Lack of political inclusion in Ehsaas program questioned

Cabinet members also object to Rs300m expenditure on communications strategy


Zafar Bhutta April 24, 2020
Ehsaas Emergency Cash disbursements in Sindh. PHOTO: Twitter (@SaniaNishtar)

ISLAMABAD:  

 

The cabinet members have expressed concern over the lack of political inclusion and reluctance of Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Division to share data of the beneficiaries of the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme.

The government has allocated a budget of Rs144 billion for 12 million families of the poor and daily-wage earners who have been hit hard by the lockdown being observed to forestall the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic across the country.

Under the progarmme, each family is being given an amount of Rs12,000.

Sources told The Express Tribune that cabinet members in a recent meeting also raised the question of spending Rs300 million on communication strategy at a time when substantial amount of cash assistance had already been disbursed.

They also raised concern over the lack of political inclusion in the programme as well as reluctance of the programme to share data of the beneficiaries.

The need for increasing the cash disbursement centres for the convenience of citizens and ensuring social distancing was also highlighted in the meeting.

As for sharing data, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar responded during a meeting that the body was legally bound to keep anonymity of the data and not to disclose the specifics.

“This is statutory compulsion as the board would not allow the disclosure of data of beneficiaries,” she said, adding that “however, a web portal would be made online in few days which would have the district-wise details of the programme”.

The operational issues such as increasing cash centers, biometric rejections, apprehending fraudsters and others are being appropriately handled.

On using the mobile banking platforms, it was explained that there was a lobby which was pedalling commercial interests to secure sole source contracts for digital wallets but the disbursement mechanism in vogue had been developed in consultation with Controller General of Accounts and Auditor General of Pakistan.

One cabinet member suggested that regional programme coordinators could be appointed to assist the parliamentarians of their respective areas since it was not possible for everyone to reach out the beneficiaries.

The cabinet appreciated the suggestion and directed Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division to implement on the recommendation at the earliest.

Another cabinet member suggested to use mobile banking platforms for transferring support assistance to the beneficiaries.

Dr Sania clarified that until now funds had been disbursed only to the existing beneficiaries under the Ehsaas Programme and the next phase would bring first time beneficiaries into the fold.

She said that instructional advertisements were required for the beneficiaries for which Rs300 million communication support was approved by the Economic Coordination Committee which would be spent through Ministry of Information.

She observed utmost efforts were being made for political ownership of the programme.

The SAPM urged the cabinet members to visit their respective constituencies and lead the support effort.

Furthermore, the locations of the centres were being framed out and would be disseminated among the parliamentarians within two days.

The premier while congratulating the Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Division on successfully launching the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme had directed to strictly uphold the merit and keep the programme free from any political interference.

He emphasized that ensuring transparency in the programme and reaching out to beneficiaries across the party lines was an achievement of his government.

Dr Sania maintained that political ownership was also an important element in the success of the initiative and advised that the local political leadership should get involved and mobilise the workers to identify the deserving families missed in the process.

“Such families could be assisted in getting registered through SMS or district administration,” she said.

“In no case, the criteria should be compromised and all applicants would need to pass the test of data analytics to qualify for the support,” she added.

 

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