ISLAMABAD: The government has confessed that the poverty level is increasing due to a surge in prices of fuel and food products. However, it shied away from sharing the actual number of people under the poverty line.
The finance ministry released on Monday the annual progress report of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II and shared the findings with the donor agencies.
A process to identify the actual number of poor people was under way through the poverty scorecard survey but there are indications that poverty has been increasing since 2008, said an official of the finance ministry.
The government will have to determine the poverty level aimed at providing assistance under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to deserving persons, he said.
As high as 60 per cent ineligible people are getting monthly cash transfers under BISP in 16 districts, according to the initial findings of the poverty survey being conducted by the government.
The government has failed to determine the poverty level for the last two years and has published two consecutive economic surveys without poverty figures.
The controversy is between the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) and the Planning Commission (PC). The Statistics Division’s last unannounced findings showed 17.2 per cent poverty whereas the Planning Commission said that poverty was above 35 per cent but it did not share its methodology of calculating the figure.
The PRSP II paper stated that the major portion of the government intervention was spent through the BISP, over one-third assistance was given under this programme. However, spending on other social safety net programmes was slashed significantly due to the BISP whose impact on poverty reduction is still to be determined.
The meeting participants showed apprehensions that despite the increased poverty related expenditures in recent years the number of people living below the poverty line rose approximately to 50 million out of total 170 million people. They said that there was a gap between actual and booked expenditures in the name of poor.
The PRSP Secretariat also decided to conduct an analysis by approaching people at grass roots level to determine the reasons for a declining trend in primary enrolment from 56 per cent to around 55 per cent in the latest Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measurement (PSLM) survey. The same exercise will be done to determine facts related to health indicators.
The National Project Manager of the PRSP, Sajjad Ahmed Sheikh, said that the Statistics Division did not share the PSLM data with the secretariat despite repeated requests. He said that the purpose of the survey was to determine the outcome of poverty-related expenditures.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2010.