By Sifiso Nhlabatsi | 2020-04-25
A plan to distribute cash among Emaswati who have been hit hard by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was rejected by Members of Parliament yesterday in favour of food parcels.
Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku proposed a E270 million carrot to parliamentarians saying government will pay E45 million per month to cover the cost of a proposed Food Assistance Programme (FAP).
This proposal by government would have given the citizens choice in the kind of food stuff they need than being given mealie-meal, beans and cooking oil which may end up taking a lot of money in terms of logistics and in the process promote the very spread of the virus government is trying to control.
Masuku explained to parliamentarians that the proposed FAP will benefit at least 301 762 people from all four regions of the country, in rural and urban communities.
He said beneficiaries would be selected using standard targeting criteria.
“The criteria will focus on the most vulnerable and needy, who are significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. These will include people with disabilities, low income earners whose jobs and livelihoods have been directly affected, those who are chronically ill, and affected school children who were getting their meals from their schools,” the DPM explained.
He said once the planning has been completed, it would be rolled out in all Tinkhundla Centres.
Masuku said once the mode of transfer of the assistance is finalised they anticipate that the programme will be staggered beginning in May 2020 with the most vulnerable catergories of the population that are highly impacted by COVID-19.
He said the programmme would be implemented by eight NGOs that the government system has worked with in the past on similar issues.
Masuku named the NGOs as Baphalali Red Cross Society, World Vision, ACAT, ADRA, CARITAS, Women Farmer Foundation, Save the Children, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and the World Food Programme.
The DPM told parliamentarians that as public officers in the political frontline, they carry the most difficult responsibility to manage multiple priorities to prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus and its immediate and long-term consequences such as in health, food insecurity, social vulnerabilities, economic problems and a whole lot of complex human survival issues. The DPM said the pandemic has presented them with no choice but to work together and closely to make sure that the people they serve do not suffer during this period of unprecedented trauma caused by the pandemic.
Masuku assured MPs that they were part of the process, saying once they are done with the plan and process they will inform MPs at each and every step of the disbursement.
Why government opted for cash instead of food
Giving reasons why government opted to distribute cash instead of food the DPM said the modality of the food assistance initiative would be cash based transfer (CBT) across the country.
He said this was in line with the regulations of the partial lockdown which discourages large gatherings and promotes limited contact among people to curb the transmission of the coronavirus.
“Meanwhile, any other modality will cost about E20 million to execute as it requires warehousing, transportation, handling, distribution and security of food commodities,” the DPM explained.
He said the advantage of cash based transfer was that it would also empower small retail businesses in the rural areas, at a time when small businesses are struggling as a result of the partial lockdown.
Masuku informed Parliament that the World Food Programme has committed to assist government by paying the costs of the distribution if conducted through the CBT.
“This organisation has experience in this type of food assistance distribution, as they are currently involved in same in the country. WFP are already distributing funds using the CBT model to 10 food insecure Tinkhundla,” Masuku said. He listed the Tinkhundla as two in Hhohho and eight in Lubombo, benefiting 15 000 households and 75 000 people.
Masuku said these are Mhlangatane, Dvokolwako, Lomahasha, Gilgal, Mpolonjeni, Nkilongo, Siphofaneni, Sithobela, Lubulini and Madlangempisi.
He went on to explain that the food commodities already donated were to be distributed in partnership with NGOs to selected constituencies.
He said individual beneficiaries will not get food and cash at the same time, at the beginning of the process.
According to the deputy prime minister, the Vulnerability Assessment Committee would undertake a survey in the month of June to ascertain and verify the numbers of people who are not only food insecure but are also significantly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. He said it was also important to note that the vulnerability situation of the people would be a moving target, which is why the assessment would be continuous.
“The Vulnerability Assessment Committee is a government instrument working with other partners in informing it on which part of the country will need food assistance annually,” Masuku said.
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