The ISSA President and Secretary General present a gift to Romulo Neri, President and Chief Executive Officer, Social Security System, Philippines, during the Regional Social Security Forum for Asia and the Pacific
“The financial and economic crisis has created new opportunities for social security as it has strengthened the recognition of the essential role of social security for economic development and social cohesion,” Hans-Horst Konkolewsky told delegates at the first Regional Social Security Forum for Asia and the Pacific that completed work in Manila, Philippines on 23 October.
“We should all make use of this historic moment to create a new global movement towards a worldwide social security culture,” Mr. Konkolewsky appealed.
Decisive actions to extend coverage
Concluding the meeting, the Secretary General recognized the innovative and dynamic social security strategies in evidence across the region, and underlined that political will was a precondition for effective and long-term extension of coverage.
“Social security administrators must reinforce the important link to social security in national development strategies, and nurture the political will needed for decisive actions to extend coverage to all groups of the population,” he said.
Earlier in the week, the ISSA President Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo – herself from the Philippines, and the first ISSA President from the Asia-Pacific region – had recognized the important progress accomplished by social security organizations in the region, but she underlined the remaining challenges.
“I am confident that forward-looking social security administrations in this region can be a key to extending social security and thereby contribute to strengthening social and economic development in Asia and the Pacific, Ms. de la Paz-Bernardo said.
“Important progress has been made, but many challenges related to governance, socio-economic developments, labour markets and the availability of funds remain.”
The Regional Social Security Forum gathered over 200 Chief Executive Officers, senior managers, social policy experts, representatives of international organizations and delegates from 25 countries from across the Asia and Pacific region, from Australia to China, and from Saudi Arabia to Samoa. The meeting was organized by the ISSA in collaboration with the Philippine Social Security Association.
Holistic and integrated approaches
In a regional report presented at the meeting, Dynamic Social Security for Asia and the Pacific: Integrated Responses for More Equitable Growth , the ISSA Secretary General outlined the important progress that social security had made in the region in recent years. He called for social security organizations to continue their efforts to shift from a welfare-oriented approach to a more proactive, integrated, performing and well-governed vision of social security, that contributes to socially inclusive and economically productive societies.
Participants also debated the key issue of governance of social security, and highlighted the increased focus on good governance as a condition for improved investment performance and financial sustainability.
Yvonne Sin, a China-based social protection expert formerly with the World Bank, warned that there was no single blueprint for reform, and that expectations should be realistic.
“To be effective, governance provisions must be adapted to the unique circumstances of each scheme in every country at any particular time,” Ms. Sin said. She underlined that effective governance mechanisms may help balance short- and long-term demands on investment performance in an increasingly volatile regional and global market.
The ISSA leadership updated delegates on plans for good governance guidelines for social security administrations, which will offer member institutions a reference point for a range of governance issues related to administration and management.
Improving access to health care while controlling costs is a concern for social security in many countries in the Asia and Pacific region. Several major trends impacting health-care financing were identified by regional experts and policy-makers. A number of Asian countries are experiencing a transition from communicable to life-style diseases, which, together with increased longevity, is leading to increased burdens on health-care systems.
Specialists and delegates also discussed what could be appropriate financing solutions for sustainable health care, including social insurance contribution-based financing, tax-based financing and out-of-pocket payments.
Despite the significant role of community-based insurance schemes in some countries, it was recognized that universal coverage cannot be achieved without government support and subsidy, and that tax-based funding to cover the poor and the informal sector should be considered as an investment in a country’s overall economic development.
Pension coverage and demographic ageing
The future of old age in a region where both the populations and life expectancy are growing is a concern throughout Asia and the Pacific. As Christian Aspalter, a social policy specialist teaching at Chinese universities, pointed out, “The twin issue of old-age poverty and fiscal sustainability of public pension systems will shape and fundamentally alter politics and society as a whole.”
Participants in the discussion emphasized that pension reform should be decided in the broader policy context, including labour market and family policies. Experience shows that progressive and long-term approaches are more sustainable, and that universal coverage is not possible without the active involvement of the State.
Looking forward: the Social Security Summit
In a wide-ranging Summit discussion among experts and CEOs from across the region that concluded the Regional Forum, participants considered some of the major challenges facing social security in Asia and the Pacific, and some of the obstacles to greater extension of coverage.
In her final remarks to the meeting, the ISSA President Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo emphasized that social security must be considered as a human right and as an investment in human development, and appealed for a greater focus on poverty reduction.
“Poverty reduction is still a major priority for Asia and the Pacific today. Let’s not forget that a majority of the world’s poorest people today live here in Asia. Extending social security holds a vastly under-utilized potential to help realize the poverty reduction that is so desperately sought,” Ms. de la Paz-Bernardo stated.
The Regional Social Security Forum for Asia and the Pacific was the second in a series of four regional events in preparation for the World Social Security Forum that will take place in South Africa 29 November to 4 December 2010.
Documents, videos and photos from the Regional Social Security Forum for Asia and the Pacific are available on: www.issa.int/rssf-asiapacific09