Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describesRedistributive angle of BISP
The redistributive angle of BISP in Pakistan suffers from abject poverty with a considerable number of its population living below the internationally determined poverty line. Uncontrolled population is held primarily responsible for creating an untenable socio-economic situation in the country. Political parties are universally credited with supervising redistribution mechanism in a nation-state and are entrusted with the task of devising policies to ameliorate economic difficulties experienced by the populace and always try to put in practice poverty reduction programmes.
It was PM ZA Bhutto who first gave the slogan Roti, Kapra and Makan aimed at providing better living conditions for Pakistanis. It was very natural therefore for his People’s Party to come up with a general relief programme for providing financial succour to people. Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was thus initiated by People’s Party government after it came to power in 2008. The aim of BISP was to provide small cash grants to the most financially vulnerable households in the country.
The underlying motives governing the genesis of BISP were eradication of extreme and chronic poverty, empowerment of women and achievement of universal primary education. The programme was actually meant to be a short-term strategy and was expected to provide temporary relief to low income groups.
BISP essentially portrayed the exigency of situation confronting People’s Party as a marginal political grouping that had gained power on the basis of obtaining sympathy vote given to redeem public pledge to Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in Rawalpindi in 2007. It was also an admission of the fact that successive political dispensations in Pakistan repeatedly failed to implement an appropriate distributive mechanism and the only way left was to dole out cash amounts to people.
BISP was presented as a social safety net that had the promise of encouraging deserving people to take advantage of it in times of need and utilise the facility to become productive in their own right. The essential draw back in the programme was making it to appear as a charitable process and this lacuna was always apparent eliciting strong disapproval of many sections of the country. It was also expected that BISP will keep its distributive network within manageable levels and will try to cap the amount sanctioned to it initially.
But since its launch in 2008, BISP abandoned its controlled ambit and mushroomed into a vast operation with its beneficiaries increasing from 2.2 million to 5.2 million and its annual budget increasing from Rs.12 billion in 2008-09 to Rs.96.65bn in 2017-18. During its decade long existence it has disbursed whopping Rs.412 billion. That the process of disbursal of monies is far from transparent is generally acknowledged by monetary experts but owing to its populist bent the current government also chose to keep it going.
In between somewhere BISP lost its welfare orientation and became a handmaiden of respective political groupings. Its primary beneficiaries were supposed to be women under the pretext that they are the actual moving force in a social structure giving birth to workforce but the amount kept for them was inadequate as only Rs.6,000 per quarter were provided to them. Keeping in view the high cost of living in Pakistan this amount is paltry to serve any meaningful purpose. Moreover its distribution is very uneven making it to go in the pockets of very undeserving male component of the society.
BISP was also supposed to serve the requirements of social contract between the state and its citizens but in actual fact it has created a horde of programme contractors who draw cash in the name of the poor and give them only a part of it and keep the rest. The ills associated with BISP are very well known to a cross-section of people and instead of strengthening bonds of social contract the programme is enriching a select few.
The idea that by giving cash relief the state will provide economic impetus has fallen by the wayside as BISP has created a class that takes undue advantage of it. The most cumbersome aspect of the programme is its linking-up with various aid ventures of donor agencies that has made it very difficult for officialdom to dissociate from it. There is a considerable worry about the performance of BISP but its managers now have created stakeholders quite capable of launching a fairly elaborate protest movement if its disbursements are stopped.
In addition, the repercussions of BISP are quite apparent now as the scarce national economic resources are allocated to provide static assistance to people who do not reciprocate the programme in any way. The only impression given by its political managers is that political governments are actively involved in welfare measures although this notion is far from reality. There is a growing realisation that such static cash doling ventures cause more socio-economic harm than good. It is advisable to review the whole programme objectively and gradually try to reduce its financial allocations and divert them to more productive usage of public money. TW