Islamabad: A flagship report detailing the design and implementation of the Ehsaas emergency cash programme, which allocated Rs203 billion to deliver one-time emergency cash to 16.9 million families in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, was presented to the Cabinet here on Tuesday. This is the first time that a programme report of this kind has been submitted.
Authored by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar, the report examines what is the largest-ever government spending on social protection in Pakistan and outlines its methodology, lessons from real-time evaluation, operational challenges encountered, and mitigation measures. Given family size, the number of beneficiaries represents nearly 109 million people or half the country’s population, representing the largest and most extensive social protection intervention ever in the country’s history.
Ehsaas emergency cash pioneers a new policy approach. It demonstrates how cash transfer programmes can be deployed to counter socioeconomic fallouts due to external shocks such as Covid-19, which present a long-term predicament.
According to the report, ‘digital capabilities established over the past year as part of Ehsaas were adapted to deliver Ehsaas emergency cash.’ A hybrid targeting approach was adopted, combining emergency assistance for the known vulnerable with demand-based support for the ‘new poor.’ Requests were sought through an 8171 SMS short code service and web-portal. Data analytics enabled eligibility ascertainment, using unique national identification numbers and drawing on the National Socioeconomic Registry and wealth proxies (travel, taxes, billing, assets ownership data and government employment status).
The system was end-to-end data-driven, fully automated, rule-based, transparent and politically neutral. Payments were biometrically verified.” Prime Minister Imran Khan paid rich tributes to the report. He said, “Ehsaas emergency cash is ground-breaking, transparent, rule-based, apolitical and comprehensive; the programme has provided relief to millions of households in the most difficult circumstances.”
Commenting on the report, Dr. Nishtar remarked, “Public accountability and transparency are the underlying motivation for this report. I believe that a culture of transparent and evidence-based decision-making is necessary to reform governance in Pakistan. Integrity, transparency and openness have to be ingrained in government institutions and processes in order for democracies to deliver for their people.”
The case of Pakistan provides useful lessons for other countries. It shows that by combining phones, internet connectivity, and national IDs, a digital and innovative demand-based social protection system can be created to enable those in distress to seek social support during crises.