Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal speaks at a seminar on social protection for food security organised by USAID-funded Shouhardo II programme of CARE Bangladesh, in Dhaka yesterday. Photo: Star
The government must categorically identify beneficiaries and implementing agencies of the social protection projects once the country finalises the much-needed national strategy on the social protection system, analysts said yesterday.
The call was made to avert leakage and a lack of coordination.
They said the existing social protection programmes are mostly rural-focused, with a limited coverage and meagre allocation.
Fragmented bureaucratic set-up coupled with corruption and irregularities also takes a toll on the schemes.
"We will have to take stock of the current projects. New projects might be taken up, while some projects could be merged," said Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, a former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank.
He spoke at a national seminar on “social protection interventions in Bangladesh: key challenges and ways forward for enhancing food security” at the Cirdap auditorium in Dhaka.
The USAID-funded Shouhardo II programme of CARE Bangladesh organised the event with support from the government.
Under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme, the government is currently developing a national social protection strategy.
According to the UN, the country is currently putting nearly 2 percent of its gross domestic product into about 90 social protection programmes operated by 20 ministries.
Khaled, also a former chairman of Bangladesh Krishi Bank, said the budgetary allocation for the social safety net projects has gone up over the years.
"But the yield is not satisfactory. We have to find out the reasons behind the failure to achieve desired success and take remedial steps."
Khaled also alleged that the eligible beneficiaries are not being targeted in the projects. "Guidelines are not being followed. There are nepotism and corruption as well."
He called for preparing a database of half of the nearly 27 percent population living below the poverty line. "Otherwise, no projects will be successful."
Binayak Sen, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said although about 2 percent of the GDP is being spent on the safety net projects, the country will not be able to narrow income inequality by leaving out disparities unaddressed in the 98 percent of the GDP.
He called for preparing a database of the country's richest 1 percent people alongside a database of the extreme poor, as the top 1 percent is beyond the surveillance.
Sen said Bangladesh will have to use wealth tax as a weapon to finance the social protection system, as expanding the income tax network might not yield much-needed revenue to be needed for the system.
He stressed the need for a special food rationing system, similar to that handed to the members of the armed forces, for the workers of garment factories who earn so little yet toil in the most hazardous condition.
Abul Barkat, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, who chaired the event, said Bangladesh will have to go a long way before having a desired social protection system.
"Bangladesh currently spends Tk 156 for a person under the social safety net. You can't have an effective social protection system with that amount of per capita spending," he said.
The economist said the country also needs to think about the older people, as they currently account for about 7 percent of the population, but will be 20 percent of the populace 10 years later.
CARE Bangladesh identified non-transparent processes in targeting beneficiaries, absence of baseline information and strong governance, abuse of political power and insufficient allocation as the major challenges for the social protection schemes.
Other obstacles include a lack of monitoring, overlapping in getting entitlements and the poor being left out.
CARE Bangladesh called for initiating different income generating activities for the different strata of people, introducing a social accountability process and social insurance for the poor, among some measures.
Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, at 17 percent, Bangladesh has already brought down the number of people living in extreme poverty close to the world average of 16 percent.
"Hopefully, we will be able to make Bangladesh a hunger-free nation by 2021," he said.
Paul Sabatine, deputy mission director of USAID in Bangladesh, said: "There are many people and communities we still need to reach."
Christa Rader, representative of World Food Programme, said food security and nutrition have to be included in the social protection system.
"Building resilience is fundamental if you want to sustain the gains in poverty eradication," she said.
Goran Jonsson, senior programme adviser to the UNDP, said Bangladesh must include the issue of healthcare and health insurance in its social protection system, as illness is the main contributor to poverty seen across the world.
Mashiur Rahman Ranga, state minister for LGRD, Monjur Rashid, knowledge management coordinator of the Shouhardo II programme, Prof Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, chairman of Unnayan Onneshan, and Marc Nosbach, chief of party of the Shouhardo II programme, also spoke.