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Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Opening the Dialogue on Employment, Social Protection and Safety Nets

April 16, 2012

Which way forward for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries?

Muscat, April 16, 2012 – Representatives from countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council convened in Muscat on April 15 and 16 to discuss issues of employment, social protection and safety sets in the region. The workshop was organized jointly by the Sultanate of Oman and the World Bank and was held under the patronage of his Excellency Sheikh Al-Fadhl bin Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Harthi, secretary general of the ministerial cabinet in Oman.

The two-day stakeholder consultation workshop on a new social protection and labor strategy for the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) gathered more than 100 government officials, academics and civil society representatives from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, as well as experts from multilateral and bilateral organizations in the region.

The first day presented relevant international and regional experiences and best practices in integrated and effective social safety nets, the delivery of social welfare services, the role of labor market information systems in evidence-based policy making and the political economy perspective of social security reform. The second day focused on participant interaction through focused working groups around three themes: 1) Social safety nets and social welfare programs, 2) Social security/insurance; and 3) Labor markets and employment. The participants undertook a diagnosis of each of the themes and identified the knowledge gaps, the capacity building needs and the system building requirements for their countries’ programs.

“This workshop provided the opportunity to exchange ideas and share international experiences both at the strategic and policy making levels,” said H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Said bin Saif Al Kalbani, Minister of Social Development in Oman.  “While each of the participating countries has its own social protection programs and interventions in place, the lessons learned from various initiatives in different countries allow us to benefit from evidence-based results in order to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable groups in our societies.”

Comments from participants focused on such issues as: the lack of unified and reliable beneficiary databases that cut across the often multiple organizations and agencies responsible for the administration of various social protection programs in one country, the legislative and institutional frameworks which are not always conducive to the efficient implementation of social safety nets, the need to link all the components of a social protection program and not to address each intervention independently from the others and the governance and accountability frameworks of social service delivery mechanisms.

“This workshop opens a much needed dialogue with countries of the GCC about issues of employment, social protection and social safety nets,” said Bassam Ramadan, World Bank Country Manager for Kuwait. “While the Bank has a wealth of experience on these topics internationally and regionally, our knowledge base on social protection issues in the GCC region is still very limited. Thus the importance of this dialogue in providing an entry point to identify the challenges facing the design and implementation of adequate and efficient social protection interventions.”

This workshop is the third in a series of stakeholder consultation events covering the MENA region. The first two took place in Beirut and Tunis over the past few months.

“The feedback provided by participants suggested that the Bank prospective assistance to the region focuses on the: i) de-fragmentation and coordination of social protection programs; ii) the appropriate targeting of transfers; iii) the accountability and transparency of social services; iv) the activation of transfers and empowerment of  users; v) impact evaluation and vi) knowledge sharing”, said Yasser El Gammal, World Bank Social Protection Manager in the MENA region.  “The input collected from this workshop will feed into the MENA Social Protection Strategy of the World Bank which is currently under preparation”.

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