Some Housekeeping Matters
Apparently, the LEAP is the “flagship programme” of the Ghana government as far as social protection is concerned. So, President John Mahama says in his 2014 State of the Nation speech, that “… through this [LEAP] programme, the Ministry has made cash grants to 74,000 of the poorest households in our country.” The plan, by Mr. President’s speech, is to increase the number of beneficiary households to 100, 000 this year and 150,000 by 2015. (Well, never mind that Mr. President’s Ministrix’ press release, which I mentioned in my previous blog, projected that the pockets of some 100, 000 households were to receive transfers by “December, 2013”; last year). Also, to His Excellency, these numbers mean “that now, the poorest 74,000 families in Ghana will be able to afford food, clothing and the cost of basic transportation” and that “[n]ow, these families will have access to healthcare and education; now, these families can even invest in some small income-generating activity.”
Clearly, the Government is very positive about the impact of the LEAP. As a matter of fact, this extremely-high expectation of the LEAP is not new. The NPP government’s 2007 National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) too states that the LEAP is aimed at reducing “extreme poverty, hunger and starvation among the most severely disabled and incapacitated persons living with disabilities”, stimulating “access to social services”, and positively impacting on the livelihood of women, children and HIV/AIDS patients. It is also believed that “when the financial capacity of the poor has been strengthened, the dividend would be recorded in the form of increased basic school enrolment among children in the extreme poor households, reduced infant mortality rate, and improved child nutrition and birth registration.” In fact, the 2007 NSPS describes the LEAP as “The New Dawn in Social Protection.” The general argument that the transfer program does alleviate life-threatening poverty is often reiterated by government officials too. For example, the Director of Finance at the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (the ministry that had oversight responsibility for the LEAP at the time) is reported to have suggested that “the local economy would be improved when the poor spent their stipends in their communities.”
Indeed, there have been questions about the LEAP since Mr. President’s speech on Tuesday. Interestingly, the queries focus on transparency and accountability rather than the impact of the program. However, as I indicated in the first part of the blog on this matter, I’ve found some time to look at the general impact of the LEAP. I’ll also attempt to answer the question whether the LEAP in particular and CCTs in general constitute a serious approach to fighting global poverty.
The LEAP’s Impact
Research on the LEAP program after nearly 4 years of implementation reveals some interesting results. A joint report by the University of Carolina, the University of Ghana and the FAO attributes 7% increase in secondary school enrolment and a reduced class repetition among both secondary and primary school children to the LEAP. Even though the report records zero impact of the LEAP on household consumption levels, the likelihood of savings and repayment of debt are recorded to have increased. NHIS enrolment was also found to have been pushed up by LEAP, though the result on morbidity is found to be “mixed”. Generally, social network is found to have been strengthened and household heads made happier by the LEAP.
Another study by Emmanuel Debra in 2013 reports that women in some coastal fishing communities as well as others in the farming communities in the northern part of the country have made good use of the LEAP cash transfer and have made returns in their petty trading. The report also indicates that access to healthcare has been stimulated by the LEAP, and that “pregnant women who were registered under LEAP gained access to antenatal care, and their children received continuous vaccinations through the mandatory immunization of children of beneficiary households.”
The Debrah report however indicates that those who report an improvement in livelihood as a result of LEAP are in the minority. Majority of those covered by the research report “disappointment”. According to one interviewee, Akosua Nyarkoaa of Winneba in the Central Region, the household’s “expenditure on food alone for one month far exceeded the income.” Akosua Nyarkoaa laments that “[t]he money got finished less than a week after receiving it because there was a tall list of items that had to be bought to keep the family alive.” Similar concerns about the near-uselessness of the stipends was reported by the universities of Carolina/Ghana report, which also captures the disconnect between the increase in NHIS enrolment and actual utilization of health services. In fact, just 9 days preceding the minister’s October 14, 2013 press release, there was a cry from the Ho Leprosarium over 9 months arrears of cash transfer to the inmates of the facility. This cycle of irregular payments was also cited as one of the down sides of the LEAP by the two reports I’ve referred to. This irregularity in the payment structure is itself a function of a far bigger problem – lack of funds. Further, the LEAP program pays no attention to the urban poor. This implies that the large army of extremely poor rural-urban migrants are left out. of this “flagship program.”
With background in mind, let’s turn to look at what we mean when we say poverty; global poverty.
A person is absolutely poor if he lives on less than $2 per day. Such persons, currently numbering about 2.7 billion (of about 7 billion world human population), lack access to safe food and water, decent clothing, shelter and, of course, basic medical care. Yet, the UN Human Development Report (2013) found that as much as thirty percent of the people in 104 countries covered by an MPI (Multidimensional Poverty Index) in 2012, is multi-dimensionally poor. This simple means that they live below US$ 1.24 a day. These 104 countries are spread mainly among the developing countries or the global south.
