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Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, says social protection programmes are pivotal in safeguarding the welfare of vulnerable groups, particularly where International Monetary Fund (IMF)austerity programmes arepursued and imposed.

“We need to be able to protect those who will be the losers in this. There are families, there are people, who are unemployed and they have to send their children to school, (access) healthcare and everything. We need to be able to protect those who have been marginalised…and we need to have jobs,” he said during an interview with host of the JIS’ Issues and Answers programme, Ian Boyne.

Dr. Supachai said he had proposed that the issue of support programmes for the poor be discussed at one of the sessions of the last UNCTAD meeting held in Doha, Qatar in April 2012.

“I proposed to discuss not only investments and globalization, but I want people to discuss social protection, social safety net, because you see, in this world, in spite of the fact that we are trying to alert people to the recent global crisis, there are also people in crisis,” he said.

While noting the need to assist the most vulnerable, Dr. Supachai said that funds cannot be given without conditions and proper supervision. “We cannot just give away this, we have to do it on a basis of conditionality that people will have to do something in return,” he stated.

He cited the "Bolsa Familia" support programme in Brazil, which reaches some 12.7 million people and is among the most effective social protection programmes in the world. The initiative helped approximately 29 million people out of poverty between 2003 and 2009, significantly reducing income inequality.

"The Brazilian government gives money every month to the families, telling the heads of the families,  you get the money but you make sure that all your children are sent to school, we will check, otherwise we put you in jail. This is a wonderful programme," Dr. Supachai said.

He also mentioned an employment programme in India, where the heads of households are guaranteed work for about three or six months per year. “But they have to do some work, which  the government will tell them to do, like building bridges, or doing some work in their communities and things like that, so I believe in that,” he said.

The UNCTAD head further said that there must be fiscal discipline, if these programmes are to be realized. “You have to do fiscal reform. You need to have the progressive taxation system, meaning that you have to tax the rich; tax asset owners,” he stated.

"You have to be able to have good governance. You have to have honesty, integrity in the way you do fiscal policy, he added.

In the meantime, Dr. Supachai said that Jamaica must ensure that its growth and development policies materialize under the new IMF agreement currently being negotiated.

"You have to have your own policy space (and) have your own identity in the way you tackle issues and you see the way the western countries tackled their deflationary crisis last time around, with stimulus. They did the counter cyclical policies to rescue all their financial institutions, they rescued General Motors, they rescued Chrysler…," he noted.

"They (IMF) should consult with your government, it should be your ownership. Of course, it is their money but you see the problem with the IMF is that they lend you money because they want to have the money back, but I think the philosophy is that you have to lend them money with a long time perspective that you will have the time to reform what is wrong with your economy,” he argued.

The UNCTAD Secretary General was on a two-day visit to Jamaica at the invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator A. J, Nicholson to deliver the keynote address at the opening of a recent trade symposium organised by the Ministry.