The Nation Report On BISP Based On Bad Math, Inaccuracies

Jan 7th, 2013 | By | Category: The Nation

The Nation logoA report in The Nation (Nawa-e-Waqt Group) of 7th January suggests that the government is using BISP to reward PPP supporters instead of distributing the funds impartially. However, the maths used by reporter Iftikhar Alam to prove his thesis are filled with mistakes and inaccuracies.

The first mistake made by reporter Alam is to use total population numbers in his analysis of distribution. Alam notes that Sindh receives more funds than Punjab even though Punjab has a larger population. But BISP is not a ‘per capita’ distribution programme. It is a targeted distribution programme that only serves eligible poverty-level applicants. This makes a significant difference in how distribution should be analysed. While it is true that Punjab is home to over 55 per cent of total population, only 19 per cent of Punjabis are below poverty line.

Reporter Alam uses this mistaken data point for comparison throughout his report, writing for example that “an individual in the province [KPK] got Rs 160 on an average.” Since everyone in KPK is not eligible for BISP and funds are distributed to families, not individuals, any per capita average is a meaningless measurement of BISP funds distribution.

The reporter makes another mistake when he writes that “BISP’s claim that the programme aims at covering people below the poverty line again proves false as the money disbursement was calculated on the basis of poverty-standards”. Actually, eligibility for BISP is based on more than merely poverty-standards.

It is true that BISP eligibility requires that a family earn less than Rs6,000 per month, but further eligibility requirements include a female applicant with valid NIC. In certain areas such as FATA, this has caused registration to be low due to threat from local Taliban, not political favouritism.

There are also several reasons why an otherwise qualified family would not be eligible for BISP including:

  • Family members employed by the government, government-affiliated authorities/departments, or the armed forces;
  • A household member who draws a pension from the foregoing;
  • a member receiving post-retirement benefits from the foregoing;
  • a member who owns more than 3 acres (1.2 hectares) of agriculture
    land or more than 80 square yards (67 square meters) of residential
    land or home;
  • a member receiving income support from any other sources;
  • a member possessing a machine readable passport;
  • a member who has a National Identity Card for Overseas
    Pakistanis; and/or
  • a member who has a bank account (except at banks catering to the
    poor, including microfinance banks).

Unfortunately the reporter does not provide any estimate for the actual number of eligible families in each province, so readers have no way of knowing the actual percentage of eligible families who are receiving distributions from BISP.

Actually, there are additional reasons to doubt Iftikhar Alam’s suggestion that BISP is being used to favour Sindh.

In June of 2012 Prime Minister Ashraf directed Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and Federal Minister Farzana Raja to focus on the less-developed areas of Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas to provide financial assistance to the poorest sections of society”.

It should also be noted that BISP registrations in provinces with high poverty levels such as Khyber Pakhtunkwa are increasing at a fast rate and even though the government is expanding the number of offices, applications are experiencing delay due to an overburdened system.

BISP authorities have established offices in Warhi, Sheringal and Dir city to facilitate poverty-stricken women with financial assistance…

Talking to The Express Tribune, BISP Upper Dir in-charge Gul Haleem Khan said that the government has launched a debit card system for the poor women of the district. “The system had started functioning on December 1,” he said, adding that the BISP will give debit cards and also a mobile phone SIM to easily contact BISP officials.

Khan added that they will provide the debit card only to those women who have been part of the BISP before. The BISP was assigned a target of giving 35,000 cards to women throughout the district. 800 to 1,000 women are registered daily and in the past one month 6,000 cards have been issued. “It will take around four months to complete the process and provide cards to all the women,” he said.

Reporter Alam could make the argument that more resources should be appointed to expanding BISP offices in KPK and other provinces, but then the government would open itself to accusations of using the programme for political gains in the lead up to elections, making a ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’ situation.

Only four days ago BISP announced signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Transparency International to “provide oversight and expertise for BISP’s procurement processes to ensure integration of international standards and compliance with rules of Government of Pakistan”. If Iftikhar Alam or The Nation have any actual evidence of the government using BISP or any other programme for political motives, they should present this evidence. At the very least, they could use proper maths and analysis when reporting on government programmes so that readers will be properly informed about their effectiveness. Iftikhar Alam’s report on BISP fails that test.

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