By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A RESOLUTION to borrow $7.5 million for the government’s Social Safety Net Programme was passed in the House of Assembly yesterday.
Opening the debate, Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis said the programme, which will be funded by an Inter-American Development Bank loan of $7.5 million, will strengthen and modernise social services in the country.
The Social Safety Net Reform programme “represents a comprehensive re-engineering of the provision of social service in the Bahamas, with a view to improving efficiency in delivery and leading to a change in social outcomes and behaviour,” said he said.
According to Mr Halkitis, the Department of Social Services budget for 2012/2013 is about $39.96 million and of that amount, about 29 per cent is spent on the government’s food stamp programme and the school lunch programme accounts for six per cent of the overall budget, the two programmes totalling 35 per cent of the department’s budget.
This is disproportionate not only in terms of funding, considering the vast number of programmes in the Social Service’s portfolio, but it is also labour intensive for Social Services staff and administrators.
He said: “Unfortunately this amount has been pretty much constant over the last three fiscal periods and reflects the economic environment but also a certain level of inefficiency.
“The correction of this deficiency in linking assistance with behaviour is the purpose of the Social Safety Net programme.
“A lot of information about this programme has focused on the Conditional Cash Transfer component which is one aspect of the programme. However, this loan funds a programme which takes a holistic approach to improving the Bahamian system of social assistance and by extension the operations of the Department of Social Services.”
He said the key objectives of the programme include a nationwide survey on poverty in the Bahamas, modernisation of the delivery method for food stamps which is intended to reduce the administrative cost and alter the method of determining recipients for assistance, moving away from a focus on input to a concentration on output which will help individuals climb out of poverty.
Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin said the loan will ensure the government has the necessary funding to move social services in the country forward and “emancipate” those stuck in poverty.
She said: “In an effort to break that cycle of poverty we believe that this Social Safety Net reform will do that and we will bring a lot of our families who have lived in poverty for many years up where they belong, in addition to which it will revolutionise the way be deliver social services.”
During an earlier communication in Parliament last month, Mrs Griffin said the Social Safety Net reform will include consolidation of social services programmes, improved targeting and the introduction of a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme.
Mrs Griffin said CCT is an integral part of the project which “targets the poor, provides a cash grant and requires households to comply with health and education conditions primarily on part of children in the household.”
While supporting the resolution, former Minister of Social Services Loretta Butler-Turner warned that the government should not give the public the “false hope” that the programme will eliminate poverty in the Bahamas.
She said: “This programme is truly designed to try and move people beyond that (poverty) and it will not happen with the first onset of these conditional cash transfers.”
Additionally, Mrs Butler-Turner recommended a Comprehensive Family Planning Unit be added to the programme to examine issues of teenage pregnancy and pregnancy for those below the poverty line.
A resolution for a $16.5 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank for the governments Trade Sector Support Programme was also passed in addition to the National Insurance Resolution.
Other Bills passed included amendments to Industries Encouragement Act, Amendments to the College of the Bahamas and Repeal of sections 7 (2) and 7 (3) of the Police Force Act.