Prime Minister Imran Khan recently took another step “Ehsas Program” towards the realization of one of his electoral promises – a poverty alleviation drive.
Just a day after announcing the program called Ehsas (care), PM Khan issued a policy statement chalking out the pathway to achieving his goal of aiding the underprivileged faction of the society.
What is Ehsas program?
Ehsas is Pakistan’s biggest and boldest program for poverty eradication which aims to collaborate with all stakeholders—public, private, civil society, philanthropists, and expatriate Pakistanis towards one collective goal – poverty alleviation. The Poverty Alleviation Coordination Council, chaired by Dr. Sania Nishtar, developed the program after extensive consultation. It aims to change the lives of at least 3.3 million poor people in the next four years.
PM Khan has allocated a massive amount of Rs. 80 billion –expendable to Rs. 120 billion by 2021 – for his anti-poverty derive which, according to him, is founded on the importance of strengthening institutions, transparency, and good governance.
Following these necessary steps, Imran vowed to convert Pakistan into a welfare state where jobless, poor farmers and labourers, the sick and undernourished, lower-middle-class students, poor widows, and helpless elderly citizens are well taken care of. The program targets not only the underprivileged but also aims to provide them with the means to uplift their social status.
He wants to break the shackles by spending public money on the general public. The program Ehsas aims to empower the women economically; focus on the role of human capital formation for poverty alleviation, economic growth, and sustainable development.
The Four Pillars of Ehsas
According to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement, his poverty eradication drive is grounded on four fundamental pillars: countering elite capture and making the government system work to create equality; safety nets for disadvantaged segments of the population; jobs and livelihoods; and human capital development.
In the following lines, we’ll discuss all four pillars of Ehsas program in detail.
I. Countering Elite Capture & Inequality of System
The first and foremost part of this anti-poverty campaign is combatting the elite capture and inequity in the system which provides all the necessary facilities to the privileged only – be it tax relief, water distribution, crop choices, law & order, land use priorities and much more.
To cater all these issues, Khan plans to introduce a new Constitutional amendment to move article 38(d) from the “Principles of Policy” section into the “Fundamental Rights” section – this minor tweak will make the provision of food, clothing, housing, education, and medical relief for citizens who cannot earn a livelihood due to infirmity, sickness or unemployment, a state responsibility.
By digitizing the data of the poor class, the government aims to collaborate with pro-poor organizations to help needy. It is also going to earmark resources for pro-poor sectors to prevent channeling of funds to other sectors through ad hoc decision-making.
He said that a one-window social protection operation would be conducted to avoid any duplication and abuse.
II. Safety Nets
According to the study, 39 percent (38.8%) of Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty, while 24.4 percent of those don’t even have enough money to satisfy their basic needs.
To facilitate all of them, the government needs a database – and for this purpose, the government is establishing the National Socioeconomic Registry 2019 which will make the database of the poor class.
Once the data is completed, the government will roll out two social protection programs Kifalat (sponsorship or support) and Tahaffuz (protection). Both programs will be run through the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
Kifalat: Under the program, 5.7 million women across the country will get savings accounts in the nearby banks on one woman one bank account policy. The women of impoverished areas, without the bank facilities, will be given mobile phones to receive the funds.
As many as 5000 ‘Digital Hubs’ will be established on Tehsil level all over the country which will provide details about job opportunities for the local youth and will make the government’s digital resources accessible.
Tahaffuz: Tahaffuz or Protection will provide one-time financial aid to the poor against catastrophic events. This may aid interest-free easy loans for house-building (especially for landless farmers), free legal assistance in severe cases, financial aid for widows who don’t have children earning money, Ehsas homes for orphan children, Panah-gahs for homeless people, Sehat Card for 3.3 million people.
Welfare for Elderly: An increment in the Old Age Benefit and minimum pension for elderly citizens, the establishment of Great Ehsas Homes (Old Age Homes) through Bait-ul-Maal.
Labour Welfare: Creation of a labor expert group to provide its recommendations to address the following labor-related issues: loopholes in the existing laws which either keep the workers out of jobs or pay them poorly. The group will suggest amendments in the rules for minimum wage, and health and safety regulations, welfare and pension schemes for the informal sector.
In a statement during a formal dinner with Saudi Royal Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Prime Minister Imran Khan requested him to take care of the Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia and said:
“Please take very good care of my people (in the Kingdom). They leave their families and everything behind to work abroad. They are very near to my heart.”
The Ehsas program aims to increase the number of community Welfare Attaches and Protector of Immigrants Officers to facilitate the expatriates. It will also involve well-reputed and well-off expatriates to facilitate the working class Pakistanis abroad.
It includes policy making to allow free or subsidized air tickets to low-paid workers and productive negotiations with the governments to extend the duration of the working permit for unskilled labors as they hardly recover the cost of immigration their permit’s duration ends.
III. Human Capital Development
Human capital development plays a significant role in the wealth of a nation and requires prioritizing investments in the early years by controlling malnutrition, providing preschool or early education and protecting children from harm.
This will help against stunting in children by providing de-worming drugs, iron, folic acid, micronutrient supplements through government hospitals. Besides setting up a Multi-sectoral Nutrition Coordinating Body and the first-ever university-hosted National Centre for Human Nutrition, it also includes the 5+1 model of desi chicken and goat asset transfer, kitchen gardening, seed distribution for poverty alleviation and nutrition.
The program also promises specialized nutritional food for stunted children in a cost-effective manner and to address the issue of fake and adulterated milk.
Pro-Poor Education Program
Under this initiative, the government aims to give people in the far-flung areas access to free and quality education through vouchers where only private schools exist, and by contracting the private schools for this task. It also includes increasing the budget for the National Education Foundation so that there’s no hurdle in the policy implementation. It also offers the following:
- Free e-learning content for students.
- The conditional cash transfer program.
- Second chance program for overaged girls in schools, colleges, and universities.
- Need-based undergraduate scholarships for students from low-income families.
- Vocational training for girls and women.
Ehsas aims at adopting a Universal health coverage policy in both federal and provincial levels with innovative technology tools to provide healthcare access to as many people as possible – especially in underprivileged areas.
It also includes the provision of Sehat card to over 3.3 million needy people which will cover several wide-ranging medical and surgical procedures including heart surgeries, stunts, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, dialysis, maternity amongst others.
IV. Jobs & Livelihood
Employment generation is one of the primary objectives of the economic reform agenda of Imran Khan’s government. Ehsas’ framework involves policy making of Solutions Innovation Challenge, Prize Funding, and Venture Capitalism. These programs, through a public-private partnership, will also provide small interest-free loans for innovative business opportunities.
The following are some examples of Solutions Innovation Challenge:
- To reinvent the traditional ‘Thela’ to enhance its income generating capacity.
- To develop a micro-credit facility for daily-wage workers so that they can afford monthly groceries.
- It identifies online platforms, which can help daily wagers, especially women earn a living wage with dignity.
- To develop a rickshaw garbage collector which can create livelihoods, as well as improve water & sanitation-related problems.
For those illiterate and living below the poverty line, Ehsas will also allocate khokhas (kiosks), tea shops, newspaper stands, and shoe polishing booths on government-owned land or in government-owned hospitals, parks, and railway stations
Export of Manpower
With the help of the Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis, Ehsas has accelerated country’s foreign policy drive to review opportunities in neighboring countries, and other emerging opportunities in countries like Japan and Germany that have aging populations and need human resources.
All the measures mentioned above require making government institutions transparent, accountable and responsive for the success of this program.