NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 11

Benazir income fraud

Pakistan has distributed Rs714 billion in cash among poor people during the last ten years under its poverty alleviation Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). After 10 years, the country has found that over 820,165 people among 5.4 million beneficiaries were not entitled to benefit from the plan. It has eclipsed the benefits of the programme and added to controversy which has surrounded it since its launch.

A large number of “rich” people in the poverty alleviation programme speaks about the moral depravity of people who wrong benefitted from it and the apathy of the past governments which failed to take action against them for political exigencies. Of the 820,165 removed from the BISP database, 14,730 were government employees. They were detected after the government shifted the monthly stipend system from the old card system to biometric verification to eliminate corruption from the programme.

According to the data, 127,826 beneficiaries were removed from the list because their spouses were government employees. Over 153,302 were those who had travelled abroad once and 195,364 were those whose spouses had travelled abroad once. The number of beneficiaries who travelled abroad more than once stood at 10,476. Similarly, 166,319 spouses travelled abroad more than once. The BISP removed 692 people from its database because they owned one or more than one vehicle, while 43,746 were removed from the list because their spouses have one or more than one car. Over 24,546 people were removed because they were paying a monthly telephone bill of Rs1,000 or more. Similarly, 155,767 persons were excluded from the database as their spouses paid Rs1,000 or more mobile phone bill. For applying for passports via executive centres, 666 beneficiaries were excluded and 580 were removed as their spouses did the same. A total of 36,970 people were expelled from the list because three or more members of their family paid executive fees for obtaining computerised national identity cards.

The government has allocated Rs150 billion for BISP beneficiaries out of which Rs120 billion are for cash disbursement. To make the cash transaction easier and more transparent, two commercial banks have been engaged to pay the monthly stipend after biometric verification and the government saved Rs2 billion by entering into the agreement with the banks. Earlier, the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) was charging 6pc on the transaction cost and the BISP engaged two commercial banks after a competitive process, which are charging a 2pc transaction cost. The monthly stipend has been increased from Rs3,000 to Rs5,000. Besides, under the “Waseela-e-Taleem” programme of the BISP, Rs750 are paid to mothers who enrol their children to school and Rs750 more are paid for ensuring their attendance in school.

Undeserving people were registered under the old system, which are being eliminated after a fresh survey and new deserving people will be registered from March. The government has devised special eligibility criteria in which the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was also been taken on board. According to the new plan, government employees will not be included amongst the beneficiaries. People, who have travelled abroad, owned cars, paid a PTCL phone bill of more than Rs1,000 over a six-month period or a mobile phone with as much monthly bill cannot be included in the list of beneficiaries. People and their spouses, who have paid for NADRA’s executive services, will also be ineligible for the BISP assistance. Overall, the removal of 820,165 recipients will save the government Rs16 billion a year.

The Benazir Income Support Programme, which was launched by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 2008, with an aim to provide cash support to the poorest of the poor, faces another controversy after the detection of 820,165 undeserving beneficiaries. The use of the word “Benazir” says all. It was launched to gain political benefits besides helping the poor. Its name was disturbing for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and it wanted to change its name or abolish it all together after coming to power. However, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continued the programme with the same name after reconciliation with the PPP. The same is the case with the PTI. It also wanted to rename the programme, but decided to continue it after stiff resistance from the opposition and its own ministers. It is a fact that PTI legislators are annoyed at the fact that party workers have not been included in the social safety net programme and that most of the beneficiaries had been recommended by PPP and PML-N. Their reservations might be true as most of the 5.4 million beneficiaries were recommended by parliamentarians of the PPP era.

The fact that the programme has survived despite opposition from almost all parties, except the PPP, speaks about its effectiveness, despite some shortcomings. In fact, it has grown and expanded since its inception. It indicates its importance and role in helping the poor. It is a great step of the government to use modern tools to detect undeserving people in the programme.

Some say undeserving beneficiaries might have been included in the survey, conducted 10 years ago, when they deserved financial support from the government and their financial position might have improved during the long period of time. It is also possible that these people had never been truly deserving of the stipend.

It is a fact that the criteria to remove them are flawless. It will enable the government to register more people for financial support. It should make all possible efforts to make the programme free of politics, so that only deserving people replace people who have been struck down.