Ehsaas beneficiaries

IN a meeting of the PTI parliamentary party, legislators bitterly criticised their government’s flagship programme Ehsaas for providing more benefit to supporters of the opposition parties and less so to voters of the ruling party.

According to a report in this paper, the parliamentarians came down heavily on the prime minister’s special assistant on social protection and poverty alleviation, Sania Nishtar, saying she should do something practical instead of carrying out paperwork and surveys. They piled so much pressure on Dr Nishtar that at one point she broke down into tears. The prime minister had to intervene and ask the participants of the meeting to allow her to give her point of view.

Dr Nishtar later explained to this paper that she had to face a volley of allegations but she informed the lawmakers that the benefits of the Ehsaas programme were given to card holders of the Benazir Income Support Programme, and once the fresh survey was complete the coverage of the Ehsaas programme would become more comprehensive.

While this might be true and there may be many deserving citizens not covered by the programme, the argument peddled by the ruling party parliamentarians is unjustified. It is unfair to demand that the focus of the programme should be the people who supported the ruling party at the expense of those who voted for its opponents.

This attitude reflects a myopic and alarmingly partisan approach towards governance.

It is no secret that the PTI has fuelled its narrative with divisiveness but its parliamentarians should realise they are now the government of Pakistan, not the government of PTI. Their governance, including the Ehsaas project, is funded by taxpayer money collected from all citizens and not just PTI voters. Therefore, this money must be spent on all citizens, regardless of their political affiliations. This is no rocket science. Yet it is surprising to see the PTI parliamentarians stooping to this level to gain political advantage at the expense of their opponents.

Given such an attitude towards the government’s flagship programme, it is all the more important now to inject a greater level of transparency into the project.

Parliament should demand details of how the funds for Ehsaas are being allocated across the country and what criteria are being set for those qualifying to receive assistance under the programme.

A greater degree of parliamentary oversight will ensure there is no political victimisation and the money is spent fairly, equitably and on a totally nonpartisan basis. Providing a social safety net for the most vulnerable segments of the population is a good policy that has paid dividends in recent years.

The Ehsaas programme is conceived for the right reasons and if executed professionally and comprehensively, has the potential to impact the lives of millions of citizens. Due diligence, therefore, is of utmost importance.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2019