ISLAMABAD: With various political parties issuing differing statements regarding the future of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) once a new government assumes office, a shadow has come to hang over the project, said official sources in the Planning and Development Division on Wednesday.
The World Bank provided millions of dollars in loans to Pakistan to prepare a Social Protection Strategy (SPS). Earlier, this strategy was formulated and run by the central government. Following the 18th amendment, the centre devolved this strategy among the four federating units, explained official sources in the Planning and Development Division on Wednesday. Moreover, a plan is being prepared whereby the role of the federal government and provinces has been redefined so the concept of social protection will also be examined, officials say. As the responsibility of social protection was transferred to provinces, currently every province is dealing with the issue separately. For instance, Punjab considered that provision of providing laptops to students as part of social protection while in Balochistan animals were vaccinated as part of the social protection programmes.
Significantly, after the amendment, the center and provinces signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), placing SPS with the mandate of the center to ensure coordination and avoid overlapping of future strategies among the provinces.
Experts say we have yet to see whether the center and provinces incorporate the much-touted BISP in their future strategy in line with the new (SPS), make changes in the way it is run or abandon the programme altogether. The latter would carry the burden of being an unpopular move. Nevertheless, there has been some speculation among political parties about making changes with respect to the programme’s targeted audience. These changes are to come into effect after the elections.
The Planning and Development Division had established a committee to ensure coordinated and coherent social protection strategies with respect to all the provinces.
“The provinces have kick-started work on the proposed drafts which will be shared with the political parties that emerge in the provinces after the May 11 elections and then future plans will be finalised,” added the sources.
There has been one major obstacle in terms of preparing the SPS – the absence of a unified definition agreed upon by all relevant stakeholders. Under section 38-A and D of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, it discussed social security. However, social protection is not explicitly defined. PTI leader Jehangir Khan Tarin said that the name of BISP reflected a specific political affiliation and would be changed. “We will also evaluate whether this programme is being run in a transparent manner or not,” he said and concluded that his party would ensure an effective social protection programme to safeguard the interests of vulnerable segments of society.
For instance, the PML (N) will focus on the urban youth and grant them small loans to generate employment opportunities in cities and towns. PTI has also worked out programmes to ensure social protection at the gross roots level.
In 2008, former finance minister Ishaq Dar had proposed naming BISP Pakistan Income Support Programme (PISP) but President Zardari and the PPP leadership rejected the proposal. If elected, PML (N) may consider changing the name.
A senior official also confirmed that the Planning Commission is preparing a report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will be unveiled in August 2013. Further, the report will be submitted before the UN General Assembly session expected to be held in September 2013.