Welfare schemes in corrupt countries rarely operate as advertised. Politicians steal money meant to go to the poor, or divert it to party supporters. But one program seems to be working in Pakistan, and that’s very good news. From the AP:
The Benazir Income Support Programme is modeled on similar efforts in Africa and South America, part of a quiet revolution in the way countries and development agencies are helping the poor. Initial concerns that recipients would fritter away the money have proven unfounded, and giving cash is now accepted as a vital and cost-effective aid tool. . . .When a woman is called, she goes to a room where her identity is checked against an electronic database and her thumb print taken electronically. A bank employee then gives her the card — and a crash course in how to use it — before she returns to her village.As they do elsewhere in the world, women in Pakistan must receive the money on behalf of their families because research shows they spend it more responsibly than men do. They must also first obtain a valid identity card to be eligible. Both requirements have been credited with pushing women, discriminated against in Pakistan, a little into the mainstream.
Cash handouts don’t solve poverty, but this program is playing a part in addressing Pakistan’s poverty and inequality, and even political corruption.Pakistan could get richer and happier if it looked around at countries doing better with poverty problems, or poverty programs that work elsewhere. This program is modeled on initiatives that have been successful in other places, like Latin America. There are plenty of other places where initiatives to educate rural women and girls and improve their access to health information have had important results. Clearly, Pakistan can benefit by looking around the world to see what other programs it could adopt.Borrowing good ideas from abroad might do more than help local development and poverty programs. Take war, for example. France and Germany put decades of war and rivalry behind them—even though one of them had to make large territorial concessions. Now France and Germany are much better off than before and the people of Alsace Lorraine are happy and free.This kind of peace in South Asia seems unlikely now; Pakistan would rather nourish a bitter grudge than put the sorry past behind it to start building a better future. But in the long run, who knows? People once said that France and Germany could never agree.