Pakistan needs more than BISP: researcher says

Pakistan needs more than BISP: researcher says
Nation stepped into Naya Pakistan after Imran Khan-led Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power via triumph in the general elections this year.

As PTI made ambitious promises to the nation, an overhaul of government policies was expected by a large segment of the population, including the beneficiaries of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail had announced an increment in Benazir Income Support Programme’s (BISP) budget during his Budget speech in National Assembly on April 27, 2018. The allocation for BISP was raised to PKR124.7 billion for the fiscal year 2018-19, which meant that every beneficiary would get PKR4834 per quarter.

The PTI government offer the beneficiaries of BISP an additional amount of PKR1611 per month (paid quarterly).

The question now is that does it really make a difference in their lives? There is no difference at least in the life of Zakiya Bibi, a 54-year-old beneficiary of BISP.

She says, “This increase in the amount doesn’t really translate into a major change. I don’t know what Naya Pakistan is. The house where I work as a maid is almost 18km away from my residence and recently the fare of public transport has increased. Price of pulses and other basic necessities have also increased, so even if I am getting a bit more money than I previously did, it makes no difference.”

When asked whether she knew the reasons behind inflation or not, she said, “I am not a literate person but my employer’s son was mentioning some days ago that there are some issues going on with the dollar. I don’t know what he meant but he did told me that prices would increase further. I am worried about my family’s survival because we hardly earn PKR 6-7 thousand per month.”

The general public in Pakistan knows that whenever the price of dollar increases in Pakistan, price of almost everything increases. This makes the life of poor class more difficult. The BISP program focuses on aiding women belonging to lower economic strata across the country.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-18, BISP had disbursed PKR 563.57 billion to its beneficiaries till January 15, 2018, since its inception in 2008, while its beneficiaries increased from 1.7 million in 2008-09 to approximately 5.63 million by December 2017. Also the quarterly cash grant has increased from PKR3000 per family to PKR4834 per family.

A number of projects are run under BISP. These include Conditional Cash Transfer programmes like, Waseela-e-Taleem, E-Commerce, etc. too.

Under Waseela-e-Taleem programme, the BISP aims to enroll approximately 2 million children in primary schools by December 2018. This involves a cash transfer of PKR 250 per month per child, paid quarterly (PKR 750 per child) for all children of each beneficiary family falling in the age bracket of 4-12 years, in return for their compliance with the co-responsibilities of school admissions and a minimum of 70 percent quarterly attendance.

Till December 2017, about PKR5.81 billion has been disbursed as stipend under the Conditional Cash Transfer. But do all these projects under BISP actually help in eradicating poverty in Pakistan?

Zeeshan Hashim, a research scholar at the University of Essex and former Director Research and Development at The World Bank, argues that this programme has failed to achieve its goals.
“There were basically three main objectives of BISP: smoothing the daily income of people living below the poverty line; facilitating the home-based small businesses to grow by providing help in terms of working capital; eradicating poverty. If we do a time series analysis of the periods before and after the implementation of BISP, we don't find any significant differences although the government of Pakistan with the help of foreign donors especially the UK government spent multibillions rupees with the consistency and enthusiasm of policymaking,” Zeeshan said.

While responding to a question regarding reasons of failure he makes a point by referring to the failure of similar government-run cash transfer welfare programmes in Africa and some other developing economies. He said, “William Easterly, a prominent economist of our time, states that there is only one formula for eradicating poverty and encouraging small and medium businesses: strengthening the forces of the free market so that people could easily respond to the demand and supply of market”.

He also referred to David S. Landes’s book - The Wealth and Poverty of Nations- which explains that modern western societies are not economically developed due to foreign aid or income redistribution measures but because of industrialization, advancement in sciences and technology and integration of liberal values.

He said, “Pakistan is not a developed country not because of the lack of such BISP type economic welfare programmes. It is a poor country because of the factors highlighted by Easterly and Landes, which are least developed here and any such programme like BISP cannot compensate for these faults.”

The author is a graduate of IBA's Centre for Excellence in Journalism.