Statement by Ms. Sonali Dayaratne, Officer in Charge, UNDP Cambodia
Report Launching and Dissemination: The Impact Evaluation of the Cash Transfer Programme for the Poor and Vulnerable Households During COVID-19
Posted July 26, 2022
Excellency Dr. Phan Phalla, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and Secretary General of the Economic and Financial Policy Committee
Excellency Dr. Chan Narith, Under Secretary of State of MEF and Secretary General of the National Social Protection Council
Ms. Benita Chudleigh, First Secretary of the Australian Embassy in Cambodia
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am greatly honoured to participate in this workshop to launch and discuss the findings and recommendations from the socio-economic impact evaluation of the “COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme for Poor and Vulnerable Households.” The report brings to the public domain some of the latest empirical evidence and insights on this historical cash transfer programme in Cambodia.
I would like to begin by commending the strong commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia, in responding quickly to the socio-economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, through health, social protection, stimulus packages and other measures. As we know, there was a considerable investment of the national budget for cash assistance transfers to the Kingdom’s vulnerable families.
I would also like to extend my appreciation to technical colleagues from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the General Secretariat of the National Social Protection Council, who have worked hard together with UNDP over the past several months, to produce this insightful evaluation of the COVID-19 cash transfer programme that we are launching today. My appreciation is also extended to our long-standing partner – the Government of Australia, for supporting this important study and other social protection system strengthening measures in the country.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
As we know, this pandemic has been much more than a health crisis; it has also been an unprecedented development crisis. It has exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities and exposed inequalities. The global shock resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on Cambodia’s economy, particularly on the key growth drivers such as tourism, construction and manufacturing exports, which collectively constituted over 70% of the country’s growth. The shrinking economy has affected all population groups, but particularly the poor and most multi-dimensionally vulnerable. According to the economic modelling conducted by UNDP in 2020 in collaboration with MEF, the poverty rate could have even doubled in the absence of any measures to mitigate its effects. Then came the good news! Among other stimulus measures, since July 2020, for the first time in the country’s history, the Royal Government rapidly rolled out cash transfers at scale, ensuring over 680,000 households who are among the poorest, the most vulnerable and those hit hardest by the pandemic, received a minimum level of social protection. This is an unprecedented achievement, and going by the findings from the evaluation, should inform us to raise the level of our ambition.
During the onset of the pandemic in-country, with our partner the Government of Australia, UNDP provided equipment, software and training for over 1,800 field officers from all around the country to quickly identify and register poor and vulnerable families. Today marks a milestone in this historic cash transfer programme, which has been implemented for 25 months. Over a 25-month timeline until June 2022, approximately US$714 million has been transferred to more than 680,000 households, including families of more than 60,000 persons with disabilities; 350,000 elderly; and 2,000 people living with HIV/AIDS.
Coming to the findings of the evaluation of the COVID-19 cash transfer programme, it was found that the programme supported positive coping mechanisms, and contributed to improving socio-economic resilience of recipients as well as reducing poverty. It also slowed the erosion of development gains achieved during the last two decades or so, during the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, based on our three rounds of surveys administered from December 2020 to June 2021, significant positive impacts of the cash transfer programme were found across human development and socio-economic indicators, including food security, nutrition, child education, savings, debt repayment, productivity, access to health, gender empowerment, and perceptions of local and national governments on transparency and service delivery.
The empirical findings from the evaluation also negated concerns over 'moral hazards,' such as, contributing to dependency or lethargy among cash recipients. At the macro level, we found substantial positive impacts of the cash transfer programme in contributing to and stimulating economic growth, reducing the prevalence of poverty, and creating local employment.
We hope that the significant evidence presented by this new report will inform further investments in social protection, that can effectively support the most vulnerable to withstand shocks which are becoming increasingly common in today’s world; build their agency; and ensure no one is left behind from the country’s development dividends. Evaluating and actively learning from the experiences of households, and the impacts the cash transfer programme has had on their lives, are essential building blocks for the design of a more inclusive social protection system that can lead to substantial inclusive development gains for the country as a whole.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
UNDP, in collaboration with the Government of Australia, our sister UN agencies, GIZ, The World Bank and other development partners, is continuing to support the Royal Government of Cambodia in its efforts to advance social protection. For UNDP, this includes through recalibration of the IDPoor targeting system, complaint mechanism, and M&E system. It also notably includes the pilot testing of a graduation-based approach to social protection, that transfers not just cash, but couples it with assets and training for recipients, with a view to build their productive capabilities and agency. We are also in the process of conducting an initial evaluation of the early impacts of the graduation-based approach to social protection, which will be shared later this year. All of this technical and other assistance is being provided with a view to support Cambodia’s achievement of the global 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, including the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals.
In concluding, we see the evaluation's findings and recommendations as an important tool to inform the country’s scaling-up of investment in social protection in Cambodia. I would like to thank the Ministry of Economy and Finance; Ministry of Planning; the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation; the General Secretariat for the National Social Protection Council; and our development partners, for their commitment to improving the IDPoor system and social protection in Cambodia.