Fearing widespread fraud and abuse of the system, the government has decided to scrutinise the database of the Benazir Income Support Programme, an income transfer scheme that provides an annual stipend of Rs18,000 to 4.8 million beneficiary households across Pakistan.
“The sanity check of the database of the 4.8 million beneficiary families has begun,” announced Marvi Memon, the newly appointed chairperson of BISP on Wednesday. She said that payments would be made to only those persons who are cleared during the ongoing scrutiny process.
The audit process is being undertaken jointly by the BISP administration and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). Memon did not disclose how much progress the teams had made or what method they were using to determine eligibility.
This is the second time BISP’s beneficiary database has been scrutinised since the programme was launched in 2008. The first such audit came during the Zardari Administration, when the government tried to screen out recipients recommended to the programme by parliamentarians, on the recommendation of the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
BISP Secretary Shabbir Ahmad said that the number of households that benefit from the programme reached 4.8 million in December 2014, and is expected to reach 5 million by June 2015. During the first poverty survey of 27 million families, approximately 7.7 million were identified as eligible for BISP benefits on the basis of income, of which 5.5 million possess computerised national identity cards, a second condition of the programme.
Ahmad said that BISP disbursed Rs42 billion during the first half of the fiscal year ending June 30, insisting that the government did not miss the Rs48.6 billion target set by the International Monetary Fund. The secretary declined to provide further details of the disbursements since January.
Memon said that there was an urgent need to launch a fresh survey to identify the eligible families, as many families were left out during the first survey. She said many more families might have fallen into poverty since the last survey was conducted about five years ago. She added that the re-launching of beneficiaries identification survey would also address the concerns of the parliamentarians.
The BISP chairperson also announced that the organisation’s board was in the process of deciding whether or not to continue the complimentary “Wasela-e-Rozgar” programme, a guaranteed work scheme designed to provide employment to the chronically unemployed.
Fixing turf wars
Memon also claimed that the rules for the functioning of the BISP board had been finalised and that it would become more involved in running the institution compared to the past. Ahmad added that the roles of the board, the chairman and the secretary have been well defined under the new rules.
Both appear to be referring to turf wars between the BISP secretary and chairman in the past, which had resulted in considerable acrimony at the institution and led to the ouster of two BISP secretaries in quick succession, followed by chairman Enver Beg.
“BISP faces multiple challenges,” said Memon. “Some of these challenges are operational and service delivery driven in nature and some are new role related in the aftermath of 18th Amendment to the Constitution.” In order to effectively counter these challenges BISP has developed a 100 Days Action Plan with over 70 actionable items with specific deadlines and responsibilities, she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2015.