Social safety net programmes in Bangladesh can cover only a fraction of the total poor population
Some 65.6% beneficiaries of government's social safety net programmes are non-poor and the rest are really poor, according to a new research from the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
The CPD disclosed its research findings through a dialogue titled "Efficiency of delivering social protection programmes in north-west region" on Wednesday.
With the assistance of Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, the CPD organised the virtual dialogue in association with Oxfam in Bangladesh.
While presenting the keynote speech, CPD Senior Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan said, "Social safety net programmes in Bangladesh can cover only a fraction of the total poor population. Only 32.5% poor households received some forms of assistance, while about 19.8% among the non-poor were included in such programmes."
He said the report was prepared based on secondary data and field study in four poverty-prone districts – Kurigram, Rangpur, Gaibandha and Nilphamari – regarding five services such as maternity allowance, primary school stipend, secondary school stipend, employment generation programme for the poorest and old-age allowance.
The number of beneficiaries of safety net programmes is relatively high in those districts due to higher poverty rate, he further said.
Among the recipients, nearly 44% of non-poor people are enjoying social safety net privileges in Gaibandha, over 30% in Kurigram, 34% in Nilphamari and over 21% in Rangpur, he added.
According to the CPD report, the employment generation programme for the ultra-poor had the best target, while the secondary school stipend programme was the worst.
The report said about 67.8% of old-allowance recipients in five districts are from non-poor families, while only 32.2% are from poor families. Some 41.5% maternity allowance receivers are from poor families, while 58.5%from the non-poor.
More than half of the beneficiaries of the employment generation programme for the ultra-poor are from non-poor families.
Lawmaker AB Tajul Islam, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, at the event, said, "All problems will be eliminated if we can prepare a database of the poor people and update it regularly."
He blamed mismanagement, distribution errors and corruption of local government representatives for the inclusion of fake beneficiaries in the social safety net programmes.
He stressed developing a moral education system to reduce corruption.
He also suggested cutting the bank charge for transferring the benefit of the social safety programmes.
AB Tajul Islam said some people are receiving benefits from more than one schemes while some others are getting nothing.
Lower wage under the employment generation programme is encouraging local representatives to go for unfair activities, he added.
The former minister also said the government has a wide scope of work to reduce corruption in the social security programmes.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the CPD and convenor of Citizen's Platform for SDGs, emphasised eradicating poverty by reducing inequality and ensuring decent work for new recruitsin the job market.
He said the allocation from the government for the social security programmes is increasing, but the lion's share of the amount is spent to pay pensions of retired government employees, who are not poor.
He also said the government should ensure a reliable database of the poor, proper budgetary management and digital transfer.
He also said the social safety net should be widened, putting an emphasis on education, women empowerment, urban poverty, disaster prone areas and poverty pockets of the country.
Rensje Teerink, ambassador and head of Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, has expressed her surprise over information that more than 65% of beneficiaries underthe social security programmes are non-poor.
She said it is a big challenge to make sure that the list of beneficiaries is correct, the money is being transferred to the actual recipients, and some people are not receiving from more than one schemes.
She identified the social security programmes as the major tool to support Bangladesh after its graduation from the least developed country status.
Dr M Abu Eusuf, professor and chairman at Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, said the government is preparing single registry management information system, which will reduce corruption in the social security programmes
He said the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics' national household database mightbe helpful.
Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the CPD; Dr Dipankar Datta, country director, Oxfam in Bangladesh; and Parveen Akhter, director general at the Department of Women Affairs spoke, among others, at the event chaired by Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the CPD.
Representatives from local governments, beneficiaries of the social safety net programmes and officials from different NGOs also attended the dialogue.
The CPD research found problems in proper information dissemination, beneficiary selection, and some other forms of corruption, nepotism and political pressure in the selection stage of beneficiaries.
Towfiqul Islam Khan said only people having good relation with the chairmen and secretaries at union parishads know information about maternity allowance or old-age allowance first.
Most school authorities are not following rules of selecting 30% poor female students and 20% poor male students for stipends.
The list of beneficiaries under the employment generation programme is not being updated every year. That is why new poor are being left out of the programme.