling social and economic case -  as such, over time, changes to the system will become self-supporting, while also securing a more inclusive and cohesive society and better developmental outcomes.

In closing, I reiterate UNDP’s commitment to supporting the Government during completion and rollout of the Master Plan. We once again welcome the new level of engagement with the Social Affairs Committee on this important topic.

I hope this week’s sessions and the many discussions to follow will be stimulating and rewarding.

Xin cam on va chuc suc khoe!