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Single National Household Registry: The Panacea for Poverty Reduction in Ghana

GNHRGhana made history as the first country sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the Millennium Development Goal one of reducing poverty by half long before the 2015 deadline set by the United Nations. In spite of this great stride, poverty remains a major challenge in Ghana, specially, in the rural areas.

Government Statistician, Dr Philomina Nyarko recently indicated that overeight million Ghanaians are poor with more than two million of the number living in extreme poverty. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS6), even though most regions in Ghana showed a reduction in poverty incidence since 2005/2006, the pattern of poverty by region remains the same.

Sixty years after independence, it is not acceptable for these huge chunks of citizens of a country blessed with a lot of natural resources to be wallowing in abject poverty.

 Fortunately for us, governments (past and present) have put in place a lot of policies and programs that are aimed at eradicating poverty in all forms in our beloved country. Prominent among these policies and programmes are the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP); Labour Intensive Public Works (LIPW), the exempt category of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) among others.  However, these programs do not seem to be making the desired impact on the poor and vulnerable in our country. 

A deeper analysis of our poverty reduction efforts reveals that the country seems to be focusing more on implementing social intervention programs for the poor and vulnerable than effective targeting the beneficiaries of such programs. The result of this imbalance in our fight against poverty is the proliferation of over forty-four (44) uncoordinated social protection programs currently being ran in Ghana.    

The bigger question is “are the benefits of these programs getting to the people who really need them?” The answer is a big “NO!” Multiplicity of social intervention programs alone never helped reduce poverty in any country. It has never!

Countries such as Brazil and South Africa who were successful in the fight against poverty did not rely solely on social intervention programs. They did so using a single registry of beneficiaries in the management of their social protection programmes. As the former President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, rightly pointed out, to win the fight against poverty, one needs a single national household register with proper indicators on how to identify the poor and vulnerable. To President Rousseff, not until poverty is given “a face, a name, an address and characteristics known to the state,” the benefits of social intervention programs will only be ending up in the wrong hands.

This is why the uncoordinated approach to Social Protection targeting in Ghana is only not cost effective but also fraught with high inclusion and exclusion errors. This results into a situation where the benefits of these program go to people who do not really need them.

The good news, however, is that the need for a Common Targeting Mechanism (CTM) for all social protection programs in the country does not elude the attention of policy makers and donor partners. It was first mooted over a decade ago in the recommendations of the Poverty and Social Impact Assessment (PSIA) Study conducted in 2004 and was reiterated in the 2007 PSIA study.

Unlike the recommendations of some studies that were left to catch dust on the shelves of research and educational institutions, government demonstrated a huge commitment towards fighting poverty when the then Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with four other ministries (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development) to implement a “Common Targeting Mechanism” which aimed at providing a common indicator to identify potential beneficiaries of pro-poor interventions in Ghana. 

The works of the implementation committees of the Common Targeting Mechanism (CTM) cumulated into the establishment of the Ghana National Household Registry (GNHR) with the mandate to compile a register of all households in Ghana from which social protection programs will select their beneficiaries. 

Since its establishment in 2015, the registry has been able to successfully complete data collection in the Upper West Region and is in advanced stage of commencing registration exercises in the Upper East and Northern Regions. It is my strongest conviction that a successful completion of this project will be will be a game changer in our fight against poverty here in Ghana. 

The benefits of the single national household register are enormous. It will help in the quick identification of the poor and vulnerable and enhance transparency in selecting beneficiaries for social protection programs in the country. This will ensure that social interventions get to people who really need them. 

A single national household register of poor and vulnerable will help achieve an effective coordination among all social protection programs in Ghana. This will make it possible for households to benefit from more than one social protection intervention simultaneously. This way, the graduation of households out of poverty permanently can be achieved with ease. 

The Ghana National Household Registry (GNHR) will also eliminate the current duplication of efforts in the fight against poverty. All Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) involved in the implementation of pro-poor interventions will not have to undertake their individual targeting and compilation of register of poor households as this information will be available in the GNHR’s database. This will help reduce cost in the implementation of social protection programs in the country. 

More so, data from the registry can also be used for public policy planning, as well as research and development in social protection for the poor, vulnerable and excluded in society. 

Poverty, they say, is the worse form of violence. As the popular American Journalist, Rick Bragg, puts it, every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it. This is why a holistic approach must be adopted in the fight against poverty in Ghana. The test of our progress as a nation will not be determined by whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it will be determined by whether we provide enough for those who have too little. 

If Ghana really wants to achieve the sustainable development goal one (1) of ending poverty in all its forms and everywhere in the country, then, the best way to go is to follow the footsteps of Brazil and other countries who have used effective targeting system to eradicate poverty among their citizens. 

Fortunately for us, funding poses no challenge to this project. The World Bank is ready to provide the required fund for the successful compilation of a single national household register for our mother land. What is left is the political will, commitment and dedication of the management and staff of the Ghana National Household Registry.  I hope and believe that all stakeholders will put their hands on deck to ensure a successful completion of this important national project. 

By Philip Dornyo