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Social protection in Timor Leste: The difference dialogue can make in protecting the poor

Despite being the youngest nation in Asia, Timor-Leste is taking a proactive and coordinated approach to ensure a better life for its citizens with a national Social Protection Strategy for 2017-2030.

Feature | 08 December 2017

DILI, Timor-Leste (ILO News) – Aida Mota is one of the dedicated government officials behind the development of Timor-Leste’s first Social Protection Strategy. As National Director for Contributory Social Security at the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS), she has been tirelessly engaged with the social protection policies of the country since the early years of independence.

She remembers the impact of the 2006 crisis that led to the displacement of more than 150,000 people and left broad areas of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, in ashes. The crisis was sparked by a political dispute, but it was the population’s frustration with the slow pace of change after independence that fuelled the conflict.

Realizing the urgent need to provide better protection for its people, the Government of Timor-Leste attempted to fulfil the basic needs of its people through the development of a social protection system after the crisis.

As the National Director for Contributory Social Security at the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS), Aida Mota has witnessed several social protection programmes implemented her country.

She recalls: “We started off with a non-contributory universal social pension for the elderly, followed by the ‘Bolsa da Mãe’, (a conditional cash transfer programme targeting families with children) and then we started to work on a contributory social security scheme.”

She admits it was not an easy task. The loss of data due to the 1999 conflict and the 2006 crisis in her country made it impossible for the government and the social partners to consider the contribution from the private sector workers at the time. Then, after independence was restored in 2002, various ministries and public institutions started to establish their own programmes and policies without any coordination.

“Each of these programmes were useful but we started to notice some overlaps and gaps hindering progress towards effective poverty reduction in our country.” she says.

Realizing the potential increased effectiveness and cost-saving opportunities offered by synergies and upscaling strategies, the Government of Timor-Leste asked the ILO to help develop and implement a coordinated national social protection programme.

The ILO provided technical support including through an “Assessment Based National Dialogue” process funded by the Portuguese Cooperation under the ACTION/Portugal programme. The “Assessment Based National Dialogue” is a participatory process that brought together all relevant national stakeholders to analyse the existing social protection systems, establish shared priority policies, define a common objective, and estimate the cost of a reform.

The ACTION/Portugal programme aims to build capacity and advance social protection policies in lusophone countries in Africa and Asia. Currently the programme serves six countries, including Timor-Leste, where it supports the development the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) and the implementation of the contributory social security scheme.

“In Timor-Leste the process is being led by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, but it is no longer a stand-alone process. An additional 16 government institutions, representatives from employers’ and workers’ organizations actively participated in the process, with support from the United Nations,” explains Mota.

“Compared to other countries at a similar development stage, Timor-Leste has a rather comprehensive social protection system. The country also has levels of investment among the highest in Asia based on government expenditures,” says André Bongestabs, ILO’s Social Protection Consultant for the NSPS development process.

“Without having to drastically increase investments, but with better coordination and knowledge sharing, we can achieve greater impact, such as improved coverage and higher levels of protection to the most vulnerable, helping to lift and keep them out of extreme poverty. The National Social Protection Strategy will provide the guidelines and framework for this purpose,” concludes Bongestabs.

Timor-Leste’s Social Protection Strategy for 2017-2030

The strategy sets the goals and actions related to social protection, ensuring that all policy developments are in line with the broader National Development Plan and with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Participants conducted an analysis of the development status in the country, recognising the main challenges, such as widespread poverty and malnutrition, assessing existing social programmes, and identifying limitations and common issues.

The detailed analysis served as a basis to develop a series of recommendations to extend and improve the social protection system in Timor-Leste, including through better governance.

“When we started to gather all actors involved, we quickly realized the importance of looking at the whole picture to assess the actual effectiveness of our investment.” says Aida Mota.

“With the NSPS, our investment will be better monitored and assessed. It will help us ensure a better coverage. I am proud of this and look forward to seeing the impact on people’s lives in Timor-Leste,” says Mota.

By André Bongestabs and Gita Lingga, ILO Country Office for Indonesia and Timor-Leste

For More information

André F. Bongestabs, Social Protection Consultant, ILO Office in Timor-Leste, bongestabsa@iloguest.org.