Govt implements relief program for the poor heeding IMF conditionality
By: Staff Writer
Colombo (LNW): The Government is now implementing ‘Aswesuma’ compensation) program aims to strengthen the social safety nets (SSN) to help cushion the impact of the economic crisis on the poor and vulnerable amidst the widespread public protest against the selection criteria.
The IMF staff team now in Sri Lanka will asses the progress of this IMF approved reform program which is accompanied by stronger social safety nets
The far reaching social welfare program initiated by the president heeding the condition of the International Monetary Fund for the eligibility of Extended Fund Facility of US$3 billion was stipulated to come into effect from May2023.
The Sri Lanka’s new SSN program has been launched in July 01 2023 missing the IMF ded line of May suffered from poor adequacy, coverage, and targeting.
The program has set a floor on SSN spending of Rs 187 billion in 2023 (0.6 percent of GDP, indicative target), finance ministry claimed
Minister of State for Finance, Shehan Semasinghe, said that among the 2 million Aswesuma beneficiary families, phased payments have commenced for 1.5 million families.
In the first phase, a total of Rs. 4.395 billion have been successfully transferred to the bank accounts of 689,803 beneficiaries.
Approximately 100,000 families are engaged in protests demanding payments as their names were not included in the eligible recipients list. In light of these considerations, a collective total of 2 million beneficiary families are selected for relief.
Highlighting that around Rs. 15 billion is earmarked for assisting the 1.5 million shortlisted beneficiary families, the State Minister emphasized the prompt release of necessary funds for their support.
State Minister Semasinghe further said;“The government has initiated the disbursement of funds for the initial group entitled to benefits.
Minister Semasinghe underlined that if Aswesuma benefits were acquired through fraudulent means, legal action would be initiated against such persons and in such cases, efforts to reclaim the disbursed funds will not be hesitated upon.
This program was aimed to allow the major four SSN programs (Samurdhi cash transfers and support for elderly, disabled, and chronic kidney disease) to mitigate inflation eroding per household benefits.
In parallel, the authorities will have to implement broader institutional reforms to improve efficiency, coverage, and targeting of the SSN to fulfill the IMF commitment.
The authorities have made the Welfare Benefits Board (WBB) operational as the legal entity responsible for coordinating all SSN programs and reforms.
They have also populated a new Social Registry, an electronic database of SSN beneficiaries, and obtained parliamentary approval of the new eligibility criteria for selecting beneficiaries for SSN program.
The eligibility criteria, developed with support from the World Bank, are based on objective and verifiable characteristics of households. Parliamentary approval of the welfare benefit payment scheme and application of the new eligibility criteria were expected by May.