1. The Second ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Rural Devleopment and Poverty Eradication (SOMRDPE) was held from 29 to 30 October 1998 at Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
2. The Meeting was opened by H.E. Dato’ Annuar Musa, Minister of Rural Development of Malaysia. In his opening address, the Minister noted that the Meeting was of utmost importance and urgency, since the regional financial and economic crisis had adversely affected ASEAN countries, causing increased inflationary pressures, reduced income and escalating unemployment. He emphasised that the SOMRDPE is becoming a more relevant and challenging forum to meet the pressing needs of rural development and poverty eradication.
3. The Minister urged the Meeting to contribute towards preparing a work plan on the mitigation of the crisis, especially in the rural and poverty sectors. He also reminded the Meeting of the strategies agreed upon by the Ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication at their Inaugural Meeting held in October 1997 in determining priority areas of the work plan.
4. The Meeting had an extensive discussion on the social impact of the regional financial and economic crisis, and deliberated possible strategies to address the adverse situation arising from the crisis. To this end, the Meeting adopted an ASEAN Action Plan on Social Safety Nets, which has the primary objective of building capacity in participating countries on the following :
assessing and monitoring the social impact of the crisis and identify the target groups affected and their needs;
managing and implementing safety net programmes for the disadvantaged and vulnerable;
improving the effectiveness of economic and social services delivery; and
promoting public awareness of the impact of the crisis on poverty.
5. To implement the Action Plan, the Meeting agreed to establish an ASEAN Task Force on Social Safety Nets, which aims to promote regional cooperation in response to the immediate social impacts of the crisis, with particular focus on poverty issues and the development of the rural populace. Among other responsibilities, the Task Force undertakes the following :
to develop a comprehensive regional work plan focusing on the development of social safety nets and other forms of social protection to cushion the impact of the crisis on the vulnerable and disadvantaged;
to serve as a clearinghouse for matching and provision of technical expertise to assist Member Countries in the design and development of social safety net programmes for vulnerable communities; and
to serve as a forum mobilising resources and technical assistance from international aid agencies, ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners, the ASEAN Foundation and the private sector, to implement the Task Force’s programmes and activities.
6. The First Meeting of The ASEAN Task Force on Social Safety Nets is scheduled to be held from 4-5 December 1998 in Jakarta.
7. Also high on the Meeting’s agenda were follow-up activities to the Inaugural Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication held 23 October 1997 in Subang Jaya, Malaysia; priority projects identified by the ASEAN Experts Group Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication held 17-19 December 1997 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; and the forthcoming Informal Meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication from 7-8 December 1998.
8. SOMRDPE’s priority projects focus on the training of facilitators, intensifying national and regional public awareness campaigns, and building capacities for research, assessment and monitoring of poverty. The implementation of these projects will serve to accelerate the present pace of regional cooperation on rural development and poverty eradication in line with the current economic situation.
9. The Second SOMRDPE was attended by delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the ASEAN Secretariat. Observers from Cambodia also attended the Meeting.