Thursday November 30, 2023

2,543 govt officers among ineligible BISP beneficiaries

January 09, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The PTI government’s deep cleansing of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) by virtue of a unique initiative involving the use of data analytics for an integrity drive reveals how blatantly convenient it can be for governments to misuse tax-payers’ money to win political support in an attempt to grab votes. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that 2,543 government officers of grades 17-21 also benefited from BISP cash grants in the past, thereby deprived the truly deserving of their share.

For a very long time, rumours had been circulating about many BISP beneficiaries being undeserving and having been obliged on the basis of political influence.

The programme’s then leadership lost no opportunity to make sugar-coated statements reflecting their concern for the uplift of the poor as they doled out cash grants of Rs5,000 per month to millions of households.

It has now become evident that BISP was plagued by widespread corruption and that a huge chunk of its annual Rs100 billion budget had been ill-spent for purely political gains. The survey governing the award of stipends was itself 10 years old, meaning that the database had not been updated for a decade.

On December 19, 2019, the BISP Board led by Special Assistant to the PM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar, who is also the Chairperson of BISP, decided to request NADRA to conduct profiling of BISP beneficiaries along a series of parameters including one or more foreign travels; ownership of vehicles; six months’ average PTCL or mobile phone bills exceeding Rs1,000; executive processing of passport or CNIC; and employment with the federal government, Pakistan Post, Pakistan Railways, and BISP. The policy was approved by the Federal Cabinet on December 24, 2019.

The profiling conducted by NADRA identified 820,165 beneficiaries falling under one or more of the above parameters; assistance to them was immediately blocked. It is pertinent to mention that BISP gives quarterly stipends to 5.2 million women, with a huge budget of Rs. 100 billion annually allocated for the purpose.

Data available with this scribe show that 142,556 beneficiaries were employees of the federal, provincial or area governments (GB, AJK), or of autonomous entities such as Pakistan Post, Pakistan Railways or BISP. Data breakup shows that 14,730 were themselves beneficiaries while 127,826 were husbands enrolled as beneficiaries. A total of 2,543 beneficiaries were government officers of grades 17 to 21; of these 148 officers of BS 17 or above were themselves enrolled as beneficiaries and 2,395 officers of BS 17 and above were those whose wives had been enrolled as beneficiaries.

Included among the beneficiaries were 224 BISP employees or their wives. BISP has initiated disciplinary proceedings against six of its officers (BS-17) and 35 officials (BS-14). Inquiry procedure has been dispensed with by the competent authority and show-cause notices have been issued under the programme’s Efficiency and Discipline Rules. Details of their respective employees have been provided to concerned Chief Secretaries, Secretary Establishment, Secretary Railways and Secretary Communications for appropriate action.

It is startling to note that 153,302 of the beneficiaries had traveled abroad once, while 10,476 had undertaken foreign travels more than once. Similarly, 195,364 spouses had traveled abroad once, while 166,319 spouses had traveled abroad more than once. Ironically, 692 BISP beneficiaries had one or more vehicles registered against their names. As many as 43,746 spouses were owners of one or more vehicles.

The largest number of ineligible BISP beneficiaries (277,266) were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Punjab (243,380), Sindh (183,042), Balochistan (45,280), erstwhile FATA (43,445), Azad Kashmir (17,361), Gilgit-Baltistan (8,297, and Islamabad (2,094).

In the federal government alone, 48 Grade 17 officers, 10 Grade 18 officers, one Grade 19 officer, two Grade 20 officers, and one grade 21 officer have been existed from BISP; either they themselves or their spouses were BISP beneficiaries. Three grade 21 officers, 61 grade 20 officers, 429 grade 19 officers, 604 grade 18 officers, and 1,446 grade 17 employees had taken undue advantage of the BISP grant. In all, 2,543 government officers of grades 17-21 were benefited by past governments through BISP, thereby deprived the deserving of their share.

Further data show that 666 beneficiaries and 580 spouses had applied for passports via executive centres. Similarly, 36,970 beneficiaries comprised those who had three or more family members applying for a Computerized National Identity Card with an executive fee. A total of 820,165 beneficiaries now stand excluded, with the BISP cash grants now benefiting the genuinely eligible only.

“This is the first time that any government in Pakistan has used data analytics for an integrity drive,” stated Dr. Sania, who is internationally recognized for adopting an accountability and transparency approach to public initiatives. As such, it is a sad observation that despite her credentials and the objectively verifiable exit process that she has adopted, Dr. Sania’s efforts to render BISP corruption-free are being misconstrued by some politicians, for precisely the same set of political gains that compromised BISP’s original mandate.

Even those that are opposing the action today, sources tell us, know well what a courageous and credible policy action this was, but they don’t have the intellectual integrity to accept this. People like Dr. Sania are Pakistan’s last hope to meaningfully address institutionalized corruption—the most pervasive issue facing our nation.