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Prime Minister's Address to the Workshop on Social Assistance Programmes for Vulnerable Groups - June 26th 2001

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Address to the Workshop on Social Assistance Programmes for Vulnerable Groups

Delivered by

Prime Minister Honourable Dr. Kenny D. Anthony

at the NIS Conference Centre on Tuesday, June 26th 2001

Salutations,

Let me add my voice to the words of welcome that have been issued previously. For us in St. Lucia it is indeed a true honour and privilege to host this seminar. I cast my mind back to over a year ago when arrangements were being put in place for St. Lucia to host a similar conference. This did not bear fruit and the disappointment, frustration and inconvenience that came about as a result of the cancellation was regrettable. It is my sincere hope that all will be forgiven by the end of this seminar, because we intend to immense you in the warmth and goodwill of our people.

But let me stress however that our eagerness to host this seminar was not driven by a desire to atone for past indiscretions but by our sincere recognition of the critical importance of its theme to the development aspirations of all the countries and groups represented here.

SOCIAL INVESTMENT AND DEVELOPMENT

It is necessary, before we focus on the seminar, to reflect upon the impact of Social Investment Funds on development generally and specifically on poverty reduction efforts within our region. We would not be here today if we did not acknowledge the fact that these institutions have pioneered a new thinking and a novel approach to national development interventions. We must all take pride in this fact and profit every opportunity to champion these achievements.

Indeed, it was not only the passion to reduce poverty, but also the performance and impact of Social Investment Funds that convinced the Government of St. Lucia, upon assuming office in 1997, to vigorously pursue the establishment of the Poverty Reduction Fund as a centerpiece of its overall poverty eradication strategy.

Social Investment Funds have become operational in more than 50 countries worldwide with commitments totaling in excess of US $6 billion. Over 100, 000 projects have been financed. The success of Social Investment Funds has been highlighted by a number of reports and studies. For example, a study by the World Bank (September 2000) concluded that most of the objectives of such funding has been realized. The report was firm in its conviction that social Funds do reach the poor; that such funds have long-term impacts and that the infrastructure developed from such funds is maintained and financed at lower costs than comparable projects.

These projects are administered with a high level of community participation, in terms of both identification and implementation. This serves to ensure a degree of political and economic empowerment which is an essential aspect of the goal of poverty reduction. The participation of communities in the implementation of projects brings these persons into contact with the processes of Government and gives them a sense of self-determination, engagement and involvement. .

NEW EXPECTATIONS AND DEMANDS

However, with these accomplishments have come rising expectations and demands. That is the inescapable price of success. St. Luciaís own experience with its rural electrification programme has brought home to us the way in which success can lead to higher expectations. Inevitably, higher expectations increase the political pressure on the government. In every instance where we have electrified a rural community we have opened ourselves to criticisms from neighboring communities who accuse us of neglect and who wonder why they have not been as blessed as their neighbours. But that is not all. Once electricity is provided, the next question becomes "when are we getting telephones". This is usually followed by another; "it is time for cable T.V.? Why are we left out"?

SOME CHALLENGES

Given this and the many other challenges which confront Social Funds, I urge that your conference and all persons and organisations interested in poverty reduction and alleviation resolve to do the following:

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You must become more responsive to community needs

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You must redouble your efforts to embrace social capital consideration in your operations and approaches.

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You must take more direct responsibility for altering the landscape of procedures and interventions within our public sector that have become entrenched and in many instances, insensitive to the needs and aspirations of poor communities. There is scope in this regard for fostering more meaningful, practical and direct relationships between you and the various national ministries and agencies, because these organizations clearly need to learn from the Social Funds experience.

We now live in an age where external resources are increasingly being made available to Non Governmental Organizations rather than Central Government entities; where decentralization and good governance have become the watchwords of development strategies and, where new roles and responsibilities are evolving among the public sector, the private sector and civil society. In this context, one of the most critical challenges facing Social Funds is the transfer of its best practices to address on a much wider scale than before, the needs of the non-geographic communities of poor people.

SOCIAL INTEGRATION AND DEVELOPMENT

The World Summit for Social Development (Denmark 1995) identified social integration as a pillar of a new development model. We must all aspire to a society that reflects and is responsive to the needs of all of its citizens. This implies greater justice, democratic freedom and equality of opportunities, and is manifested in interdependence, respect, tolerance and solidarity among people.