Far back 2001, the World Bank found that 1.1 billion of the 6.1 billion human beings in the world lived below the international poverty line of that year – $1.075 per day. This is notwithstanding the fact that the world has never been as rich as it is today. This simply means, as found by the Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, that global poverty is increasing even as global wealth increases. This trend offers a great deal of support to the argument that the form of poverty in the world is not as a result of lack of resources or wealth. It may therefore be seen that the issues of global poverty is a very complex one with various causal explanations. In fact, too complex to be tackled seriously by cash transfer programs, whether conditional or unconditional.
In his essay on eradicating global poverty, Professor Thomas Pogge, the renowned German philosopher at Yale, identifies three main causes of global poverty. He terms these causes the “grounds of injustice”, as a way of making a claim of duty so as to bring poverty into the framework of rights. The causes he identified are: (1) the effects of shared social institutions, (2) the uncompensated exclusion from the use of natural resources and (3) the effects of a common and violent history. With respect to the ground of shared social institutions, Prof. Pogge argues that there is a shared institutional order made up of rules; and that this institutional order is designed and entrenched by the powerful countries of the global north. These countries, through “their vastly superior military and economic strength” which they acquired through violent history of colonization and slavery, control these rules. He argues further, that even though these institutions are capable of shaping the global network of resource distribution to improve the lot of the poor, they have refused to do so. Prof. Pogge, concludes that these powerful states are implicated and therefore “share responsibility for their foreseeable effects” – the misery of the almost 2 billion citizens of the world. The evidence for this allegation is derived from how these powerful countries “affect the circumstances of the global poor through investments, loans, trade, bribes, military aid, sex tourism, culture exports and much else.”
It appears that we’re living in a global economy where the conditions of trade are fashioned to perpetually make some nations suppliers of raw materials to other nations that have constituted themselves into a de facto monopoly of sophisticated industry. These hegemony of heavily industrialised countries ‘purchase’ raw materials from the poor nations at extremely low prices, turn them into extremely expensive goods and services, and export them back to the developing world. It appears we’re running a global financial market where poorer countries, victims of Pogge’s violent history of colonization and slavery, seeking financial assistance are burdened with onerous conditionalities. A trade system which preaches principles of free trade and globalization, when what actually seems to happen is wealthy multinationals, wealthier and more powerful than states, of the global north being given the platform to muscle-out and collapse small enterprises of the global south. The European Union, for example, grants daily subsidies to cows at a rate ($2.20) that is more than what the farmer in Guanxi province of China, Rajasthan state of India, the Congo or Sonora in Mexico, and in fact, what about half of the world’s human population lives on in a day. The produce of this subsidised activities are then exported to the developing countries in the name of free trade and globalization, where their main effect is, actually, to push the local cattle farmer out of business. All this weakens the already-fragile economies of these developing countries. So we have created for ourselves, as found by Oxfam, a world where almost half of the total wealth is owned by just 1% percent of the population, with the bottom half of the population, 3.5 billion people, owning the same as the richest 85 people.
Under these soul-crushing circumstances, it is very difficult to see how the powerful global institutions, the World Bank, the IMF, etc., which claim to be leading the fight against global poverty, could expect to sound convincing that the fight against global poverty is an honest one. As the evidence shows above, giving out meagre stipends to the “extremely poor” hardly deals with the real causes of global poverty; and that is the problem with the CCT model in general and the LEAP in particular.
Some Closing Points
Indeed, the LEAP may enable the poor pupil to commute to the school located several kilometres away from her village. The poor fisherman may have been assisted by the LEAP stipends to access the public health facility located several miles away from his small fishing community (and we are assuming here that the LEAP programs runs smoothly without the hitches of irregular payments, effective coverage, etc.). But you see, the reality in our country is that about 40 of every 1,000 live births die before celebrating their first birthday (forget about stillbirth and maternal mortality). Twice that number per 1000 don’t make it past their fifth birthday. Those who cross over this survival line spend their next 10 years battling malnutrition, malaria, measles and other preventable diseases. A little below a quarter of them never get to see the inside of a classroom. As much as a third of those who get to see the inside of some classroom (including ‘tree-under’ classrooms) don’ t have access to secondary education. They spend the rest of their lives battling the indices of extreme poverty – lack of access to food (including clean water), basic health care, education and employment. The remaining half who proceed to secondary school come out with absolutely no employable skills (some unable to read or write). Unemployment still reigns supreme. We’re still a net importer of consumables. As if that is not enough, we are not even expected to live up to even 65 years.
“Now”, the President says “these families will have access to healthcare and education; now, these families can even invest in some small income-generating activity.” But, with this background, one cannot help but begin to wonder how these bi-monthly cash transfers, the “flagship program”, could do something about this situation. And, it’s still unclear how mere access to these facilities could help a person leap out of extreme poverty, when there is no assurance of quality and sufficiency. Apparently, most of these free schools and clinics hardly meet the standard expected of a school or a health facility.
In all, I think, CCT programs (including the LEAP) have the propensity of (and they actually are) taking governments’ already-exhausted attention off the real issues of poverty. I honestly believe that the LEAP is more of a humanitarian intervention than an attempt at eradicating poverty. At best, it keeps you alive just to go the whole hog of the “extreme poverty” you find yourself in. So, it’s like … you can’t really LEAP out.