Lack of coordination between Centre and Sindh likely to affect coronavirus relief efforts

As the lockdown imposed by the Sindh government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is entering its third week tomorrow (Monday), many families of even the middle class are running out of their patience and resources. However, in this hour when all what we need is a joint strategy for the people, the federal and provincial governments seem to be at odds over how they should take care of the needy.

The federal and provincial tiers of the government have currently announced three programmes for the needy people. One of them is the brainchild of the federal government, whereas the other two have been envisaged by the Sindh government.

All these programmes are trying to provide relief to the people through some mechanism at the district level. However, there seems to be no coordination among them and all the three seem to be working in isolation.

Till date, none of these three programmes has catered to a significant number of people in this hour of need.

The federal government has announced the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, under which 786,000 families are to be identified in the 23 districts of Sindh by the provincial government. With a monthly allocation of Rs3,000 for each of these families, they will be provided with a four-month lump sum amount of Rs12,000.

The Sindh government, in the meantime, has announced the Corona Emergency Ration Package, for which it has released Rs580 million for the distribution of food items to the daily wagers and allocated Rs20 million for each district of the province.

Additionally, the provincial government has released Rs569.604 million from the provincial Zakat Fund Account, from which a total of 94,934 families will get an amount of Rs6,000 each. The provincial government has also decided to launch a mobile application for the disbursement of cash to the needy people through a mobile cash transfer mechanism.

When all these allocations through different programmes seem inadequate given the magnitude of the crisis, a bigger problem is that the district administration has been facing immense trouble in the implementation of the programmes.

Structure of districts

The only thing that is common in all the three programmes is the involvement of district administrations. As for Karachi, there are six districts in the city comprising a total of 209 union committees for its urban areas and 38 union councils for its rural localities.

There are also six cantonment boards in the city, which comprise wards instead of union councils. Some of the cantonment boards even lie in multiple districts of the city.

The District East has 31 union committees; District Central has 51; District West has 46; District South has 31, of which the Saddar zone has 16 and the Lyari zone has 15; District Korangi has 37 and District Malir has 13 union committees. Of the 38 union councils in the rural areas of the city, 32 are in District Malir and six are in District West.

Sindh govt’s projects

The provincial services, general administration & coordination department has formed seven-member COVID-19 relief committees in every union council, union committee or ward of the city for the identification of the needy families.

The same seven-member committees are supposed to gather data of the needy families for all the programmes of the federal and provincial governments.

The convener of each committee is the assistant commissioner of the relevant town or taluka as a representative of the deputy commissioner of the relevant district. The other six members of the committees are the chairmen of the union council or union committee, councillor of ward or town or municipality or member of the district council, chairman of the local zakat committee of the respective area, representative of a prominent NGO, a notable personality of the respective union council or union committee or ward, a prominent female social worker or female councillor and any member co-opted.

The purpose of the committees, according to the notification of the provincial coordination department, is to identify the needy persons such as daily wagers, labourers, street hawkers, and other impoverished people residing in the relevant union council or union committee or ward of the town or municipality.

The committees are also supposed to scrutinise and maintain the record of the beneficiaries and distribute ration bags among the deserving people at their doorstep. They are also to ensure social distancing during this exercise and file a daily distribution report of the beneficiaries with the Social Protection Strategy Unit.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani, in another order, conveyed the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the distribution of rations among the needy families under the provincial government’s Corona Emergency Ration Package.

Each ration bag is to include of 10 kilogrammes (kg) of wheat flour, five kg of rice, two kg of sugar, two litres of cooking oil, one kg each of daal moong, daal masoor (split red lentil), daal channa and white channa (chickpea), and 250 grammes each of red chilli powder, turmeric powder (haldi) and coriander powder (dhania), and one packet of salt.

During the distribution of rations, the commissioner’s order strictly forbade any sort of gathering in order to follow the social distancing guidelines. “Only house-to-house distribution will be made from 5am to 7am or late night,” the order said and added that the distribution will be made on an equitable basis, focusing on the poorest union councils and catering to the poorest, needy or underprivileged segments of society.

Meanwhile, the provincial government’s cash distribution programme seems to be running parallel to the federal government’s Ehsaas Emergency Programme as no details of the former’s beneficiaries have been shared by the provincial government.

The Sindh government, according to a notification issued by its home department, intends to launch a mobile registration system for the disbursement of cash to needy persons, by getting them registered and verified by the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) so that no more than one person from a family can avail the facility.

As of now, an assistant commissioner of the city told The News, the Sindh government has decided to back-burner this programme due to lack of coordination with the federal government. However, Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Shaikh, who heads the task force formed by the Sindh government for the distribution of rations, told publication that the Sindh government would continue with the project even though the federal government was not coordinating with it.

He added that the Sindh government would ensure that the beneficiaries of its cash transfer project were other than those being benefitted under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) or the Ehsaas programme.

He maintained that the two programmes of the Sindh government involving cash and rations were different from the federal government’s project. For the ration distribution, he said the Sindh government was distributing 15-day rations keeping in mind an average family size of 5.5 persons, according to the current census.

When asked about the families having more members than the average, the energy minister said the chairmen of union councils and union committees would be on board along with the assistant commissioners during the distribution of rations. “The team will distribute the rations accordingly.”

However, several of the elected chairmen have complained that they have been sidelined after the preparation of the list of beneficiaries and not taken on board regarding the distribution of rations.

