Saturday, May 7, 2011


POVERTY: A situation which compels human beings to strive for essential elements to sustain their lives and health, and to experience scarcities and deficiencies.
POVERTY: A situation which compels human beings to undergo the ignominy of being in a continuous denial mode for basic amenities that are their inherent rights and that are enshrined in their nations’ constitution.
POVERTY: A situation which compels human beings to bear economic depravation, institutionalized corruption, and social division, to such an extent that their very survival is put under severe strain and under
oppressed force.

The very concept of poverty is a manifestation of the inequalities and disparity prevalent in the world today. The worst affected are people in the lower range of wealth distribution and in the diminishing level of economic benefits. The sad fact is the continued indifference of the policy makers and the political hierarchy towards embarking on a practical solution for real poverty alleviation and for development of basic infrastructure for the common benefit of people in dire need of these facilities.
The condition in the global environment has been a phenomenal increase in the poverty base and that this has been accentuated by the diversion of scarce resources into external and domestic debt servicing and into increased expenditures on hi-tech defense capabilities. The provision of rudimentary social infrastructure, the emphasis on generating meaningful employment opportunities, and the mitigation of common problems, difficulties, and obstacles, have been systematically and cruelly denied to the general populace, especially to those who are below the accepted poverty line.
Poverty in Pakistan has been endemic and has never been honestly addressed to by the powers to be. The political slogans and the election year demagoguery have been nothing but mediums to perpetuate power at the expense of the poor people of the country. The various political parties have routinely come out with populist slogans and schemes, but these have been just to extend their acceptance among the unsuspecting people. Moreover, these schemes and programs have been a blatant source of corruption and for minting money for bureaucrats and public representatives. The obvious result has been that the poor people of Pakistan have always gotten the short end of the stick. Poverty in Pakistan is usually defined as inflow of capital required to obtain the recommended average intake of 2540 calories per person per day. A yardstick of US$ one per day is considered as the poverty line. It is estimated that the incidence of poverty in Pakistan is about 26%, and this is a real menacing figure.
The advent of globalization, the melting down of the economies of South-East Asian Tigers, the brazen failure of the policies of the economic managers in Pakistan, the mismanagement of public sector companies, the colossal plunder of the financial institutions, the massive defaults of bank borrowers, the consequences of natural calamities on the cotton crop, and the audacious display of ostentation and opulence by the wealthy feudals, industrialists, politicians, and bureaucrats, have ensued into an alarming upsurge in the ranks of the have-nots and that has increased the number of displaced persons in Pakistan.
There is an imperative need to reconsider and redefine the objective of alleviation of poverty and to aim for a planned and practical route for specifying a comprehensive program to achieve this objective. There is thus this urgency to look into ways and means to provide a security net for those who have been transformed from being actively employed to being laid off, dismissed, retrenched, or retired. The recent recourse to a Golden Handshake Program for employees of public sector corporations and financial institutions has brought about a fundamental change in awareness and understanding of the concept of poverty alleviation.
There have been many attempts to formulate and promote anti-poverty programs. However, as stated before, there have been no meaningful successes that could be projected as trailblazer programs or those that have been of considerable influence towards the process of bettering the lives of the poor. The general situation is that these programs were seldom successful because of some formidable reasons. The first and foremost of these reasons being the indecision of the government, and this can be highlighted by the abject failure of the land reform programs. The efforts to redistribute productive assets to the deserving landless people were never sincerely implemented. Secondly, no streamlined efforts were initiated to create a supportive system to provide credit or technical facilities to the very small landholders. The third reason has been the very limited efforts undertaken to provide employment opportunities for the poor, especially in areas in close proximity to their places of residence. Moreover, the fourth result has been that the benefits of agricultural infrastructure and policies have been primarily targeted to big landowners or agriculturists with political leverage. Fifth, the welfare-oriented programs have been specific to narrowly defined privilege groups and thus have superficially touched the fringe of the problem of poverty. Furthermore, the syndrome of budgetary constraints influences these programs. Sixthly, the unfortunate scenario is that the middle and upper income groups normally take undue advantage of the fiscal and other policies of the government and that the poor are seldom the primary beneficiaries of these programs. Moreover, there is a pervasive corruption and inefficiency culture which again deprives the poor from the benefits of these programs. Most of the time, the upper income groups without impunity also usurp the poverty-specific programs. Finally, the very nature of the poor being oppressed, diversified, and dependent on the economically or politically connected, prevents them from having an effective voice or platform and also deters them from active involvement in programs that are designed exclusively for them.

There are many facets of providing a security or safety net to overcome the effects of unemployment and to also protect the poor. These can be classified into three broad categories. These are augmentation of employment probabilities, conceptualization of assets development, and formation of collective organizational structures.

