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Electronic cash transfer delivery in Myanmar

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Assunta Sabia Catherine Salmon Maham Farhat Valentina Barca Thet Aung Lynn Shamim Zakaria

Social protection is becoming an increasingly important component of both strategic policy development and public expenditure in Myanmar. The National Social Protection Strategic Plan of 2014 has eight flagship programmes, of which four are cash transfers. The purpose of this assignment was to explore feasible means for digital delivery of social cash transfers in Myanmar; and recommend options for piloting (and subsequent scale-up) through government social protection schemes.

The assignment focused on the National Social Pension Programme implemented by Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement (MSWRR) and analysed the feasibility of e-payments for delivering transfers in this programme. We also developed an action plan for HelpAge Myanmar to pilot and test e-payments for their Dry Zone Social Pension pilot in Myingyan Township (Mandalay Region).

Challenges

The MSWRR plays a key role in the extension of social protection systems, but needs to make policy choices that promote greater efficiency in a context of limited fiscal and human resource capacity. Achieving sustainable delivery mechanisms for cash transfers is challenging, given the relative weakness of government and social and financial institutions in Myanmar, and concerns over corruption and misuse.

Whilst cash transfers are becoming increasingly important in Myanmar, their delivery mechanism typically remains manual (physical cash delivered by hand). Although manual payment has the advantages of simplicity and social interaction, it is labour intensive and poses risks related to leakage and delayed payment. Many other low- and middle-income countries use electronic or digital payment systems to deliver social payments. In recent years, an exponential growth in the coverage and take up of mobile phones in Myanmar, coupled with changes in regulation and increased market competition, have now allowed the possibility of exploring e-payments for social transfers.

Our approach

Our approach involved conducting a literature review of international examples in use of e-payments for social transfers, as well as extensive documentation review. This was complemented by a series on interviews with a range of public, private, and non-profit sector stakeholders in Yangon and Naypyitaw.

Outcomes

The final analytical report provides an overview of the ‘e-payments market’, highlighting the regulatory environment, payment service providers, and experiences of using e-payments in delivering social transfers in Myanmar. We focus on two payment mechanisms (manual and electronic) and assess their suitability in delivering the National Social Pension implemented by the Department of Social Welfare (DSW). The findings of this study will support HelpAge International in operationalising its pilot of e-payments to deliver social pensions in the Dry Zone in 2017. It should also support DSW in assessing the feasibility of e-payment options for cash transfer programmes, especially the National Social Pension Programme targeted at 90 years and above.