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May 19, 2020

Helping labour

Editorial

 
May 19, 2020

The decision by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) to provide cash assistance to the labourers whose livelihoods have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, is timely. The prime minister had earlier announced that the government would use the amount collected through the PM’s Covid-19 Relief Fund 2020 to assist the labour force. The one-time assistance of Rs12, 000 will be made through the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) whose payment mechanism will be used for eligible applicants. In addition to the four provinces of the country, AJK, Gilgit-Baltistan, and ICT will have their allocated quota in the Ehsaas labour assistance per their population share. The total amount for this purpose is reported to be Rs75 billion in emergency cash package. The details of the disbursement are being worked out by the Finance Division and BISP, but so far the most disturbing part is that the applications will be received only through Ehsaas Labour portal for inclusion of beneficiaries.

This is confusing, as on the one side the government is saying that cash disbursements will be made through the existing payment mechanism of BISP, and on the other it is asking deserving people to get registered on the Prime Minister Office website. The prime minister’s special assistant, Sania Nishtar, has announced that around 34, 000 applications have already been received and the disbursement will start in the coming week. This highly centralized nature of the entire mechanism is not at all labour-friendly, neither is it likely to facilitate the illiterate and the poor who are the worst affected lot at the moment. This is people’s money and it must be disbursed with care and with the involvement of provincial and local governments who are the best places to collect applications, scrutinize and verify them and then disburse the amount.

Ideally, if the BISP mechanism is already in place with up-to-date data sets of all the deserving people in the country, this new requirement of online registration is bizarre. If the government has decided to disburse Rs75 billion, it should either use the BISP mechanism without any new requirement of online registration, or the amount should be handed over to provincial governments so that they can manage its disbursement in a decentralized manner. The illiteracy rate among the labour force in Pakistan is between 70 and 80 percent. The percentage of labour force with a smartphone, with enough credit in their phone and with uninterrupted connectivity and who are able to fill out online forms, is anybody’s guess. There must be a better system for all this.