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February 21, 2020

Kafaalat: Closing the gender gap in financial inclusion

National

February 21, 2020

Islamabad: For the last 10 years, Pakistan has been witnessing stipends of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) being abused by some well-to-do women. Although it is acknowledged that BISP served many poor women, its abuse was no secret either; it was always a question of the exact percentage.

The decision of the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar to run data analytics on the BISP database and exit 820,000 beneficiaries out of 5 million was a courageous step in this regard as it provided evidence to the effect that around 18% of the beneficiaries were non-deserving. This may, however, be just the tip of the iceberg. Data analytics have been run on husband and wife for now—meaning that if someone herself is an undeserving beneficiary, or if she is the wife of a person who doesn’t deserve to be in the safety net, only then will data analytics pick them. Sisters, daughters, etc., have not been caught yet, and if they are, God only knows where the number will land.

In her famous election day speech in Geneva after having lost the election of the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017, Dr. Sania termed integrity as the bedrock of any change. In this decision, she has demonstrated that rather clearly.

Based on available information, the exit of beneficiaries is just one of the multi-dimensional reforms ongoing in BISP. Others aren’t as sensational though but are critically important. A new data collection system has been established after 10 years, which involves desk-based registration to register those that need government stipends. A new banking payment system has been installed after a 10-month procurement process. Critical policies have been drafted after 10 years. For example, we got to know that an organisation disbursing Rs100 billion in cash didn’t have payment regulations approved by its board for the last 10 years.