TAMALE, Ghana (May 22, 2012) — Azara Abukari once prayed she would never again have to serve her family the brew of hot water, salt and pepper that had become their standby meal.
She is raising four grandchildren in the village of Sung: Mohammad, Fati and two girls named Aisha. Mohammed, 17, is disabled, and 4-year-old Aisha is an orphan. Before 2008, the four children often ate this ‘soup’, which quelled their hunger pains enough to let them sleep.
But in 2008, the government of Ghana’s Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program started providing small bi–monthly cash transfers to the poorest families in Ghana. The transfers are paid to about 65,000 of the country’s poorest households in Ghana, many of which are caring for elderly relatives, orphans, vulnerable children, or people with disabilities.
Yet their family still struggles. A shortage of personnel at the Department of Social Welfare, inefficient systems, and delays in funding have held up the LEAP payments, threatening to force Abukari and her grandchildren to return to their old ‘soup’ recipe.
Abukari, a widow, has no income and relies on the LEAP grants to support her grandchildren. Last year, when the LEAP payments were delayed, she visited farms after they had been harvested, scouring for scraps that had been left behind.
UNICEF Social Policy Specialist Carlos Alviar is working with the government to improve its systems. When he arrived in Ghana, he found a system clogged by red tape. He worked with LEAP co-ordinator Lawrence Ofori-Addo to improve the distribution of cash transfers.
With support from the World Bank, they helped design a new Common Targeting Mechanism to select beneficiaries. A local committee will identify the most vulnerable households, a questionnaire will confirm their level of need, and the final list will be validated by community members. These vulnerable households will be eligible for LEAP and other government welfare programs, including free health insurance and school uniforms. Alviar said this would be one of the first systems of its kind in the region.
The next step was creating a new database of recipients. Like many beneficiaries, Abukari’s family suffered from the fact that the Social Welfare Department’s records were outdated. She receives the minimum LEAP payment of 8 cedis ($4.20) a month to help care for Mohammed, who cannot speak and has difficulty walking. But because she is elderly and cares for orphaned Aisha, she qualifies for the maximum LEAP payment of 15 cedis ($8) a month.
The new database, which will be ready in June of this year, will make it easier to register and pay recipients electronically. It will also record families’ changing circumstances and alter payments accordingly.
Yet all of this is useless without access to funds. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to ensure the money for LEAP transfers is released on time—something that has not happened to date. Efforts are also underway to automate the payment process, which will be an improvement over the current manual system.
Additionally, an evaluation of LEAP’s impact found the grants were too small to significantly increase the welfare of LEAP households. Abukari has been supplementing her payments with infrequent assistance from family members and the kindness of fellow villagers.
But Alviar said the grants are “likely to be increased” this year, thanks to advocacy from UNICEF and its partners.
Abukari said dependable payments would make her difficult life easier. Before the LEAP programme, she said, her grandchildren were ‘sacked’ from the local school because they did not have uniforms. LEAP enabled her to buy the clothes, but the funding delays meant she could not afford the soap to clean them.
“If the money was regular, I would be so happy, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” she said.