Social safety net and local governments
By the name of social protection, we cannot cause the poor more harm; rather, it is mandatory to have strong coordination among and proper implementation of these all ninety programmes by capacitating and strengthening the local government bodies where sincerity of the government is a precondition, writes M Mizanur Rahman
MANY will perhaps be surprised to hear some social safety net programmes seem to be subsidies from the government to the local administration and have ultimately become tools for exploitation. Many may even conclude that these schemes have created the scope for misappropriation for people who get only Tk 950 in monthly honorarium after spending a huge amount of money to be elected to the union parishad.
In rural areas, selling votes to local leaders in UP elections and buying safety net allocation cards from them seem to have become a routine business transaction. Suffice it to say, the extreme or hardcore poor — for whom these programmes have been chalked up in the first place — are not part of such transactions. Simply put, the safety programmes fail to reach the target population because of such mismanagement and malpractice.
Of course, there are exceptions; some UP members do try to make do with the meagre honorarium and ensure that the subsidies reach the target populace. However, most people spend a lot of money to get elected to the union parishad in the hope that their ‘investment’ would provide hefty returns in the five-year tenure.
I have recently met some UP leaders, i.e. members and chairmen. Almost in all the cases, these people demanded increase in their honorarium. Nine hundred and fifty taka is nothing for them when for performing their responsibilities; they need to spend a huge amount of money. One chairman said he needs to spend Tk 2,000 a day for charity but this amount is more than his monthly honorarium. He could not, however, give a convincing answer as to why he does this and if it is financially not profitable, why he is going for election again and again.
Safety net programmes have some major objectives in any capitalist economy, one of which is helping the most economically vulnerable people so that they do not fall below a certain level of poverty and the capitalist market can anyway cover them in its transaction cycle. But the amount we spend for these schemes are too meagre to reach the target even partially. So, there are two major challenges for these programmes: the amount given is so small that it cannot even meet the first one among the basic demands and the second one is there is so much corruption in this process that we cannot target the proper people; rather, as a by-product we are creating the scope for making some money in illegal ways for certain groups of people. But what are the costs of failure of targeting and corruption?
Average rate of spending for social protection by the governments is 1 per cent of the GDP but in the proposed budget of FY2012-2013 it is 2.18 per cent when it was 2.40 per cent in the revised budget of FY2011-12. In this financial year, the government has allocated Tk 22,750.55 crore for social protection.
Many of the safety net programmes are directly handled by the local government where some fresh Union Parishad chairmen and members have been elected. Some of the major programmes they handle are vulnerable group development, vulnerable group feeding, food for work, test relief, gratuitous relief, etc. which together account for Tk 5,035.67 crore that is 2.63 per cent of the national budget.
The poor people often take loan from loan sharks at high interest rates for bribing UP leaders (members). But definitely it is not applicable for all the people; rather, I have seen a number of UP leaders who are even spending from their own resources for the common people.
It is astonishing to know that most UP members, especially the female ones, know that their only responsibility is card distribution and they cannot even name any other responsibility they need to perform as an elected UP member. When more than one year has passed, it is a very usual expectation from them that they will know their roles and responsibilities properly and perform those duties accordingly. But it will not be wise to blame them at random; rather, we need to look into this also — what we have done to develop their capacity?
Now the time has come perhaps to assess the effectiveness and performance of these safety net programmes that the IFPRI has recently done. We need to see to what extent we have been able to address expected objective, whether these schemes are destroying the mentality of local leaders, why these programmes are being operated under a number of ministries, whether these have become the tool for the local elites and politicians for exploiting the poor, who are really benefited from this money and what exactly we need to do now. To many respect, the IFPRI findings are frustrating for us.
Strengthening local government has no alternative on the way of rural development or even overall development of the country. Decentralisation of government is essential for the country like Bangladesh where 16 crore people are living within a very small land area. The limitation of resources are making people so greedy and also over reaching that the gap between the poor and reach is always increasing at a high pace only because of that.
By the name of social protection, we cannot cause the poor more harm; rather, it is mandatory to have strong coordination among and proper implementation of these all ninety programmes by capacitating and strengthening the local government bodies where sincerity of the government is a precondition.
We need to seek the strategies for making the local governments more efficient, transparent and accountable to people. CARE-Bangladesh is practising and promoting self-evaluation of union parishads with the participation of natural leaders, where the union parishad chairmen, members and natural leaders evaluate every individual of that parishad openly. It creates an environment of competition among these people and they are put in a race of doing well. These sorts of practices need to be up-scaled as the result CARE achieved from this is quite amazing. And definitely, people will be more benefited if we can come up with these types of innovative interventions that make the UPs functional and efficient in delivering services, as this evaluation will not only consider the dealings with safety net programmes, but it will take into account the overall performances of the UP.
M Mizanur Rahman is a development researcher. The opinions expressed here are his own.
comments powered by Disqus