In a rather dramatic move, days before Benazir’s death anniversary, the federal government has decided to exclude over 800,000 undeserving names from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The move was aimed to ensure transparency and merit but has already stirred a new controversy.
The government insists that the cash transfer poverty reduction programme was apolitical. According to the statistics, over 140,000 were government employees or their spouses. These affluent ‘beneficiaries’ or their spouses had travelled abroad during the last year, own vehicles, agricultural lands, hefty utility and phone bills, and applied for passports and NICs on executive fees. They cannot be considered poor or deserving in any manner to benefit from the programme.
The changes were made in the wake of reservations by federal cabinet members that supporters of the PPP were benefiting from the programme. BISP chairperson Sania Nishtar had to convince the cabinet that the programme should benefit all deserving people irrespective of their political affiliations. Prime Minister Imran Khan came to Nishtar’s defence stating that she should be given more time. The PTI government should not repeat the same mistake and include its supporters in the database.
The PPP will surely defend its actions against the PTI government amid an ongoing war of words. Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari has criticised the government for depriving poor women of the monthly stipend just for failing to meet a single criterion. She targeted the BISP chief calling the idea of suppressing and taking away a women’s independence by another woman extremely shameful.
The BISP is the country’s largest social safety net programme with 5.4 million beneficiaries whose success has been lauded worldwide. It is worrisome that previous governments did not make credible efforts to remove undeserving individuals in the programme. The move proves PPP corruption at its worst and PML-N could’s comfort with the misuse of funds.
The PM’s aide has defended the government’s decision to remove the names from the beneficiaries list stating that such decisions are not made on a whim or political basis. The financial circumstances of people change over time and those who have risen from extreme poverty should no longer be on the list. BISP should be free from political interference to benefit the poor and downtrodden who deserve to be part of the programme.