According to the finance division, an amount of Tk 115,000 crore is likely to be allocated for strengthening the social safety net in the budget for the fiscal year 2022-23, which is less than 3 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The allocation in the outgoing fiscal (2021-22) was Tk 107,614 crore, which is 3.11 per cent of the GDP.

However, its spending chart includes some issues that in no way come under the social safety net programmes.

The authorities count the stipend programme of school and college students, pension schemes of the retired government officials, interests on savings certificates, and special interest waiver at banks and interest incentives for industries amid the pandemic under the social safety net sector.

The finance division source said a hefty amount of more than Tk 400 billion would be allocated for these programmes under the social safety net.

A total of 122 programmes, including cash assistance, food aid and employment creation, stipend, special assistance, assistance for particular communities, have been included to the social safety net sector. Some 24 ministries and departments are involved in execution of these programmes.

But the government has no clear picture of the beneficiaries. Even, there are numerous complexities in the beneficiary selection process. As per information provided by several ministries and departments, it is evident that the entire social safety net sector is in a complete mess.

The authorities have introduced the national social security strategy (NSSS) in 2015, but it, in many cases, is inconsistent with the prevailing social safety net. In 2016, the General Economics Division (GED) of the Planning Commission said around 64 per cent of the poor do not avail any of the facilities provided by the social safety net programmes.

Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI), said this sector’s allocation is being exaggerated ridiculously. Pension is a right of government employees and the rich are also customers of savings certificates, he noted in support of his claim.

It needs to execute the social safety programmes through digital methods, instead of the conventional ones. The social welfare ministry could be strengthened. It would be even better if the government introduces an autonomous department to take care of the programmes, he added.

Types of disorders

According to the finance division, an allocation of Tk 450 billion is likely to be made in the forthcoming budget to provide cash assistance to a total of 12.5 million people under nine programmes. Around Tk 300 billion of the allocation would go for paying pension allowance to around 0.8 million retired government officials.

The low-interest loan schemes for industries and interest incentives at the commercial banks, rolled out by the government due to the Covid-19 pandemic, would eat up another Tk 5 0 billion of the allocation.

Besides, the government is all set to make an allocation of more than Tk 70 billion for savings certificates. People from all walks of life buy the savings certificates. They avail a higher interest rate when they buy savings certificates, instead of depositing money in banks. The government bears the burden of extra interest and this is why this spending would come under the social safety sector, the Finance Division officials explained.

Like the previous years, the budget for FY23 would incorporate some other programmes, including disaster relief, prime minister’s assistance to the pandemic-hit communities and erosion-prone areas, agricultural rehabilitation, grants to late government employees. There will be no transparent data of the beneficiaries.

Selim Raihan, executive director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), told Prothom Alo that many of the allocations are not genuinely for social safety. This sector is going through a chaos. Lower allocation, lack of coordination among ministries, and failure to bring all eligible people under the facilities – are three key setbacks.

Selim Raihan further said the international best practice is missing in this sector. The difficulties in acquiring information intensified after the Covid-19 pandemic appeared in the scene. There is no monitoring on whether the eligible persons are availing the allocations.

The economist laid emphasis on monitoring the allocations through a third party.

Allowances for persons with disabilities to go up

The allowance for the persons with disabilities, which is now Tk 750 per head, will increase by Tk 100 to Tk 850 in the next budget, said the Finance Division sources. Some 2.08 million people received the allowance in the outgoing fiscal while more 0.3 million people will be brought under the facility in the upcoming year.

Additionally, the government is providing maternity allowance to 0.77 million women in both urban and rural areas and general allowance to some 0.27 million working mothers. These two schemes are being merged in the next fiscal, under the name of “mother and child support programme.” No more changes will be there in the FY23 budget.

About streamlining the social safety net , finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, “We will take proper initiative in this regard in future. This time, our concern is to ensure increased assistance to the poor.”