Farid Ahmed Molla, additional director (social security programme) of the Department of Social Services, told Prothom Alo that a decision has been taken to provide allowances in the G2P (government to person) method through mobile financial service. They are hoping to pay all the pending allowances at a go before the Eid-ul-Fitr once the digital accounts of 80 to 90 per cent of the beneficiaries are created.

According to the finance ministry, a total of 123 social safety net programmes under various ministries are in operation in the fiscal year 2020-21, including seven new ones. It has a budget of Tk 955.74 billion (95 thousand and 574 crore).

A total of 8,850,000 beneficiaries are being provided with cash assistance under the old age allowance, allowances for widows, destitute women deserted by their husbands and disability allowance programmes in 2020-21 fiscal year through the Department of Social Services under the Ministry of Social Welfare.

This includes stipends of nearly 100,000 disabled students. A database of the beneficiaries is being created to provide the allowances electronically through the G2P method using the management information system (MIS) software.

Mobile banking accounts are being opened countrywide through mobile financing services – bKash and Nagad – using the national identity card of the beneficiaries. All the information of the beneficiaries will be preserved in the MIS.

Shamsuddin Haider, head of corporate communications of bKash, told Prothom Alo, “bKash is verifying the data of the mobile numbers sent by the government institution by matching it with the information of national identity cards. bKash has also been asked to ensure that a same number is not included in multiple allowance programmes."

Accounts are being opened of numbers that do not have a bKash account, he added.

4.5 million digital accounts in two months

Mumtaz Bawa, a widow, lives with her son Saddam Hossain, a garment worker, in the slum. Speaking to Prothom Alo, the mother and the son said that they did not know why she is not getting the allowances.

Her fingerprint was collected last month. She was provided with a new SIM card as well. However, she does not have a mobile phone. But her son’s mobile has slots for two SIM cards.

The Department of Social Services said around 7.6 million (76 lakh) beneficiaries will be provided with the allowances through mobile financing service (SFS) in the current fiscal year. About 4.5 million digital accounts of the beneficiaries have been activated till 5 April.

Upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of Gurudaspur upazila in Natore, Md Tomal Hossain, told Prothom Alo that a total of 12,687 beneficiaries are provided with the allowances for widows and destitute women deserted by their husbands, disability allowance and freedom fighter allowances in his upazila. Some 12,108 among them have already been added to the database.

According to the Department of Social Services, the country started paying allowances through Sonali Bank, Agrani Bank, Janata Bank, Bangladesh Krishi Bank and Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank from the 1997-98 fiscal year. In 495 upazilas, cities and district towns, the allowances were disbursed through 80 urban community development (UCD) units under the Department of Social Services.

Since the 2017-18 fiscal year, about 1.2 million elderly women, widowed women and women abused by their husbands and disabled beneficiaries in 77 upazilas of 21 districts have been provided with the allowances through agent banking using biometric methods.

Contract agents of Bank Asia, Modhumoti Bank Limited and NRB Commercial Bank distribute allowances through Union Digital Centre (UDC).

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the additional director (social security) of Department of Social Services, Farid Ahmed said, the beneficiaries will be able to collect their allowances at any place through mobile banking as their accounts are digitised.

Information of the beneficiaries is being verified through the national identity card server of the Election Commission before adding any account to MIS.

When asked how many have been excluded, he said they do not have any official number in this regard. However, very few have been excluded. People from the waiting list are being included in the places of those excluded.

30 pc excluded in an area

Dewan Abdul Mannan, councillor of the ward 11 in Kallyanpur, told Prothom Alo that on 24 March, beneficiaries were called to a local school ground for the digitisation of their accounts.

A total of 529 people, including 313 elderly and 216 disabled, have been added to the MIS. They all have opened Nagad accounts too.

He further said that there were about 750 beneficiaries on the previous list. Some 30 per cent have of them been excluded. When asked why they have been excluded, he said that many of them resorted to illegal means to get on the list. These discrepancies were revealed while verifying the information of the beneficiaries through the national identity card server. Some 225 people are being listed anew.

On 20 July, an observation report by the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) said more than 46 per cent of the beneficiaries are not eligible for the allowances.

KAM Morshed, senior director of BRAC, said there are mainly three types of discrepancies regarding the disbursement of allowances – including people who do not need the allowance, excluding the eligible people from the list and taking commission from the beneficiaries.

He told Prothom Alo that it cannot be said yet how effectively the introduction of digital banking in this process would resolve these discrepancies. However, it is a positive initiative in a long term perspective.

During the first outbreak of coronavirus in the country last year, a total of 5 million people were provided with the financial assistance through mobile phones from the prime minister's fund. In that continuity, digitisation initiatives have been taken to pay the beneficiaries of social security programmes.

KAM Morshed said the discrepancies in making the list of beneficiaries of the mobile banking method could be stopped with the help of mobile operators. It could be easily determined whether a beneficiary really needs the allowance or not, by making an account of how much money a beneficiary is spending to talk over the phone in a year.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu

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