Special Assistant to the P.M. on Social Welfare says forensic data analysis identified people who are ineligible for support
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government has decided to bar over 800,000 people from availing the Benazir Income Support Program, utilizing data to weed out families of government employees and those with vehicles registered against their names.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar said that the federal cabinet had approved her proposal to exit 820,165 “undeserving” beneficiaries of the BISP.
The BISP has been a sore spot for members of the incumbent government, with lawmakers claiming that the program benefits supporters of opposition parties—especially backers of the Pakistan Peoples Party—while ignoring those who backed the ruling PTI.
Nishtar on Tuesday told the federal cabinet that in light of their complaints, she had utilized forensic data analysis with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority to highlight beneficiaries who were “undeserving.” She highlighted several factors that were considered, including whether or not a beneficiary or their spouse was employed with the government; owned a car or motorcycle; had traveled abroad; or had a monthly phone bill exceeding Rs. 1,000.
With the exit of 820,165 people, said Nishtar, the government would save “Rs. 16 billion” annually.
Launched in July 2008, the BISP is the country’s largest social safety net, catering to women and benefiting around 5.4 million people, according to data released in 2016. Despite acrimony between the PPP, which launched the program, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the program was continued due to its aim of helping women achieve independence, and to encourage entrepreneurship.
According to the data released by Nishtar, 153,302 beneficiaries are being removed from the BISP because they traveled abroad once; 193,364 because their spouses traveled abroad; 10,476 because they traveled abroad more than once; and 166,319 because their spouses traveled abroad more than once. Critics have pointed out that this is a flawed metric for exclusion, as it is fairly common for low-income Pakistanis to travel abroad for pilgrimage. Many of these trips are paid for by relatives as a gift and do not suggest a lack of poverty.
Additionally, 14,730 beneficiaries are being exited because they are government employees, while 127,826 are being removed because their spouses are government employees. The BISP was never intended for government servants, and these numbers suggest either deficiencies in the program, or employment having been secured after becoming recipients of the BISP.
Also removed were 692 people for having one or more vehicles registered against their names, while 43,746 were exited because their spouses have one or more vehicles registered against their names. Similarly, 24,546 were removed for having an average monthly phone bill (PTCL or mobile) exceeding Rs. 1,000, while 115,767 were exited for having spouses whose phone bills exceeded the same amount.
For seeking passports via executive centers, 666 beneficiaries were excluded; 580 were exited because their spouses availed the service. Additionally, 36,970 people were expelled from the list because three or more family members paid executive fees for obtaining computerized national identity cards.
Slamming the move, Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari, daughter of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said the government was depriving poor women of a monthly stipend on weak criteria. “Almost 1 million beneficiaries of the only social safety net for women are cut off for meeting just one of the ridiculous criteria. Shameful that the idea of further suppressing and taking away independence of a woman came from a woman. Cut off from monthly stipend because of her husband’s phone bill,” she said on Twitter.