BISP-a commitment falling short

Benazir Fund

Prior to taking an insight into the workings of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), it is appropriate to bring on record certain facts about it. The scheme, aimed towards poverty alleviation, was launched in great haste only to popularise the name of late Benazir Bhutto as a dedication and has proved counter productive in many ways.
Launching micro credit schemes on the pattern of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is a recommended framework across the world to eliminate poverty from the lowest or no income groups. The scheme has worked as a magical catalyst to change the lives of millions of women who were not only living below the poverty line but were struggling under the bread line which involves uncertainty about two meals a day. It earned the architect of the scheme, Dr. Younis, a Nobel Prize for his sincere contribution as he altered the poverty landscape of his country into an oasis of hope.
The micro credit scheme of Bangladesh is undeniable evidence to the fact that poverty cannot be alleviated by giving alms to the poor. It can only be done through a system of partnership in which the recipient is a willing and working partner of the whole transaction. It is a popular belief that a beggar will remain a beggar even he reaches affluent levels. It is because begging is not a profession; it is a state of mind to earn money without working. This is exactly what we are going to promote in the society through BISP. Another famous saying goes as follows: “instead of giving me a fish to save me from starvation; give me fishing equipment and training instead for me to do it myself.
The underlying approach
The BISP project took a targetted approach of providing subsidies to women from the lowest income group. The survey was not based on scientific parameters such a research on focus groups, interviews of the applicants, distribution of questionnaires or the recognised assessment procedure of the ‘poverty score card’ introduced by the World Bank while people were entitled to the subsidy. The poverty score card is a World Bank creation in which respondents answer 13 multiple-choice questions, with each answer carrying a pre-determined score. The questions revolve around assets and expenditure. The answers are fed into a software that calculates their cumulative score, with those scoring from one to eleven classified as extremely poor.
The monthly amount of Rs1,000 that they receive, however, falls drastically short of Rs2,550, (calculated on a dollar a day earning) required to stay above the poverty line. On average, Rs1,000 is divided by a family of six, coming down to Rs167 per person. This is a mere 6.5 per cent of the required amount and equals to Rs5.50 per head per day in this case. The amount is well below the price of two ‘rotis’ essential for one meal along with a plate of vegetable or lentils that costs even more. How can this change the widening poverty gap of the country, which according to a survey has crossed 50 percent?
The first step in the right direction is considered as half of the work done. Let us see the first step in BISP’s political launching pad from which it took off. The project was piloted by MPAs in their respective constituencies. A survey carried out in Sindh, the home of Benazir Bhutto says, “The major problems are the identification and selection of beneficiaries (of BISP), lack of coordination between government tiers and political favouritism. Initially, all Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs) were given around 8,000 forms to distribute in their respective constituencies, which meant that most MPAs gave away the forms to their own people”. How can you postulate that in Karachi, for instance, there is an equal number of poor in a posh area like Clifton as well as in the Kachi Abadis of Lyari.
Roots of ineffectiveness
There have been complaints against the delivery mechanism of cash as well. They involve the deductions made at post offices, as postal service is used to distribute money. The post office personnel deduct Rs100 to Rs200 from each beneficiary. This has led to protests and clashes in many parts of Punjab. There is a growing perception that the amount of Rs1,000 has created a sense of inferiority in the recipients and has forced them to become dependent on ai, turning them into beggars.
It is pertinent to note that a huge budget of Rs34 billion earmarked for BISP is more than the annual spending of a federal ministry. It is strange enough that no effort has been done in last three and a half years to have an impact assessment or carry out a feedback on any level. Reports show that out of last year’s allocation of Rs34 billion, only 16 billion were disbursed among the recipients. Any criticism or negative feedback towards the scheme’s inefficient functionality is taken by the ruling party as being politically motivated. The dilemma of Pakistan’s socio-political culture is the arbitrary policy formulation based on personal likes and dislikes coupled with political convenience. A coterie of powerful men decides on what policies are to be introduced, often under the advice of external advisors and conditionality that are served as ready-made solutions to the finance ministry. The role of domestic thinkers, analysts and experts or the government-in-waiting (opposition) is invisibly marginal, to say the least.
It is particularly relevant to quote a level-headed former federal minister Azam Khan Swati who once said, “Countries do not progress on the basis of charity, rather they do so through advancements in science and technology, higher education and vocational training”. He termed the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) as bogus, corrupt and a useless exercise. He criticised the incumbent government’s decision to cut back resources of other social services, such as the ‘Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal’ budget, to facilitate BISP. He further added that this might facilitate a few people but on the whole, it was damaging for the country. Due to a significant allocation for the BISP, provisions for other poor-friendly programmes were slashed down. The annual progress report states that Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal (PBM) disbursements declined by 34 per cent in 2009-10 due to the merger of its flagship Food Support Programme, into the BISP. In 2008-09, under the PBM the government spent Rs3.5 billion that dropped to Rs2.3 billion in the next year, the,report states.
At this juncture, it is amazing to note that BISP’s bigger aid packages, including Waseela-e-Haq and Waseela-e-Rozgar choose lucky winners through a raffle draw. A study carried out in Latin American countries shows that the majority of social safety nets (SSNs) designed to protect the poor and contribute effectively to reduce chronic poverty achieved their objectives due to a non-political approach, significant amount of aid and conditional entitlement of recipients. All these elements are non-existent in the BISP. In several Latin American countries, conditional cash transfer programmes provided the much needed funds for the poorest families and helped improve children’s school attendance rates.
The World Bank provided $11.5 billion in lending and advisory services to the developing world during 2000-10 for Social Safety Nets (SSNs). In the wake of the fuel, food and financial crises, support from the World Bank for these programmes increased to a number of countries. In middle-income countries, safety net programmes were generally geared to assist the persistently poor rather than those who experience temporary unemployment, yet these programmes were not flexible enough to alter their targetting strategies.
Low-income countries such as Pakistan often lack poverty data and systems to reach the poorest of the poor, who could have benefitted from short-term employment and subsidies that SSNs provide.
The government’s take
The government claims that 20 million households have benefitted from the BISP this year (2010-2011), while detractors point towards leakages, malfeasance and nepotism by elected representatives as key drawbacks. Unofficial estimates, though, suggest that only 50-60 per cent of bona fide beneficiaries are receiving assistance under the BISP.
In the wake of all these bitter realities, the government is completely unaware of all criticism and has disregarded every suggestion for the scheme as there is a substantial increase in funds this year. For the current financial year, the government has allocated Rs50 billion for disbursements under the BISP. Nonetheless, the actual disbursement during first half of the year stood at a mere Rs16 billion, indicating that this year the BISP will not be able to reach all targetted families once again.
BISP sources say that they have not set any interim targets. The only target that has been set is to enhance the number of registered families up to a number of five million by June 30, 2011”.
However economists believe that goals set by the BISP are over ambitious. The targetted number of beneficiaries can only be achieved after the completion of a poverty survey, they said.
A finance ministry official said that the government has decided to cut the BISP budget in the wake of current financial constraints but the government may not announce it publicly to avoid criticism. He said that the government will prefer to “manage releases” instead of announcing a cut. In this background, nobody from the coteries has advised the relevant personnel in the party that a mistake admitted is a sign of strength and not weakness.



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One Comment;

  1. javed shah said:

    sir hmre bisp ke pais pais ejo her month 1ooo
    ropy month atat tha ab pure iak sal sy nhi milepl zmeerh bne kark e
    chek akro
    kle hmre pais kyu nhi plz

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