While the nation is suffering from rising inflation and rising energy costs hitting all segments of society and business; some relief programmes have been rolled out by the incumbent government to support the low/no income segment of the nation which has been worst hit amidst fears that more citizens may move below the poverty line if left unattended.
Ehsaas programme for poverty alleviation and the Sehat card to provide free of charge health services to low/no income citizens are the two commendable and signature social security programmes rolled out by the PTI government.
The World Bank has recognised the Ehsaas Emergency Cash programme among the top four social protection interventions globally in terms of the number of people covered. Ehsaas is the programme to uplift marginalized people and is currently an umbrella initiative encompassing 134 policies and programmes.
The scheme includes programmes for social protection and livelihoods, Kafaalat programme of financial support for around 7 million women, Tahafuz to assist those that have suffered a catastrophic event, undergraduate scholarships programme for 200,000 deserving students for four years, Waseela-e-Taleem Digital programme to encourage out-of-school children to acquire education, establishment of 500 digital hubs at tehsil level for poor families with limited opportunities, a programme to rehabilitate disabled as productive citizens, protection of orphaned children and establishment of orphanages, a programme for livelihoods and jobs initiatives, ‘Great Home’ programme for old citizens, enrolment of street children in schools for rehabilitation of child labour, setting up of ‘langars’ across the country to serve free food so that no one goes to sleep hungry. Whereas, the Sehat Card programme has been designed to ensure complete and free of cost health coverage.
The aim is that the poor people would no longer have to worry about the medical treatment. Every family can avail health treatment worth Rs 720,000 at any of the public and private hospitals alike. Both programmes are workable and noted to be doing well on the ground. But, the real challenge is their sustainability, transparency, management and governance.
The governments in the past rolled out many social programmes. But those programmes could not be sustained on account of change of government, corruption and mismanagement. Ehsaas and Sehat Card programme could meet the same fate if a water-tight regime for their sustainability is not ensured this very stage. This aspect is as important as the programme itself – if not more. One realistic option for their sustainability is that the government upon successful rollout and implementation of the programme on ground should hand it over to multiple philanthropist organisations in the private sector isolated from government control and indulgence.
Pakistan is globally recognised as a country where philanthropy has immensely contributed towards building and sustaining the social sector of the country and these philanthropic institutions have earned the trust of donors. The other important aspect for the sustainability of such social programmes is the systematic graduation of the beneficiaries of the programme as earning members and contributors to the country’s economy.
At the back of all this is country’s economy which has to be strong to fund and sustain such ambitious social programmes – which means employment opportunities for the jobless, an enabling environment for the industry and businesses and political stability for local and foreign investments.
(The writer a former President, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021