- The government has regained popular trust
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Ehsaas Programme was launched as a massive welfare project way before the onset of the global Pandemic covid-19, which has wreaked havoc in Pakistan too. The benevolent scheme assumes really meaningful proportions in the current trying times.
Ehsaas was designed to create jobs, establish safety nets and promote human capital development. It was aimed at being a fundamental shift in the extent to which the government is willing to intervene in the market and the society. The scarlet thread of the welfare project is the need for redistribution— taking the gains from those who are economically stronger and redistributing them to those who are economically weaker. Even a cursory glimpse of the modus operandi of most welfare states depicts that they too have adopted the policy of redistribution.
Besides poverty, another way of looking at the role of modern welfare states is their ability to provide an opportunity for people to share risk systematically. Irrespective of suffering the vagaries of facing poverty, average individuals and families which were leading comfortable lives, can receive support from the welfare state or benefit from sharing the risk when faced with shocks, unemployment or a sudden calamity.
Ehsaas is a multidimensional poverty alleviation programme which comprises more than 115 policies and programmes which may be expanded further at a later stage. It started with the establishment of soup kitchens for the poor but encompassed initiatives like the National Poverty Graduation Initiative (NPGI) providing opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for people living below the poverty line. The components of the NPGI are asset transfer, interest-free loans, and vocational and skill training for proper utilization of assets. The interest-free loan component under the NPGI is being implemented by 24 partner organizations of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund across 100 districts in the country. One of the salient features of this initiative is that 50 percent of the loans are being provided to women. The Ehsaas programme has been developed based on four pillars and the NPGI is part of the fourth pillar – ‘Jobs and livelihoods’.
The curve of covid-19 is yet to be flattened in Pakistan but those Pakistanis, who suffered the brunt of the lockdown, now have a hope of survival. The beauty of the welfare project is that it has managed to reach out irrespective of political, social, religious and ethnic divisions
It is planned that every month 80,000 interest-free loans will be disbursed through more than 1000 loan distribution centres that have been set up in 100 districts which are part of this initiative. In the first three months, 274,903 borrowers were granted loans worth Rs 9,124 million under the interest-free component of the NPGI. It is expected that more than two million people will get benefits under this programme in the next four years.
The strategy of targeting women is noteworthy since various studies show that when women have control of spending, it is more likely that a big chunk of expenditure will be made on children. This factor was amply shown by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladesh social entrepreneur, banker, economist, and civil society leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. Poverty alleviation is a difficult task. The burgeoning population is denting the poverty alleviation efforts severely and is quite alarming.
While Ehsaas was still in its infancy, Pakistan was struck by covid-19. Adversity at times brings out the best in humanity. The pandemic forced the federal and provincial governments to impose lockdowns. The worst hit was the major segment of society, which earns its living through daily wages. Under normal circumstances, this strata of our population barely ekes out a living as casual labour. The lockdown forced everyone indoors, depriving the daily wage earner to stay home.
Prime Minister Imran Khan picked up the gauntlet to provide relief to the needy. The government kitty was empty. For a prime minister who regularly quotes China’s example with regard to poverty alleviation, and also endeavours to establish a “New State of Madina”, this was an uphill task.
The former cricketer-turned-politician took the initiative of appearing on various television channels in an Ehsaas Telethon to seek donations for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Appealing to the opulent and better endowed section of the society to contribute generously, the Prime Minister’s personal sincere appeal and charm bore fruit. At the conclusion of the marathon session, it was revealed that the government had been able to collect Rs 550 million.
This was no mean achievement and not only Pakistanis residing locally but the Diaspora rose to the occasion and contributed generously. Prior to reaching out to the people to loosen their purse-strings, Imran Khan consulted various heads of states as well as Chief Executive Officers and movers and shakers of renowned charity organizations and welfare projects like Bill Gates. Sinking home the message that the government alone cannot combat the pandemic, and that the entire nation needs to chip in, the PM brought to the fore the horrors of the unprecedented trial and tribulation. People had heard or read of the Spanish Flu, a pestilence like the plague or Ebola, but they were occurring a considerable time and distance away. Covid-19 has targeted not just the world but the Pakistani society, irrespective of class or creed.
Sharing his experience of collecting donations for the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, the Prime Minister said that he had encountered various people from around the country while building the Hospital. He spoke of the virtues of spending in the way of Allah and the inner peace achieved through reaching out to the less fortunate segment of society.
Collecting funds was only the tip of the iceberg. The greater challenge lay in collecting the statistics of those in genuine need of help, preparing a rational database and disbursing funds on merit. This was an uphill task, but when there is a will there is a way, and the Rubicon of reaching out to the needy had been successfully crossed.
Imran Khan’s initiatives to deal with covid-19 are now being appreciated across the globe. Even countries like the USA with a superior health care system are seeking Pakistan’s guidance in providing essential goods to the poor. Due to the compassion of PM Imran Khan and the trust of people, donations are pouring in Ehsaas Programme, though more telethons arranged by PM for this noble cause to provide assistance to the needy and poor across the country. Owing to mismanagement and corruption by previous Governments; there was a trust deficit with the Government but by the current reforms and effective management of economy during the pandemic, Imran Khan’s Government has regained the trust of people of Pakistan inland and abroad.
The curve of covid-19 is yet to be flattened in Pakistan but those Pakistanis, who suffered the brunt of the lockdown, now have a hope of survival. The beauty of the welfare project is that it has managed to reach out irrespective of political, social, religious and ethnic divisions.