Ehsaas programme

The federal government’s cabinet secretariat, poverty alleviation & social safety division issued a letter on March 30, according to which in order to provide Rs12,000 cash to 786,000 families each, NADRA was developing a web-based application that would be available to the office of each deputy commissioner across Pakistan.

Each designated provincial and district user would be issued a user name and password by NADRA for login through their email ID.

To execute the programme, the deputy commissioners have been tasked with collecting data of the families that have been economically affected by COVID-19, and maintaining a consolidated list in the MS Excel format containing the names of the heads of each of the affected families along with their CNIC number, mobile phone number and occupation [optional].

An assistant commissioner of the city confided to the newspaper that to receive funds from the federal government’s project, a person must not be registered with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) or any Zakat programme of the government, must not have a car, must not be a pensioner or a government employee, and must not have more than Rs20,000 in their bank accounts.

After due diligence, data of each potential beneficiary will be uploaded on the application. The district administration has been directed to include only one member from each family and in case of more than one members, the first member in the list will be selected by NADRA.

After the complete list has been prepared, data analytics or cleansing and verifications will be applied by NADRA and the consolidated data will be forwarded to the BISP software, which will share the data with its partner banks for the disbursement of money to the eligible persons, using a biometric verification system.

The district administrations concerned will arrange multiple camps for the disbursement of cash to the beneficiaries. SMS service will allow the citizens to send their CNICs and check their eligibility status for cash assistance.

The district administration has also been issued the protocols of establishing the camps. They include designating a public building such as a school, college, town hall or any other such place at the town or union council or union committee level, providing security for the staff as well as beneficiaries, ensuring safe distance between two persons inside the camps, making proper seating arrangements for the beneficiaries, ensuring separation of cash disbursement point and waiting area for the beneficiaries and making arrangements of clean drinking water, hand washing and toilet facilities.

A focal person is also to be nominated from the chief secretary office and each deputy commissioner’s office for coordination with the BISP’s regional director general and divisional directors.

Despite all such detailed mechanism, the Ehsaas Programme seems to be a flawed model as it will benefit only 733 families in each union council, union committee or ward.

It does not take into account the fact that there are some union councils or committees which comprise only affluent areas and there would hardly be any beneficiary there, whereas, some union councils or committees have only slums where thousands of families will be eyeing for the aid.

Responding to this issue, South Deputy Commissioner Irshad Ali said that the areas where the number of people qualifying as needy, according to the set parameters, would be less than the quota, their balance will be readjusted in other areas where the needy families outnumber the quota.

The director general of the BISP cash transfer department in Islamabad, Noor Rehman, told The News that they had conveyed the size of population to be benefitted under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme to all the provinces. “Now based on their district-wise poor population, each provincial government will distribute the amount at its discretion,” he said and added that the disbursement of cash was expected to start from the middle of the next week.

Duplication of programmes

Since all the relief programmes of the federal and provincial governments have to be implemented at the union council or union committee level, the deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners seem to be in a fix as there is no coordination between the federal and provincial governments and many of their orders cannot be easily implemented.

Different assistant commissioners of the metropolis spoke to the publication on condition of anonymity and said they were quite perturbed regarding the implementation of the programmes.

One of the assistant commissioners said the distribution of rations and cash from the Sindh and the federal governments had to be done through the deputy commissioners. “The problem is that there are three different programmes of two different tiers of government, which are running parallel and each day a new direction comes,” the assistant commissioner said and added that for one full week they had been in confusion regarding whose line they should follow.

“We simply didn’t have any clarity for a week when we were asked to make the lists of needy persons,” another assistant commissioner lamented. “There was a chaos. We used to make a step forward and then were forced to take two back due to new directions.”

Had there been one chain of command, he said, things would have been done smoothly. Also the amounts allocated in the different programmes, according to him, are so less that it has become immensely difficult for them to distribute them among the needy.

Chairmen’s reservations

Elected chairmen of union councils and union committees also showed extreme reservations about the way thing are being done. “It has been almost 15 days and labourers aren’t earning anything,” said the elected chairman of District East’s Union Committee 21, Junaid Mukati of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

“Just a day before yesterday we were told to revisit our list and add occupations of all the beneficiaries. How’s that even possible to contact each and every family again?”

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Mushtaq Ahmed from District Central’s Union Committee 14 complained that they had not been taken on board by District Central Deputy Commissioner Farhan Ghani regarding the distribution of rations.

“We have been in the area for the last 30 years. We have a strong structure at the grassroots level. We know in and out about families living in all the UCs. Things would have been smooth had we been taken on board and informed properly,” he said.

The District Municipal Corporations (DMCs) have also been completely sidelined in the entire process. DMC West Chairman Izhar Ahmed Khan of the MQM said they had no knowledge of what was happening at the district level.

“District West has the largest population of the poor and its elected DMC council has no idea how these needy people are being helped,” he lamented and added that it was not the assistant commissioner’s job to distribute rations. “You have to have the elected DMC council with you.”

Islamabad-based political scientist and economist Farrukh Saleem said the entire process of forming the lists of poor people in the current circumstances could be a flawed process as it may turn out political and non-scientific. “Poverty identification requires a lot of time,” he said and added that the government could have used the existing data or obtained data of the daily wagers from industries and factories rather than going door to door.

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