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The Benazir Income Support Program has written a letter to chief secretaries of all provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and federal secretaries concerned, requesting them to take appropriate action against those government officials (BS-17 to BS-21) who or their spouses received cash grants under BISP.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation and Chairperson BISP, Dr Sania Nishtar told the Senate Functional Committee on Problems of Less Developed Areas that the BISP beneficiary profiling exercise was conducted by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) of a total of 5,783,389 beneficiaries in December 2019 on a set of seven broad parameters including whether or not the beneficiary is a government employee, whether or not beneficiary applied for CNIC with executive fee, average monthly PTCL or mobile phone bill of more than Rs 1,000 of the beneficiary, registration of one or more vehicles in the name of the beneficiary, foreign traveling by the beneficiary more than once, and foreign traveling once by the beneficiary.

She said that as a result of beneficiaries' profiling, 820,165 beneficiaries were screened out as falling in the abovementioned categories and their accounts were blocked. These 820,165 beneficiaries included 2,548 government officials (BS-17 to BS-21) who themselves or their spouses were BISP beneficiaries, she said.

Nishtar said that out of 2,548 government officials, there were 52 duplicate names in the list of officers. There were 2,037 clear cases wherein government officers (BS-17 to BS 21) themselves or their spouses received BISP cash grants through BISP partner banks, she said, adding that BISP has written a letter to chief secretaries of all provinces, GB and AJK and federal secretaries concerned requesting them to take appropriate action against these officers.

"As BISP chairperson, I can only take action against BISP employees and after data analysis, four officers of BISP have been dismissed and others have been issued show cause notices," she said, adding that her department made public the names of the dismissed officers on the same day.

She said that there is no politics behind the whole process. "We have abruptly rejected reports circulating in social media that some female politicians including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Dr Nafisa Shah and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Miaza Hameed remained beneficiaries of BISP," she said.

Nishtar requested the committee to ask provincial governments to take action against government officers who remained beneficiaries of BISP. About Ehsaas programme, she said that it is an umbrella of 135 initiatives which have been divided into four pillars.

Secretary BISP Ali Raza Bhutta said that out of 2,548 government officers, 88 officers were although registered as BISP beneficiaries yet neither were they issued nor did they receive any payment from BISP; therefore, no action has been recommended against them.

He further said that there were 290 officers who themselves or their spouses received BISP cash grant through Pakistan Post money orders. Before taking any action against them, it is mandatory to establish the receipt of money orders by them or their spouses, he said, adding that BISP has asked Pakistan Post to hold an inquiry into the matter and submit a report in one month time.

The secretary said that BISP aims to enhance access to higher education by awarding 50,000 scholarships of Rs 20 billion to undergraduate students (50 percent girl) from underprivileged families and areas over the next four years.

To a question he said that 100 percent BISP beneficiaries are being converted to biometric verification (BV) mode in all districts as per the BV-based payment mechanism under the new banking contracts.

About filling of vacant posts in BISP, he said that currently there is no need to conduct fresh recruitment as existing staff fulfills requirements of the BISP. However, the committee recommended that vacant posts in BISP should be fulfilled immediately especially in the less-developed areas.

He said that out of Rs 124.7 billion allocation for BISP in the fiscal year 2019-20, Rs 116.29 billion have been utilized.

The secretary said that a national survey will be conducted soon and poverty scorecard methodology would be applied for the identification of the poor.

The committee recommended that the BISP programme must head towards self-sustainability of beneficiaries and help them start up small businesses. The parliamentary committee also directed BISP to focus on less-developed areas and instead of allocating funds pro rata, it must increase support for less-developed areas.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020