BISP— a tale of irregularities and malpractice

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: Photo By News Lens Pakistan /
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan

Umerkot: It is Malookan’s 18th visit to the Benazir Debit Card Centre (BDCC) Umerkot. Each of these visits has been futile for she had to return home empty-handed. For a 55-year-old woman who has none except herself to look after her ailing husband and eight young children, paying frequent visits to BDCC has never been an easy chore. No one in the centre has the will to help such poor women. The BDCC has made the life of many women miserable because of rampant corruption and lack of any monitoring system by the government to ensure that the recipients of the cash programme are not exploited. Many women have even stopped coming to the centre to avoid the tiresome money acquisition process.

Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was the brainchild of Pakistan People’s Party and was launched in 2009. The program was aimed at providing a safety net to the critically poor families caught up in the cycle of poverty where joblessness and inflation have further tightened the noose around their neck. Under the programme, poor families identified through a baseline poverty survey are given Rs 1,000 per month. To be eligible to receive the BISP transfer a household should meet two broad criteria: One, it must achieve a certain poverty score; Second, it must have at least one married or ever married female. The BISP was previously dispensing cash to the beneficiaries through the postal service but the alleged corrupt practices of the post office officers compelled the government to look for an alternative cash dispensation method. The Benazir Card Project was developed not only to facilitate the beneficiaries to have an easy access to their money but to minimise corruption in the BISP. The question is whether corruption had been rooted out of the BISP system. Is the safety net providing the needed support? As far as Umerkot is concerned, the answer perhaps is no. According to Malookan, she was informed about her eligibility to receive BISP’s stipend on 8th May 2012. She applied for the BDC after going through a number of verification processes involving her National Identity Card and thumb impression. However, the entire exercise fell flat a month later when she went to the centre to collect the card and the stipend. Someone had already withdrawn money from her account! The card was never issued yet it had been used. She ran from pillar to post to register her complaint, but no one listened to her. She asked the officials to block her card. She was assured that her card had been blocked. However, on her next visit, she was faced with the same situation. Her card had been used, her money had been withdrawn, and someone had again lined his pocket while poor Malookan simply stood watching the faces of the officials. For them perhaps it was business as usual, but for her, it was another stab in the back by the government.

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan /

Another woman called Hidaee, a widow, told the News Lense that she was given unregistered debit card by the special desk team at the Umerkot Benazir Debit Card Centre. Mir Hassan Soomro, in charge BDCC Umerkot told this scribe that he had received complaints regarding the involvement of BISP, National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA), and Banks’ officials in embezzling the cash transfers. BISP has collaborated with NADRA and Banks to run the BDC project. The officials of these institutions even sexually harass women according to Hassan. Along with these sharks, there are other equally veracious elements in this sea of corruption, such as the composing and stamp shops. They lure these poor, illiterate women into filing complaints at BISP’s office in Islamabad and take Rs 100 to write an application. Some are duping the women into believing that there is a system to assess if they are eligible to the cash transfer or not, the assessment fee these fake assessors charge is around 50 to 100 rupees. Similarly, women who are unable to operate the ATM (and there are many such women) are fleeced by another batch of looters who take Rs 200 from each woman for cash withdrawal. These so-called helpers at times either exchange the debit card with a fake one or steal the money by informing the cardholder that her account is empty. Many women enter the wrong pin number and inadvertently get their cards blocked. “The process of unblocking the card is lengthy and tedious. It took me three months to get my card unblocked”, said Dileep Meghwar, a recipient of cash transfer. Sometimes a middleman takes a ride of these desperate women by assuring them to get their cards unblocked against a fee of Rs 100 or 200. When asked if the government has made any attempt to teach these illiterate women how to operate ATM or use BDC, Hassan replied in the negative.

Nirmal Meghwar, a former employee of Tameer Bank, one of the BISP’s partners, told News Lens that once on the complaint of beneficiaries he issued them 137 duplicate BDCs. However, the then in charge BISP Umerkot Bashir Panhwar and his colleague Khurram Bajwa again deactivated the cards. According to Nirmal these 137 cards were reissued after some time but were never distributed to the beneficiaries. Instead, the officers used them to draw cash for themselves.

Even the poverty survey conducted to map poor households has been adulterated when influential families declared their own people as eligible recipients. Meena, a resident of Gohar Oad near Umerkot told this scribe that her rich landlady was receiving the stipend from the BISP. Meena’s son Prem, who is rather literate, told News Lens that the poverty scorecard was changed to such an extent that poor families were shown to be rich while the rich families were painted poor. In most of the cases, families living in one house but earning their own living had a hard time convincing the survey team about their individual identities as different families living under one roof. According to Thardeep Ali Nawaz Nizamani, in-charge Poverty Score Survey, the process to assess a poor household was simple. We asked 16 questions and families that could answer these questions were declared qualified for the transfer.” He ruled out any favouritism or manipulation

When the Pakistan Muslim League (N) took over in 2013 and decided to keep the BISP running, it expressed the hope to lower corruption and increase benefits to the beneficiaries, which is so far not visible. When contacted, Minister of State and Chairperson BISP, Marvi Memon said that to rectify these problems they were taking a number of steps such as spot-checks through surprise visits at the level of Chairperson, Secretary and other higher officers of BISP, field visits by the Chairperson BISP, Marvi said the government has activated its Hotline number 0800-26477 so that the beneficiaries may call directly to BISP headquarters for resolution of their complaints instead of standing in long queues at Tehsil offices. BISP is introducing new mechanisms for payment and complaint handling in order to facilitate its beneficiaries and to minimize the middleman culture. In this regard, the biometric payment system has been launched in Larkana. Finally, concludes Marvi, BISP has involved police to take care of the criminals involved in looting the poor people.

: Photo By News Lens Pakistan /
: Photo By News Lens Pakistan /

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