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The Financial Express

Whither social safety net programmes?

| Updated: October 21, 2017 16:13:11


Whither social safety net programmes?
Bangladesh is no longer a "basket case" as the country was derisively described by Henry Kissinger at its independence. It has attained lower middle-income status. Today none dies of starvation; the country has attained food security. But how secure are the poor in terms of nutrition?
The country currently spends nearly 2.0 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on about 90 social protection programmes operated by 20 ministries. The budgetary allocation for the social safety net projects has gone up over the years. But the outcome is not satisfactory. The reasons behind the failure to achieve the desired level of success need to be found out for taking remedial steps.
 There are leakages of precious funds in the existing social safety net programmes and the government has resolved to take corrective measures. 
It has come up with the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) to cover all the poor people by the year 2018. To succeed, the NSSS will have to ensure more efficient and effective use of resources, strengthen delivery systems and introduce a more inclusive form of social security that will effectively address lifecycle risks and prioritise the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.  The NSSS targets to cover 80 million poor people.  
It is now time to clearly identify the beneficiaries and implementing agencies of the social protection projects within the NSSS ambit. The existing social protection programmes are mostly rural-focused, with a limited coverage and meagre allocation. Fragmented bureaucratic set-up also takes a toll on the schemes. The authorities should review the current projects. New projects might be taken up, while some existing projects could be merged. 
In most of the projects, the eligible beneficiaries are not targeted. Guidelines are not properly followed. There are allegations of nepotism and corruption. It is time for preparing a database of half of the nearly 27 per cent population living below the poverty line. It is also time for preparing a database of the country's richest 1.0 per cent people alongside a database of the extreme poor. 
Tackling the issue of nutrition should be incorporated in the NSSS. Most of the targeted poor are not yet aware of what cheap but nutritious food is within their reach. Special efforts are needed for the severely malnourished children. Experts say regular intake of home-made food is the best way to ensure immediate and long-term solutions of child malnutrition. As the government has a strong network in villages, the NSSS should devise ways and means to spread throughout the country the message of combating malnutrition. 
The government may consider introducing wealth tax as a means of financing the social protection system, as expanding the income tax network might not yield the revenue that may be required for the purpose.
 

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