The Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) has said the use of electronic payment (e-Zwich) to disburse money to beneficiaries the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) initiative has helped to eliminate some of the challenges the initiative faced in the past.
The challenges included threats of losing the money collected, travelling long distances to collect it and ensuring that the right people received the payments.
The Director of the ISSER, Professor Peter Quartey, who made this known, called for significant digital financial inclusion for all members of society, including LEAP beneficiaries.
“Technology hasn’t reached everywhere; network coverage and Internet connectivity haven’t reached everywhere and so we use the e-zwich. However, if, over time, we are able to digitalise our economy, we can use mobile money and other means of payment, where beneficiaries won’t need to travel to access the fund,” he added.
Prof. Quartey said this at a two-day workshop organised by ISSER to share its key findings from a research on women’s access to digital financial inclusion and a review of the LEAP cash transfer programme in the country.
The workshop was also meant for participants, mainly drawn from the World Food Programme (WFP), the LEAP Secretariat, UNICEF Ghana and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, to make inputs into the findings, with the aim of validating the results obtained through the study.
Prof. Quartey pointed out that specific barriers and challenges faced by women in particular could serve as a hindrance to their access to digital financial services and potentially create gender inequalities in the long run.
That, he pointed out, was what the country’s policy on digital financial services, launched in 2020, sought to avoid.
The LEAP programme
The LEAP is a cash transfer programme began in 2008 as a component of the National Social Protection Strategy.
It is to address the nutritional, health and educational needs of vulnerable households, particularly poor households and those with orphans.
The objectives of the programme, among others, are to improve household consumption and nutrition for children under two years, people with severe disabilities who are unable to work and the elderly who are 65 years and above who are without productive capacity.
Prof. Quartey explained that the programme had been implemented for almost a decade now, for which reason an independent evaluation was necessary to know where the strengths and the weaknesses were.
He said ISSER was, therefore, contracted by the WFP, in collaboration with its partners, to do the evaluation.
Making a presentation on the desk review of LEAP, the immediate past Head of the Social Division of ISSER, Rev. Prof. Adobea Yaa Owusu, mentioned some of the weaknesses of the cash-over-the-counter transfer payment to include lack of transparency in the payment system, the process not being secure, difficulty in accounting for the use of the money and auditing and the fact that it encouraged misappropriation of funds and possible corruption by programme officials.
For the electronic payment, she said the advantages included the fact that it enabled financial inclusion among beneficiaries by use of the electronic payment, transparency and easy reconciliation of accounts and auditing, making for both online and offline payments, the reduction in fraud due to the double verification system and creating a sense of prestige among rural folks of using electronic banking.
Rev. Prof. Owusu said the study revealed some of the challenges with the LEAP programme to be delay in payment and exit plan for beneficiaries, insufficiency of funds received by beneficiaries, lack of transparency in the selection process, political interference and the lack of household poverty data.
According to her, ISSER’s recommendations included continuation of the e-zwich payment system as the preferred mode, complementing the e-zwich payment mode with G-Money that was currently being piloted by the GCB Bank, improving mobile money alternative, indigenous banking, an upward adjustment of the cash amount given at least every two years and a possible doubling of the current cash transfer amount every five years.
In a welcome statement, the WFP Country Director, Barbara Clemens, said digital payments brought incredible benefits to women and local economies, but the risks were also different and unique.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the acting Director of the Department of Children, Florence Ayisi Quartey, said the LEAP programme had always submitted itself to independent evaluation.