By Felix Mwenge
The Zambian Government has in recent years increased budgetary allocation to social protection leading to unprecedented scale up of various programs. Nonetheless, until the launch of the 2014 National Social Protection policy, social protection interventions were being implemented without a coherent
and harmonized policy framework which resulted in uncoordinated and fragmented efforts to reach the poor. Comprehensive and robust monitoring and evaluation systems to effectively evaluate the performance of key programs were also missing as a result. Based on this, the 2014 policy was built around ensuring better coordination.
Establishment of a Single Registry, which is a computer based database of beneficiaries across all social protection programs was recommended as one of the steps to take towards improving coordination quickly. This important subject formed part of this year’s Social Protection Week discussions held by the Government, through Ministry of Community Development and Social Services in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the United Nations from 27th November to 1st December 2017 in Lusaka.
From an operational perspective, the Single Registry is expected to facilitate for the oversight of multiple schemes. This may in turn help in avoiding duplication of certain activities such as data collection and management which currently happen disjointedly. Similarly, the system will likely increase efficiencies in implementation: as information becomes clear through the registry it will be easier to make and trace payments for example. This way the registry can also help clean up the system of cases of fraud or avoiding double payments to the same beneficiaries. Furthermore, the system is likely to make it easy to facilitate and monitor transitions of beneficiaries between schemes as their beneficiary history can easily be traced.
From a policy perspective, the Single Registry System can contribute to increased responsiveness and inclusiveness of interventions due to the comprehensiveness and timeliness of data, aiding quick decision making. It will also likely increase transparency and accountability as information on beneficiaries will be readily available to many stakeholders. This means alterations to the list of beneficiaries can be easily traced which can help rid the system of unqualified people being included. The Single Registry is also likely to increase complementarity in implementation as different players and stakeholders can focus on separate components of the system, again increasing efficiency.
To date the Single Registry system is being piloted in 5 districts and Government hopes that it can be rolled out to all districts in the next three years. However, there are some challenges that need to be resolved before the system can go countrywide. These were extensively discussed during the Social Protection Week.
Firstly, the system is not only computer but also internet based. As one would fear, internet services in Zambia are quite poor which brings the feasibility of the system especially in rural settings into question. The system also suffers from lack of ICT technical capacity especially at the local level as it is not easy to find ICT professionals to run the system in some districts.
Furthermore, Government reported that the Single Registry system also runs on ICT equipment that is quite expensive to acquire. This, coupled with the fact that the pilot has been considerably donor supported questions the sustainability of the system in the absence of donor support. The major concern is that while Government’s resource allocation to social protection programs has been steadily rising in recent years, the pace is too slow to be able to reach as many people as need welfare assistance and at the same time finance the running of the Single Registry system.
The above challenges notwithstanding, the Single Registry presents an opportunity for Zambia to improve the coordination of social protection programs. There is need therefore, to mobilize and engage all the relevant stakeholders to support the system so that it achieves its intended objectives. This is an opportunity to utilize the multi-sectoral and integrated approach to program implementation that the Government introduced in the 7NDP. Particularly, various institutions such as ZICTA which is in charge of ICT related issues should work closely with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services to ensure internet services and ICT equipment are provided adequately.
Lastly, there is need for the Government to show more financial commitment towards social protection in general. The population of vulnerable people is unfortunately only increasing and the resource envelope to the sector should increase commensurately. This should not only be for providing benefits but also for investments in the development of administrative systems such as the Single Registry to improve coordination.
The author is a researcher at the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR).
For details contact: The Executive Director, ZIPAR, corner of John Mbita and Nationalist roads, CSO Annex building, P.O. Box 50782, Lusaka.