We are all aware that there are socio-economic groups within our countries that span geographic boundaries but are nonetheless poor, without a voice, marginalized and seemingly drifting through life without any future hopes and aspirations for an improvement in their quality of life. Such a state of hopelessness cannot be allowed to fester. Social Assistance Programmes are therefore a critical element of any poverty reduction strategy. It is through such interventions that attempts can be made to address issues such as

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Longer term investments in human capital

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Reducing vulnerability to income savings; and

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Compensating for the negative impact of structural changes in the economy and general policy changes. This question is particularly important to us in St. Lucia, as we now grapple with restructuring and repositioning the banana industry. There is the spectre that communities which were once self-sufficient and economically vibrant could descend into the ranks of the poor, indigent and dispossessed. It is a frightening prospect.

WOMEN AND YOUTH IN FOCUS

Having said this I want to commend the organizers of this Seminar for identifying Women and Youth as the focus of their deliberation over the next few days. While there are other vulnerable groups that will advance claims for priority consideration, I remain convinced that the plight of women and youth is central to our long-term development prospects.

Their exclusion poses a severe threat to our societies not least because of the sheer numbers of those marginalized. The symptoms of disintegration are all too familiar to all of us. These include:

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Drugs and related criminal activity;

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Abhorrence of social norms and discipline;

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Teenage pregnancy;

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Juvenile delinquency;

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Disdain for authority;

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Incest and Child abuse and

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Domestic violence.

For too long at both the global and national level, we have paid lip service to these two vulnerable groups. There have been innumerable conferences from which several noble commitments have emerged, but not enough has resulted by way of concrete action. Social Funds can play a key role in pioneering specific actions and interventions for women and youth. The latter groups form a significant proportion of the poor.

It is not my intention to examine in detail the specific characteristics of women and youth at the international, regional and local level as I observed from the Seminarís agenda that specific presentations will be made on each of these subject areas. However, permit me to be rhetorical and ask three basic questions. These questions must be confronted if any positive responses to the needs of women and youth are to be formulated.

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How do we improve the human resource capacity of these groups and their respective organizations?

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How do we facilitate the establishment of appropriate mechanisms that will lead to a more direct role in the decision making process?

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How can we seek to create innovative social protection programmes to complement other initiatives?

OPERATIONAL ISSUES

I anticipate that this Seminar, while exploring all of these issues in detail and will also give active consideration to broader operational issues. In the first instance we must clearly articulate the specific vulnerabilities of women and youth as a pre-cursor to identifying appropriate social assistance programs. Another critical element of these deliberations will be to establish clear indicators to evaluate the cost effectiveness of various social assistance programs. We all know that our resources are limited, while the list of possible program interventions both current and future, is endless.

Moreover what works in the context of one country or community may not work in another setting or in another environment. It is therefore going to be another key task to separate the interventions from the unique socio-political context in which they occurred. This in itself will be a daunting task.

Poverty Reduction must be approached with realism. All must resist the temptation to see new interventions as the panacea to our problems. I know I speak on behalf of all countries represented here when I say that we can ill afford to utilize our resources inefficiently. In this regard the issue of co-ordination and the formal and informal linkages at the local, regional and international level will be crucial and at this juncture I would like to publicly laud the efforts of the Red Social in facilitating such linkages.

So you see it is very important that we understand that our discussions over the next two days cannot be restricted solely to country experiences of social assistance programmes. Of far greater importance is an assessment of the processes involved and how these can be accommodated within the unique operational framework of Social Funds. This, in my view should be the fundamental guiding principle for this workshop.

I hope you can see now why St. Lucia was so anxious to host this workshop. There are so many things that we can learn both collectively and as individual countries. We in St. Lucia are eager to adopt new practices and approaches in our fight against poverty and the examples set by Social Funds, including our fledgling Poverty Reduction Fund will serve us all in good stead. The challenges that we face are numerous yet exciting. They are certainly not insurmountable and I urge all participants to approach this Seminar in that spirit. Be comforted. There is no greater challenge than changing the quality of life of the poor, disposed and oppressed.

I trust too that in the midst of such a heavy workload, you will find time to enjoy the beauty that is St. Lucia. It is my hope that whilst your official business here may engage you in the study of material poverty, your unofficial time may allow you to discover the richness and wealth of the St. Lucian spirit and personality. Poverty may exist here but not in the warmth and spirit of embrace of our people.

We are all at the stage of development where the need for immediate yet innovative, co-ordinate and holistic interventions are imperatives. Indeed the cries of our vulnerable groups demand no less. We owe it to them to respond. To this end, and in recognition of the work of Social Funds in the region I pledge the unequivocal support of the Government of St. Lucia to your continued efforts, and I bid you a fruitful and productive conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.

 

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