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Prof Mavima announces raft of social protection services during COVID-19 lockdown

Paul Mavima

Professor Paul Mavima has announced his Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s measures that are consistent with its Constitutional mandate to provide social protection services to vulnerable groups including the transitory poor.

“After the declaration of COVID-19 as a national disaster and the subsequent implementation of lockdown measures to contain its spread, the Ministry scaled up its social protection programs to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and drought. The two phenomena rendered the majority of the citizens vulnerable and looking up to the state for support and protection,” Prof. Mavima told a press conference in Harare today.

The following interventions, according to Prof. Mavima have been scaled up by the Ministry:-

  1. FOOD DEFICIT MITIGATION

A total of 7 114.19 metric tons of grain was distributed to vulnerable communities in all the eight rural provinces during the month of April 2020. Cumulatively 80 000 metric tonnes of grain has been distributed to vulnerable households since January 2020. The Government programme is covering 760 000 households and World Food Programme (WFP) is covering 600 000 households. In order to protect staff and beneficiaries during this period of COVID-19 additional ward distribution points have been established with the COVID-19 medical protocols being observed. All officers in the Department of Social Welfare who were on leave were recalled to duty to ensure uninterrupted service delivery to our clientele. Only officers who are pregnant and those with medical conditions were spared since their health can be compromised if exposed to COVID-19. Whilst our clients come first, we equally care for the health, safety and welfare of our staff, therefore personal protective equipment has been provided to staff.

  • CASH FOR CEREAL

Government has disbursed a total of ZWL$3 870 089.25 to 21 431 urban Food Deficit Mitigation beneficiary households in Bulawayo and Harare in the past two weeks when the lockdown measures were put in place. A further ZWL$4 756 409.20 has been paid to 26 140 beneficiary households in Bindura, Kariba, Kwekwe, Gwanda, Plumtree, Shurugwi, Mvuma and Beitbridge.  Cash payments have replaced grain allocation in urban areas. Registration of beneficiaries is ongoing and should be completed before the end of April 2020.

  • HARMONISED SOCIAL CASH TRANSFER

Government has scaled up cash disbursement to food-poor and labour constrained households. A total of  63 000 beneficiary households in twenty three poorest districts of the country have been supported. The programme is aimed at household economic strengthening, building household resilience and reducing negative coping mechanisms. A total of ZWL$25.2 million has been disbursed since January 2020. More districts will be added on the program once targeting has been completed. The districts benefiting are Buhera, Binga, Bulilima, Chivi, Mwenezi, Mudzi, Gokwe North, Zvimba, Mazowe, Rushinga, Goromonzi, Mutare, Gweru, Chipinge, Makoni, Bindura, Zvishavane, Kariba, Mangwe, Umguza, Mzilikazi, St Mary’s and Epworth. The payments are done through one of the mobile money service providers, Ecocash.

  • PUBLIC ASSISTANCE

In the districts where there is no Harmonised Social Cash Transfers Government is assisting through the public assistance program, where vulnerable households get some cash transfers. A total of 8 551 beneficiaries were paid a total of ZWL$2 million during the same period to mitigate the effects of poverty and COVID-19. These payments are made on a monthly basis through the People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB).

  • CASH TRANSFER FOR COVID-19 RELIEF

The Ministry has submitted to Treasury a total of 201 631 beneficiaries whose livelihoods were affected by the measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19. The Ministry received lists from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, local authorities and informal traders associations. A further 800 000 beneficiaries were identified through an elaborate system of those who transact relatively low amounts on Econet’s Ecocash platform. This method is used successfully globally including in neighbouring Zambia. Payment will commence once Treasury authority is granted. ZWL$200 million is earmarked for this program in April 2020.

  • RETURNING RESIDENTS

A total of 950 returning residents were received during the period under review and were placed in mandatory quarantine centres throughout the country. The Ministry has so far spent in excess of five million dollars for their food and other basic needs. The cost of accommodation is not included as the Ministry is billed separately for accommodation services. The Ministry has a team of dedicated  professional social workers and support staff who provide professional services to our returning residents at quarantine centres. The Ministry is working hand in hand with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Non-Governmental Organisations and other stakeholders on this program.

  • Cooperating Partners

All cooperating partners providing social protection services have been placed under essential services and were given travel restriction exemption during the lockdown period, to ensure that their services reach the vulnerable communities. The Government appreciates the complimentary roles played by development partners particularly during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Pauper Burial

The outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in the ministry mobilizing additional resources for pauper burial. This is to cater for assistance to the bereaved families who cannot afford burial costs.

  1. CHILD PROTECTION

The Ministry of Public Service,  Labour and Social Welfare is coordinating the provision of child protection services during the lockdown. These include the provision of shelter and other basic services to children and adults  living and working on the streets in major cities:

  • Harare –  81 children, 149 adult men, 16 adult women and 6 toddlers are being accommodated at Beatrice Rehabilitation Centre, Mt Hampden Vocational Training Centre and Jamaica Inn Training Centre respectively.
  • Bulawayo – 31 boys are being taken care of at Jairos Jiri Training Centre.
  • Mutare – 13  boys are being housed at Simukai Training Centre
  • Masvingo – 11 boys and 1 man are placed at Mushagashi Vocational Training Centre for safety.

