COVID-19 Op-ed

How the Social Protection Programme could potentially Exacerbate Inequalities in Timor-Leste Amid Covid-19

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Therese Nguyen Thi Phuong
Tam
Lecturer of Social Science Faculty, National
University of Timor-Lorosa’e

Timor
Leste was not spared from the wrath of Covid-19. Several emergency protocols
were implemented, such as movement restrictions and limited working hours. As
a result, this young and small nation suffered severely from the social and
economic impacts. The number of households that can afford only for one meal
a day increased significantly during the state of emergency (Chen &
Oxfam, 2020). The informal sectors, such as small traders and public
transport runners, suffered most. Other medium and large-scale business
sectors were also affected especially the people-oriented services.There are
several social protection measures adopted by the government to mitigate the
negative impact of State of Emergency. These include free quarantine places
for new arrivals from the border, both land and air; free electricity,
overseas students’ subsidies, 100 USD cash transfer to households, and a
proposed food vouchers for each household (RDTL, 2020). However, the
practices and implementation have revealed gap and flaws which can waste the
state budget and imply inequality and social injustice.In April 2020, the
government and the ministry of public work have initiated to provide free
electricity $30 in two months to all population with pre-paid meter
installation. Some households in remote areas with no access to electricity
would not receive $30 because they do not have a meter installation in their
house. To receive aid, each household has to send the serial number of the
meter. The Ministry of Public will recharge automatically the $30 to one’s
pre-paid meter twice in 2 months. These policy and practices imply that the
government aids are not accessible to everyone. The policy is commendable,
but the implementation creates social inequality among the population.On June
9, 2020, the government started to subsidize 200 USD to 298,000.00 households
with income below 500 USD monthly. The database on the number of households
keeps changing. In the end, the final numbers come from hamlet chiefs and
village chiefs. They have no reliable database of their population.
Commission of anti-corruption discovered that several households are not
eligible to receive the subsidy. The number of households also dramatically
increased in the year of 2020 compared with the 2019 agriculture census
(Timor Post, 2020).In August, students from all over the university in Dili
protested the injustice of cash transfer to some overseas students. They
insisted that the government and private university should provide free
enrolment for this new semester. They in fact, faced a lot of difficulties
during the State of Emergency to study online with limited resources and
family economic crisis.In June, the Economic Recovery Plan Commission was
established under the direct leadership of Prime Minister. The report was
released online, but it omitted the discussion around the academics, civil
society and community as a whole. If we look at the short-term plans, we can
foresee the same problems will happen again if they continue to use the
database that was proven problematic.Workers in the informal sector will
receive subsidies. Two-thirds of the people in this sector are women earning
their living as small traders of food and goods.The implementation period of
the short-term phase will be two months term in November and December of this
year. We expect that the government anticipates the consequences of the
strong influx of money from the state do not affect the country normal prices
of goods that may affect the consumption of basic needs; and ensure that the
women and disabled people in informal sectors who mostly have low literacy,
lack of access to information, and lack of mobility will have enough time to
register for the subsidies on time.The implementation of the Recovery Plan
may create social injustice and inflation due to urgent acts and lack of
consultation with the people. The ones who need more assistance ended up
helping the ones who are not eligible.We should have learned from flaws of
the last cash transfer, therefore collecting, storing and validating the
database is very important for future
use.

References:

Governu Timor-Leste (9 June 2020), 
Governu hahú selu apoiu osan ba uma-kain sira iha ámbitu pandemia COVID-19
nian, http://timor-leste.gov.tl/?p=24623&n=1&lang=tpRDTL
(2020). The Economic Recovery plan, Dili: 8th Constitution Government.Timor
Post (Agosto 12, 2020), Klarifikasaun kona-ba CAC nia Atuasaun iha Subsidiu
$200 ba Agregadu Familiar, https://diariutimorpost.com/2020/08/12/klarifikasaun-kona-ba-cac-nia-atuasaun-iha-subsidiu-200-ba-agregadu-familiar/Oxfam
&MDI (2020). The informal sector in Timor-Leste in the midst of
COVID-19. Dili: Oxfam.Chen, Lili & Oxfam (2020). Women in agriculture
in Timor-Leste: State of Emergency and COVID impacts, Dili: Oxfam. 

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