One of the major deficiencies of the government's social safety net programmes is obviously the lack of database to identify the regions and communities to be brought under safety net as well as the type and depth of support needed. This obviously has resulted in unplanned allocation of resources, leading in most cases to wastage of taxpayers' money. Political influence has always played a decisive role in determining where the safety net support should go and to whom. Although there has not been any comprehensive study so far on the impact of doling out huge sums of public money every year in the name of assisting the poor and marginal population, it is more than evident that the flawed mechanism of fund allocation reliant mostly on local politicians' choices and preferences has not succeeded in addressing the needs of the hardcore poor.
In order to do away with the system, the government for the first time has taken up an extensive programme of conducting a country-wide survey on poverty under a project titled 'National Household Database Project'. Clearly a laudable step, the survey is meant to strengthen the social safety net programmes in a planned manner and to stop misuse of public fund resulting from faulty selection of beneficiaries. A huge task no doubt, the survey activity, spread over three phases of work programme, has completed two phases in five administrative divisions and the third phase is due to begin very shortly to cover the three remaining divisions. The immediate gain from the survey would be a database which in all likelihood should facilitate undertaking various pro-poor programmes, not just the safety net related ones, by providing vital socio-economic information on all households of the country-- approximately 36 million.
The government, especially the present government, ran dozens of programmes to reach the hardcore poor but failure to identify the right beneficiaries largely undermined the effectiveness of the programmes.
Surely, the poverty database would be a tool to verify the current lists of social safety net beneficiaries, and also help curb corruption-- believed to be widespread in all safety net programmes. A World Bank report released sometime ago said that only 1.2 per cent of the beneficiaries of vulnerable group development programme fulfilled the key criteria of reaching the true beneficiaries. It also said that the criteria set for different social security programmes were homogenous and unable to reach 60 per cent of the country's hardcore poor. It also showed discrepancies in distribution of resources as poorer regions got less allocations under social safety net programmes compared to the relatively well-off areas.
Now, usefulness of the survey in creating the database depends on ensuring that a proper guideline is followed in collating required information as per a sound criterion, which according to experts, should be region or area-specific instead of being homogenous. Experts have also opined that the database should be synchronised with the national identification database in order to render it authentic. If done properly, the database beside meeting the government's planning-related needs can also be of great help to think tanks, individual researchers and development partners in assessing the actual state and nature of poverty while at the same time suggesting measures on the basis of uniform data.
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