Shot in the dark: No database to identify daily wage workers in Sindh

Without official records, provincial govt banks on educated guesswork for the provision of relief packages

Razzak Abro April 13, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: The Sindh government, in a bid to facilitate daily-wage earners in making ends meet, had initiated a ration distribution programme across the province. However, with no database present to identify those most deserving of the aid, the provincial government has been relying on distributing ration packages at union council levels with little but the presumption that it will reach the rightful people.

As per official figures available on the Sindh government’s website, the provincial finance department has so far released over Rs1.08 billion in support of the said programme. The amount, which was released to the deputy commissioners of all 29 districts of the province, was issued in two instalments, where the first instalment of Rs580 million was provided on March 26 while the second instalment of Rs500 million came a few weeks later on April 6.

On March 26, the government also ordered the constitution of relief committees at union council (UC) or ward levels across all districts of the province for the distribution of the ration bags. The six-member committees, which were headed by representatives of the relevant deputy commissioners, included chairpersons of UCs  or municipalities, local zakat committees chairpersons, NGO representatives and female social workers, councillors and committee members.

As per the terms of reference, these committees were then tasked with distributing the relief packages upon identification of the most deserving of people from their respective union councils, wards or municipalities.

However, according to Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh, who is also head of the Ministerial Committee for Coronavirus Emergency Relief, they had no other option but to manually track down the deserving beneficiaries.

“There is no data available with the provincial government for daily-wage earners or those most affected by the lockdown, so we have to rely on our presumptions and hope the aid reaches the right people,” Shaikh confirmed.

In the same boat

On the other hand, Sindh Labour and Education Minister Saeed Ghani informed The Express Tribune that the federal government is in the same boat when it comes to keeping track of the number of daily wagers in the country.

“The only data the Centre has on the poor is in the form of Benazir Bhutto Income Support Programme (BISP), which the previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government initiated. However, the Sindh government doesn’t even have access to the BISP database,” revealed Ghani.

Per details, it is not only the provincial government which has been left to rely on educated guesswork for the provision of relief packages but also several welfare organisations working for the cause, confirms Qazi Khizar, a civil society activist and volunteer at the Edhi Foundation.

“We have no concrete data present with us either. Although the Sindh government had promised to share a database with registered welfare organisations when they were first launching the Sindh Relief Initiative Application, no information has been provided as yet and organisations like ours remain dependent on information provided by our volunteers for the provision,” said Khizar.

The need of the hour

Former Sindh advocate general Barrister Zamir Ghumro believes creating a provincial database for its people including those working on daily wages, is the need of the hour.

“The province already has its network at UC levels; it can easily develop its own database at grassroots level too,” Ghumro opined while addressing the matter. “Each UC has a population of 10,000 to 15,000 people and they are in direct contact with their residents since they are involved in issuing death and birth certificates. Similarly, they can also create and manage a database for other things, like the number of employed and unemployed people and the profession of their residents,” he added.

According to Ghumro, a Basic Health Unit is available in limits of each UC, through which they also have access to their residents’ medical data. “The UCs can use this data to maintain a record of common diseases along with the number of ill people, vaccination numbers, birth rates in their respective areas and etc. The Sindh government already provides funds to each UC; all they will have to do is maintain a comprehensive digital record of their residents.”

In addition to that, he also asserted that the responsibility of preparing computerised national identity cards (CNICs) should not remain with the federal government, as stated in the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) laws. “It should rather be carried out by the provinces, which have a better understanding of the people in their limits,” he stated.

Larkana district’s Gerello town committee chairperson Irfan Jatoi, when consulted about Ghumro’s recommendation, expressed the belief that such a plan could easily be executed by the UCs. “They are already involved in similar functions. So to make this database possible, all the UCs have to do is start computerising their records,” Jatoi explained.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2020.

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