For old age allowances, 32.2% beneficiaries were poor, while 67.8% were non-poor
As many as 65.6% of government funds allocated for poor people under the social safety net program (SSNP) have gone to non-poor people due to political pressure and corruption during the beneficiary selection process, said a survey report.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) published the report, titled “Efficiency of Delivering Social Protection Programs in the North-West Region”, and revealed its findings on Wednesday.
The survey was conducted based on the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2016 of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on Nilphamari, Rangpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha districts.
These districts belong to the Rangpur Division, the poorest in Bangladesh in terms of poverty level.
The survey also focused on the efficiency of the delivery of five core-lifecycle based social protection programs.
These include maternity allowance, primary and secondary school stipend programs, employment generation program for the poorest and old age allowance.
A total 1,500 households (HHs) with at least one SSNP beneficiary were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire.
As per the survey findings, about 65.6% among the interviewees from the households receiving SSNP assistance were from the non-poor category, while only 34.4% of the assistance went to the actual poor.
For old age allowances, 32.2% beneficiaries were poor, while 67.8% were non-poor.
Among maternity allowances, 41.5% of the beneficiaries were poor and 58.5% were non-poor.
In case of employment generation for the ultra poor, 49.6% recipients were poor and 50.4% were non-poor.
About 72% secondary school stipend beneficiaries were non-poor students and only 28% were poor students.
On the other hand, 63.8% recipients of primary school stipend were non-poor and 36.2% were poor.
"From the presentation, I learned 65% of SSNPs beneficiaries are not poor. A big challenge is to make sure that there is no leakage and it is important to identify genuine beneficiaries, said Rensje Teerink, European Union (EU) ambassador to Bangladesh, who joined the virtual meeting as a special quest.”
Leaving no one behind is the backbone of the national social safety net program. Service delivery must be more efficient, effective, and transparent, said Teerink.
She also urged to include indigenous people, transgender, and people with disabilities for more inclusiveness in the SSNPs.
Why the beneficiary mistarget?
Political consideration, corruption, nepotism and clientelism result in mistargeting of beneficiaries, said Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow of CPD in his keynote presentation.
“For example, according to the statements of a number of UP chairmen and members, and government officials during the field study, most of the targeting errors in case of maternity allowance and old age allowance occur in the form of cards being given away on political consideration,” he further remarked.
Problems such as information dissemination are pervasive throughout the social safety net program cycle. In the absence of proper information dissemination campaign, potential beneficiary identification depends on middlemen, said Islam.
He also said the beneficiary selection process often deviates from the policies, while selection meetings do not take place or get publicized on the pretext of insufficient budget allocation.
On the other hand, increase in allocation for SSNPs fails to match the pace of overall rise of budgetary allocation or the size of the GDP as it includes pension.
As per the survey findings, pension for retired government employees and their families account for almost a third of the total safety net budget. This makes the actual resource envelope even smaller than it appears.
Beneficiaries have only scant knowledge as regards to SSNP implementation guidelines, which also lead to paying bribes in getting the benefits.
From the HH survey, it was found that an astounding 90.5% of the respondents did not know about the grievance redress system of the SSNPs they are beneficiaries of, which can be resolved through awareness about the implementation guideline of the SSNPs.
How to select proper beneficiary
“A devil nexus of local political power is at work to make the government policy a failure. They need to be disbanded to ensure proper implementation of SSNPs,” said Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the Citizen's Platform for SDGs.
He also suggested empowering the local voice and includes non-state actors (civil society members, non-government organizations and rights groups) in selecting the beneficiaries and to stop corruption in redelivering the services.
Urging the government to provide safety to local administration, Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of CPD, put emphasis on developing a national household database and using a digital payment system to pay the poor under SSNPs.
The think-tank also urged the government to increase the allocation and separate the SSNPs from the pension scheme. It argued that the present allocation is about 2% of which 1% for the pension scheme.
It also called for increasing the implementation efficiency as well as expanding the area of coverage and number of beneficiaries under the SSNPs.