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March 26, 2020

Data deficiency: The distribution dilemma

Business

March 26, 2020

LAHORE: Relief package announced by the prime minister looks well-intentioned, but barring the direct benefits like reduction in rates of petroleum products; its execution would be murky and notorious in ensuring personal gains even in testing times for nation.

These are the very people that mostly provide state services like water, power and gas connections on the basis of influence or speed money. These are the same people that have been accused of demanding speed money from the businesses for their legal sales tax returns.

Stories of irregularities in the distribution Zakat through Baitulmal are common knowledge. Corruption is everywhere, where public has to seek assistance or approval from bureaucracy.

Under these circumstances, the announcement of over Rs1,000 billion relief package is a good news for the general public and another lucrative opportunity for the distributors to take their ‘due’ share.

This package would certainly provide immense relief to the masses if it is transparently and fairly executed.

However, given the poor governance level in the country, transparency would be the last thing that we can expect in the distribution of this huge bailout package.

We should take cue from the past, when the ruling parties have often used public money for political mileage by distributing benefits through party workers.

It happened in the distribution under Benazir Income Support Program and in many subsidised schemes floated by the past PML-N governments.

This is likely to be practiced now as the news reports suggest that someone was collecting Computerized National Identity Cards of some families for distribution of Rs3,000 per month. It is fortunate that the police raided the place and the collectors fled after locking their office.

The CNIC were also locked in the office to the dismay of the poor families. This could happen again and in many places. This would neither be fair nor ethical.

We have seen that during the Musharaf era, many donor global donor agencies like World Bank, DFID, Asian Development Bank and other insisted on executing the development loans they provided through non-government organisations.

The development projects were executed timely, transparently and there was visible improvement in rural area infrastructure where most of the poor live. There are many reputable NGOs that are successfully tackling poverty in the urban and rural regions depending on the limitation of their resources.

They definitely have the data of the poorest of the poor in these areas. The government should engage these reputable NGOs like the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Akhuwat Foundation and many others registered with Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

Moreover, the state should look for out of book solutions to ensure distribution of the monthly stipend to the needy. One way is to engage the highly reputable educational NGOs that are cumulatively providing good standard education to over 250,000 students from extremely poor families across Pakistan.

The Care Foundation and Citizens Foundation have high repute. The stipend should be distributed to the families of those students through these foundations.

This will at least ensure fair and transparent distribution to the deserving poor families. The schools run by these NGOs are currently closed, but they have addresses of the students and the money could be transferred/handed over to the families by the staff or electronically if the data for families is available.

The basic defence against coronavirus is social isolation. The distribution of the money earmarked through this package should be done in a way that it does not create rush at the place of distribution/registration or evaluation.

The government lacks the capacity and the capability to ensure social isolation in the process. That is why it is essential to take assistance from the operating NGOs that have knowledge of the ground realities.

Government estimates of daily wagers are not authentic. The authenticity would have been possible if our provincial departments were performing their duties honestly.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics states that there are 69 million workers in Pakistan. At least 30 percent or around 21 million should be in the formal sector given the number of industries and registered firms operating in the country.

These entities are required to pay a certain percentage of workers’ salary in to social security departments of each province. The total number of workers registered in the social security departments country wide is less than 2.5 million.

That is the only authentic data that the government has. For the remaining 18.5 million formal sector and 48 million informal workers there is no record, and only guess work or estimates exist. In times of crisis the nation is paying the price for the incompetence and corruption of the entrenched bureaucracy.