Remarks of the Resident Coordinator in Thailand at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security on 19 August 2020

The remarks of the Resident Coordinator in Thailand to mark the first meeting of the steering committee of the UN Joint Project on Social Protection

It is my pleasure to co-chair the first Project Steering Committee meeting since the inception of the UN Joint Project (UNJP) on social protection this afternoon along with Permanent Secretary Dr Porametee Vimolsiri.

As you know Dr Poramatee, the UNJP reflects the direction of UN reforms, with the UN Country Team Thailand (UNCT) coming together under the leadership of the resident coordinator, to provide integrated policy and technical advice to support governments in advancing SDGs.

As you will recall at the panel organised by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand at which we were together, I set out the approach that the UN is adopting in developing its response to the pandemic. I had emphasized the imperative for the UN to be forward leaning, cutting edge and offering thought leadership, in its engagement in Thailand to sustain development gains and build back better.

This applies to the UNJP as well. The four UN agencies working on this in close partnership with your ministry, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security office will provide rigorous, high quality and cutting-edge technical assistance to accelerate progress towards an integrated and modernized social protection system in Thailand.

Before I move into substantive comments, on behalf of the UN in Thailand, I would like to convey our deep appreciation for your leadership in championing the UNJP and your Ministry’s strong cooperation as we kickstart the implementation of the project.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up some important lessons and highlighted the importance of having an integrated social protection instrument that can be scaled up as required.

First, despite the Royal Thai Government (RTG) pulling together a comprehensive and reasonably well sequenced fiscal stimulus package, finding instruments for rapid disbursement of social transfers to households was a challenge.

Second, reaching vulnerable people, especially those that are not in the social security system was challenging. In fact, it is possible to assume the most vulnerable and marginalized, potentially may have fallen through the cracks.

Third, the policy agreement to top up the old age, child and disability grants served as a quick win as it allowed the RTG to use an existing mechanism to reach over 8 million people rapidly.  

I believe that the UNJP is very well positioned to respond to these lessons and ensure that no one is left behind.   

From where I sit, I believe that one of the biggest contributions that the UNJP can offer through the background papers that it is developing, in the context of the pandemic, is the work around SP for informal workers, including migrants, domestic workers and women. As you know they constitute over 60 percent of the labour force and are the backbone of the economy. Securing and protecting their livelihoods against future shocks will be imperative as RTG moves the needle on advancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Scaling up the child support grant coverage to 2 million (i.e. reaching half of children under 6 years) which will include the poor and the near poor will be transformative.

Thailand’s leadership on social protection for the informal sector will set the tone for the region, given that the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) looks to Thailand, as an example of best practice.

 Your ministries thought leadership will be extremely critical in making sure that the products and outcomes of this joint programme are strategic and inform the policy direction of the RTG as it moves the discussion on social protection forward.  

A whole-of-government approach to this initiative will also be imperative, as we move towards translating these background documents into policy recommendations and social protection tools. This joint programme’s success depends on the full cooperation and support from all stakeholders that are gathered here today.

Before I conclude, I want to thank Khun Poramatee, representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Finance, Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council and my UN colleagues, whose expertise represent the best of UN technical assistance forming the backbone of the UN system here in Thailand. We stand ready to support the RTG in taking this agenda forward.  

Gita Sabharwal
Resident Coordinator
Ms Gita Sabharwal
United Nations