Like many other flagship schemes in Pakistan with shades of grey, the Benazir Income Support Programme has been no different. The social protection scheme has been in the limelight due to poor management and transparency issues.
The recent stories of misuse of the BISP scheme by senior staff and government officials was a shocking revelation. It has been alleged that BISP funds have been systemically embezzled, benefiting a huge privileged class including BISP staff and senior government officials.
Established in 2008, the PPP’s government ambitious scheme’s short-term objective was to cushion the adverse impact of the food, fuel, and financial crisis on the poor. The programme’s broader objective was to establish a nationwide safety net programme, marked by effective and transparent targeting and delivery mechanisms.
However, the programme started with flawed policies. Instead of applying internationally recognized principles and methods of poverty alleviation, BISP used political institutions and individuals to decide the fate of its beneficiaries.
In its two-phased beneficiary selection process, BISP engaged MNAs and senators to distribute BISP forms among individuals in their respective areas and provinces. This flawed selection process opened a floodgate of favouritism. Political representatives shared forms with their closed political associates. The discriminatory process surely deprived eligible poor families and benefited voters and supporters of political parties.
In the broader context, the first phase beneficiary selection process was very discriminatory in its nature. Balochistan received very little forms.
The second phase beneficiary selection process was done on the basis of the household survey. Balochistan, recorded with the highest Multi-Dimensional Poverty (MPI), was once again discriminated against in the process. Due to its vast region, poor road infrastructure and inaccessibility, the majority of the poorest of the poor didn’t became part of the BISP survey and couldn’t be incorporated into the social safety net.
If the entire purpose of BISP was to alleviate poverty and reach out to the underprivileged marginalized population of the country then surely the scheme is far behind in achieving its humanitarian objectives.
Post-BISP social and development indicators, including the 2016 Pakistan Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Report launched by the Planning and Development Commission, clearly indicate that poverty has increased rapidly in many parts of Pakistan including former Fata and Balochistan.
Positioned on the western rim of Pakistan, Balochistan and (former) Fata share the highest number of poor. Balochistan recorded 71 percent MPI which has recently increased.
During the start of the BISP programme, poverty, underdevelopment, geographical stress and needs factor didn’t form the selection criteria for beneficiaries. However, as usual the population factor continued to influence the humanitarian agenda. This factor surpassed all internationally justified criteria.
According to BISP’s 2014-15 report Balochistan, where 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, received 3.7 percent of BISP share, even less than its population share which was estimated at 5.1 percent in 2011. In addition, within the province the distribution of BISP is discriminatory and highly imbalanced.
In 2014, out of a total 5.046 million BISP beneficiaries, Balochistan’s share was just 0.188 million. In terms of funds, out of Rs88.44 billion, Balochistan received merely Rs3.2 billion.
Concerning Balochistan’s grievances and deficit in the social protection programme, Kaiser Bengali in his book ‘A Cry for Justice’, provided some important insights and recommendations.
To ensure a fair share in BISP, Bengali suggested that the “Proxy Means Test (PMT) threshold for Balochistan be raised so as to reach 9.09 percent of the population, being Balochistan’s share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award. For Balochistan’s share among BISP recipients to equal the province’s NFC Award, the number of recipients will need to be 500,000 and would be equal to half the number of beneficiaries of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa”.
To address the uneven distribution of beneficiaries within the province, about half the allocated beneficiaries may be distributed equally in 32 districts and the remaining half of the allocated beneficiaries may be distributed among the districts on the basis of population.
It is shocking to observe that District Washuk, equal to half of the KP province in terms of area, with over 200,000 population with very high deprivation has only 446 BISP beneficiaries. There are many districts in Balochistan with very meagre share of BISP beneficiaries.
Since the initiation of BISP, millions of dollars of funds have been provided by the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID) UK and many other institutions just to strengthen and support BISP’s components. However, despite such massive technical and financial assistance BISP management, accountability, monitoring and evaluation continues to be lacking.
The long-term objective of the BISP scheme was to allow beneficiary households, at their own discretion, to make ‘desirable’ investments in nutrition, education, health, and productive assets, among others. These investments in human and physical capital in turn would be expected to support poor households to permanently graduate out of poverty.
However, based on observation and discussion with BISP beneficiaries, the scheme has not managed to achieve these objectives.
Countless public and confidential program and financial audit reports and inquiries have identified serious flaws in the programme. Now it’s time for a national debate on the complete restructuring of BISP so as to develop a truly pro-poor social safety net.For credible results and progress, a very transparent beneficiary selection and similar payment system are critical pre-requisites for the sustainability of the scheme.
The writer is a member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, and former Senator.
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