As 2015 draws to a close, perhaps the main concern among Zimbabwean citizens is economic survival in 2016.
As it stands, the economy is still in the doldrums and many people are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
A Zimbabwean Supreme Court ruling handed down on July 17 2015 gave companies the right to lay off workers at any time without availing terminal benefits and simply by giving them three months’ notice.
That ruling resulted in approximately 30 000 lay offs since July, meaning that some 30 000 breadwinners have had to find alternative means of survival, probably in the informal sector.
Now, considering that our economy is scarcely creating new jobs for job seekers, it is crucial to contemplate how we can introduce policy that can assist in making struggling citizens socially secure and achieve universal social security coverage.
Firstly it must be emphasized that when the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) Act was first promulgated in 1989, the global economic circumstances, and indeed the economic circumstances within Zimbabwe were different from what they are today.
Back then, the country’s developmental design was pinned on the idea of mass employment of working age citizens who would gradually contribute towards various social security related funds and schemes through NSSA.
However, in 2015 a significant proportion of our working-age citizens operate in the informal sector, which is not provided for in the National Social Security Authority Act.
Now, I have stated before, and I will state again here that policy-makers in general, and the Robin Vela-led NSSA board in particular should seriously consider providing affordable social security schemes to people who are operating in the informal sector.
Let us not forget that the national treasury has stated before that an estimated unbanked amount of USD3.5 billion is circulating in the informal sector.
That is a matter for concern, because that money eventually leaves our shores primarily to the benefit of South Africa and China where the majority of our imports come from.
Although the informal sector is often imagined to be a highly impoverished section of society that is limited to selling apples, bananas and airtime, it must be stated categorically that informal businesses in Zimbabwe are also often lucrative, and the impression that informal traders are condemned to poverty is a fallacy which stems from a lack of research.
I think we should correct that misconception by looking at how social security as been achieved in the informal sectors of India, and deciding whether Indian policy can be bench-marked in Zimbabwe.
Social Security in Informal India
In India, informal employment accounts for 93% of employment (including the agricultural sector).
One of the primary social security initiatives introduced by the government of India is the Employment Security through National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA), through which the Indian government guarantees 100 days of wage-employment in a financial year to every registered rural household.
The policy is primarily aimed at adult members of a rural household who are willing to do unskilled manual work for the 100 day period.
Of course, India can afford such an ambitious program, and perhaps Zimbabwe does not have the financial wherewithal to implement it here.
However, it is noteworthy that after Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform, a significant number of rural households could benefit from a scheme through which they contribute to an annual NSSA fund in return farm implements, particularly seed and fertilizer.
This would take the weight off the national treasury which has been providing free implements to farmers for too long.
At the same time it would protect farmers from the various bogus schemes out there such as the Lasch investments debacle which duped some 15 000 farmers out of their contributions.
Urban Social Security
Of course, not everyone is a farmer. How then can we provide social security for those in the informal economy but in the urban areas?
One way is to provide affordable healthcare schemes. If we look at China for instance, the informal population there is almost entirely covered by two separate schemes: one for the urban informal sector (URBMI – Urban Residents Basic Medical Insurance) and one for the rural population (NCMS – New Cooperative Medical Scheme).
Of course, China is a rich country that can afford to subsidize healthcare and perhaps we cannot afford to do the same here.
However, we can introduce low cost healthcare schemes administered through NSSA in partnership with the medical fraternity.
At the end of the day, it is possible for NSSA to play an active role in providing social security schemes, particularly in the areas of food, healthcare and housing.
Especially bearing in mind that around $3.3billion is circulating in the informal sector.
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