** People rescuing an injured passenger from inside a passenger bus hit by a truck on Dhaka-Mawa Expressway in Shologhar area of Shreenagar upazila in Munshiganj on Thursday. ** Motorcycles allowed on Padma Bridge after 10 months ** Commuters charge extra fare, passengers disappointed ** 78 people killed in Yemen stampede ** Moon sighting committee meets today to ascertain Eid day ** 9 killed in road accidents in 3 districts ** US announces new $325 m military aid package for Ukraine ** Eid-ul-Fitr in Saudi Arabia today ** Eid exodus begins ** LPG price cut illusive ** 15 hurt as bus overturns in capital ** New interbank cheque clearing timings set for Eid holidays ** Four women hit by a train die in Tangail ** 12.28 lakh SIM users left Dhaka on Tuesday ** Sylhet engineer threatened over power outage ** People rush to village homes to spend Eid holidays with their near and dear ones. This photo was taken from Sadarghat Launch Terminal on Tuesday. NN photo ** Surge in cases of dehydration, diarrhoea amid summer heat wave ** Padma Bridge construction cost increases by Tk 2,412cr ** PM gives Tk 90m to Bangabazar fire victims ** Textile workers block highway demanding wage, Eid bonus ** Attack on PM's motorcade Ex-BNP MP, 3 others get life term ** Load-shedding increases for demand of electricity during heat wave ** Motorbikes to be allowed on Padma bridge from Thursday ** 5-day Eid vacation begins from today ** Take Nangalkot train accident as a warning about negligence of govt functionaries **

Keep social safetynet program above politics

19 February 2014

GROWING allocations for Social Safetynet Program (SSNP) has provoked a new debate at a time when the poverty rate has come down in the country below 30 percent as claimed by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). The debate has more relevance when the government has taken the move to convert the food for work programme to cash for work. Here the misuse and misappropriation of fund is at the center of the debate as cash is more secured for pilferage and easy distribution to political groups.
According to a newspaper report on Monday, the governor of Bangladesh Bank has raised the issue saying if the poverty figure is now below 30 percent, then why the government is paying allowances taking 50 percent of the population under social safetynet programmes. He has also rightly pointed at the proper utilization of the fund which is mostly handled by local government officials and representatives. The room for misappropriation, misuse and pilferage is enormous at that level through politicization of the system, corruption and personal greed of local party leaders and workers.   
Reports said that the government is now annually spending around 2.5 percent of GDP on social safetynet. The policymakers have now  decided  to increase the spending under a proposed National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) prepared by the Planning Commission. While we have every support for spending to provide greater safety to the marginalized groups, we are also equally apprehensive of whether the government is moving to raise the allocations to an area where proper transparency of disbursement of benefits and accountability of spending are highly vulnerable to questions in the light of past experience of huge misuse and exploitation of those benefits on political grounds. The Bangladesh Bank governor may have rightly raised the point and we suggest that the policy makers must pay heed to the concerns he may have raised in this regard.
Benefits from social safetynet porgrammes now accurse to the poor under Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), Food For Work (FFW), Test Relief (TR), Gratuitous Relief (GR) and Old Age Allowances. The new policy aims to identify high priority schemes and make the system more inclusive by incorporating a higher proportion of the poor and vulnerable people when their overall number is on decline as per BBS report. Moreover it plans to convert the food for work to cash for work where the room for misuse and pilferage may be the highest.   So we may ask the policy makers to assess the effectiveness and performance of the existing safetynet programmes before further extending it covering more budgetary resources.
We also suggest the strengthening of the local government system by making them truly elective to make its functionaries more transparent and accountable to the electorate in disbursing safetynet benefits. Discrimination of the beneficiaries on political ground is often reported.  Moreover using the resources to advance political cause and patronizing even well to do political workers with the fund is not something new. We are against using tax payers money and budgetary resources to that end and demand the government to keep the safetynet issue above politics.

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