Social Workers within the Department of Social Welfare are moving these children to places of safety where they are being provided with meals thrice a day and other basics including blankets, clothing, soaps and other detergents.

This is being done in partnership with the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, and the following Non Governmental Organizations, Eat out Trust, Child Protection Society in Harare, Simukai in Mutare and Scripture Union in Masvingo and Bulawayo .  

We call upon the public to notify the Ministry of the presence of children on the streets so that they may be assisted. Our objective is to remove those living and working on the streets and provide for alternative livelihoods for all adults.

The Ministry is currently profiling, assessing and documenting the identified children, tracing their families and reunifications are ongoing where circumstances permit. To date a total of 46 children have been reunited and reintegrated with their families.  Case management process is  continuing to ensure that children and families identified are fully integrated into society through addressing the push and pull factors which drove them on to the streets including linkages with social protection programs implemented by Government and its cooperating partners.

Enrolment back into the formal education system will be done once schools open and school fees will be paid.  Children who cannot be reunified with their relatives or parents due to unfavorable living conditions at home, will be placed in child care Institutions for care and protection. We have so far scored remarkable success.

Clinical interventions are required for those who abuse drugs or have anti-social behaviors. Efforts are underway for some of these children and adults to undertake vocational training courses at various Vocational Training Institutions. We are trying as much as possible to discourage those removed from the streets to go back to the streets.

Provision of specialist child protection services for children in need is being done by Social Workers and other stakeholders and communities are being encouraged to report all cases of child maltreatment to authorities.

Where possible confidential reporting should be made through 116 hotline number which can be accessed from all parts of the country. Once a report is made through this platform, Social Workers and law enforcement agencies will promptly respond to safeguard and protect the children in need of care and protection.

The major challenge we are facing is shortage of transport to attend to reported cases but I am confident that our engagement with Treasury will result in us mobilizing some vehicles for this cause.

  • DISABILITY AFFAIRS
  • The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare also administers the Disabled Persons Act Chapter 17.01 which gives the Ministry the mandate to cater for the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.
  • The Department of Disability Affairs is  responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of Persons with Disabilities through implementation of various social protection services.
  • The Ministry has recently received a new structure from Public Service Commission in which the Department of Disability Affairs will have specialist personnel on disability issues in each of the 10 provinces. I will take it upon myself to make sure that these posts are filled as soon as possible, so that we take services closer to the people.
  • Persons with Disabilities across the country have been equally affected by the COVID-19 National Lockdown given that most of them are street vendors.
  • The Ministry has been registering those in the informal sector who have been affected including Persons with Disabilities. However, given that Persons with Disabilities are more vulnerable during this period, the Ministry will continue to register them for assistance so as to mitigate the adverse impact of COVID-19.
  • All Persons with Disabilities across the country who are in need of assistance are advised to approach Social Welfare Offices in their respective areas for registration, and any other assistance required like assistive devices, empowerment loans, education and training assistance.
  • LABOUR ISSUES
  • On the labour front, the Ministry remains seized with the responsibility of ensuring that occupational safety and health standards are maintained taking into consideration  the need to mainstream the protocols for COVID-19 as issued by the Health authorities.
  • The Ministry continues to institute blitz labour inspections at workplaces that are operating under the essential service exemption to check general labour standards and work place COVID-19 compliance.
  • The reports from inspections show significant compliance in companies while a few have been given specific recommendations where follow up inspections will be conducted.
  • The Ministry will also step up its workplace surveillance and labour inspection function in view of the pronouncement to broaden sectors under the essential sectors to include mining and other sectors during the lockdown extension period which extends up to 3rd May 2020.
  • The inspections that have been conducted so far have informed us of the need to develop workplace guidelines to assist employers and workers regarding workplace measures to curb the exposure to COVID-19 in the world of work.
  • The Ministry places social dialogue at the heart of resolving workplace issues associated with COVID-19 and the ongoing painful but necessary lockdown.
  • It is against this backdrop that the Ministry continues to facilitate virtual Tripartite Negotiating Forum meetings with employers and workers. The virtual TNF Principals meeting of 16th April 2020 agreed on a set of recommendations for consideration by the Taskforce and it is our intention to continuously meet and review the situation at workplaces as we enter into the extended lockdown.
  • The TNF principals will accordingly give guidance to employers and workers on all workplace matters after consultations within the auspices of the TNF.
  • As the Ministry responsible for labour we continue engaging establishments to find shop floor solutions to specific issues confronting them in line with the mandate of the Ministry to promote harmonious industrial relations and productivity during the COVID-19 period and beyond.
  • CONCLUSION

The Ministry’s personnel is part of a multi-disciplinary team comprising officials from line ministries, state security and cooperating partners. As a ministry we appreciate the team spirit displayed by all involved. Together we will win the war against COVID-19. The Ministry is committed to assisting vulnerable households including the transitory poor in the midst of drought and the COVID-19 pandemic which is leaving a number of families vulnerable and food-poor. We strive to do better all the time and any feedback given to us will be greatly appreciated.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende