937Published on March 21, 2022
Dr. Pranab Kumar Pandey:
The welfare state is meant to provide services to citizens, especially those living below the poverty line. That happens in developed states but not often in developing countries like Bangladesh.
Prior to 2008, no government in Bangladesh took up programs to provide a social security net for the poor. That changed after the Awami League (AL) came to power in January 2009. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the government in the last 13 years has tried to create a social security net for the poor and succeeded to a great extent.
As many as 130 assistance programs are being implemented across the country through various ministries under the social security net. The proposed expenditure for all these programs for the financial year 2021-2022 has been estimated at Tk1,07,614 crore, which is 17.83 percent of the total budget (Tk6,03,681 crore) and about 3.11 percent of the total GDP. In the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2020-21, the expenditure on social security was estimated at 16.83 percent of the total budget, which was later increased to 17.75 percent in the revised budget. That indicates how much the government has prioritized the creation of a social security net for the poor and testifies to the government's pro-poor focus.
The government is continuing its efforts to reduce the poverty rate in the country by implementing several programs under the social safety net. Bangladesh's poverty rate in the country has come down to a great extent in the last 13 years. The Covid pandemic made it difficult to achieve the desired goal of poverty alleviation due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the previous two years, as the government had to implement lockdowns for several months at different times to control the pandemic.
But despite fears of economic stagnation, Bangladesh managed to stay on the path of growth and recovery compared to most other countries. While the major economies, including the United States, could not attain a GDP growth rate above 3 percent, Bangladesh's growth has been above 6 percent. This has been possible only because of the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina.
As corona's influence in Bangladesh continued to grow from March 2020, the government expanded its social safety net coverage. The 130 programs implemented under the social security net increased the number of beneficiaries during the pandemic period.
In 2020, the Prime Minister decided to provide one-time cash assistance directly to the beneficiaries, considering the plight of the working people during the pandemic. Following this, the government offered one-time cash assistance of Tk2,500 to 5 million families (for both urban and rural poor and destitute) through four major mobile financial service providers (Nagad, Bkash, Rocket and SureCash).
This one-time cash assistance was later extended to another 36 lakh families. One of the striking features of the program was the direct disbursement of funds to the mobile phones of the poor. Although some complaints were raised against the local people's representatives during the implementation of the assistance program, the government took necessary steps in all these matters very quickly. Prompt disciplinary action was taken against the people's representatives involved in mismanagement.
Indeed, the amount of financial assistance the poor received might not be adequate to sustain the needy for a long time, but it does point to the government's pro-poor focus. So the government decided to control market prices so that the poor could breathe easy. That is easier said than done because of the nefarious role of dishonest traders' syndicate who take advantage of festival seasons like Ramadan to drive up prices. Although various government agencies usually monitor the market during this time, the cost of essentials like foodstuff cannot be fully controlled.
Considering the plight of the working-class population, the prime minister has now decided to provide food aid to 10 million families during Ramadan to help them overcome their sufferings, just as she has directed the concerned authorities to control the market. Taking such a decision is only possible for a poor-friendly government like AL.
We all know that our resources are limited, and the demands are sky-high. As a result, there is always a gap between expectations and delivery. But, like her great father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, PM Hasina is always trying to adopt measures that help the poor.
Writer: Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Rajshahi
Courtesy: The Business Standard