The accepted fact is that there is a general worsening of economic conditions in the country. In this regard, the most affected is the lower cadre of employees who has faced the major brunt of the economic fallout. Moreover, the women and children workers have also suffered tremendously due to this economic scenario. It is thus incumbent upon the government on the one hand, and the private sector on the other, to formulate effective and workable policies to help the displaced workers and even assist those who are on the lookout for active employment opportunities.
The sensitive nature of the economic imbroglio precludes indifferent attitudes of the policy makers as well as private sector entrepreneurs. There should be a concerted action plan to diffuse the situation, otherwise there would naturally be dire and anti-social ramifications. It is here where the concept of self-employment can generate the desired results. Of course, the sincerity of the political government is essential if the programs are to have relative success. An attempt was made thru the introduction of the yellow cab scheme. The basic purpose was to dignify the profession of taxi drivers and also to provide affordable credit to the youth, alongwith the possibility to earn an honest pay for an honest day's work. Unfortunately, those with influence in the political hierarchy, or in the banking sector, or even in the offices of government, took unscrupulous advantage of the scheme and the banks were left holding worthless paper and experiencing massive defaults.
The private sector can play an effective role in promoting self-employment thru the establishment of organizations based on the famous Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. The unemployed can be either provided credit on very low rates, or given loans under the Qarz-e-Hasna scheme, or even provided grants thru the community Zakat funds. There have been some organizations in the private sector who have been instrumental in achieving significant successes and have been recognized and emulated in other countries too. The Aga Khan Rural Support Program, the Orangi Pilot Project, and the Behbud organization are some such examples. The emphasis, of course, should be concentrated on providing long-term solutions because dependence on just welfare activities may be counter- productive. One feasible method is to institute an army of able-bodied but unemployed people who could be made to build or improve the irrigation infrastructure so desperately required by the agriculturists. The payment for this work can be made in kind in the shape of free allotment of government-owned land around these canals or irrigation infrastructure. This will be a motivational scheme and can also become another source of self-employment as well as become an asset creation.
There are other sources of providing employment opportunities to the poor or displaced persons both in rural areas and even in urban pockets where there is a concentration of poor people. The various programs such as Social Action Programs, People’s Work Programs, or Rural Work’s Programs, etc, are avenues of providing employment near the poor people’s homes. The rationale behind these programs are to use under-employed or unemployed persons in rural areas for improving the economic and social conditions, plus instituting a local approach to development, and also to supplement the development efforts made at the national level.

This is a very essential ingredient as it creates an asset base for the poor. The various programs are undertaken to ensure that the poor themselves, own and operate the assets. These can be tracts of land, equipment and appliances, work places, or other such assets. The basic concept is that these poor people must be oriented to the notion that as owners they should ensure that they must not only protect these assets but also continue to sustain themselves and their families by optimal utilization of these assets. The assets can be created thru governmental action, or thru the support of private sector organizations and should be carefully monitored so that the desired results are achieved.
The government periodically doles out agricultural plots to the landless farmers so that there is a sense of belonging. However, as mentioned earlier, there is no proper or transparent method to determine whether those who are the beneficiaries of this governmental largesse are genuine and deserving or not. The possibility of the landed gentry providing altruistic employment opportunities to the displaced or to the deserving farmers is left to question as there have been very scant cases of this type of benevolence emanating from the feudal class.
There are other ways to assist in creating assets. This can be done by providing welfare-oriented programs that would take care of the poor people’s needs so that the money they earn are channeled into building assets. The food stamp programs, free universal education, provision of health related services, subsidy on food, fertilizers, and pesticides, and extension of sanitation and transport facilities, are some ways in which the resources of the poor are saved and transferred into assets development.

There is an essential requirement to set up organizations of the poor to influence and promote the policies regarding the distribution of income and assets and to become watchdogs and countervailing forces to ensure that the policies and programs are sincerely and realistically implemented. These organizations could work in tandem with the government and also the private sector organizations in enabling the optimum achievement of productive activities, monitoring of results, and identification of target groups. These collectives can also blend together to bring about changes in and remove the disparities and imbalances in, the social, political, and economic arenas. These organizations can counter the influences of those forces who have traditionally had social, political, and economic power tilted in their favor and to their advantage.
These organizations should be enforced with the powers to undertake decisions that have a direct bearing to the benefits and facilities required by the poor people. The various Union councils, Market Committees, Workers’ Unions, Social Welfare Anjumans, etc are some examples where there could be worthwhile representation and where the voice of the poor can be heard and acted upon. These organizations should also work in close cooperation with the Bait-ul-Mal and the Zakat Foundation in ensuring that those Musthequeen who fall under the purview of Zakat are guaranteed their due. They can ensure that the Zakat funds are primarily utilized to permanently rehabilitate the poor and that the assistance programs are institutionalized for the benefit of these people. These organizations can also ensure that the funds of Bait-ul-Mal and Zakat are also used to provide education to the children, either thru setting up of educational institutions, or thru scholarships for tuition and books, or thru stipends for those children who also have to work.
This purpose and objective can be effective only if there is a meaningful representation of the concerned poor people and there is a concerted and uniform mindset among the constituents of these organizations. These organizations can play a determined role in bringing about structural reforms leading towards a more egalitarian society, towards a more prosperous community, and towards a more developed country.

The world is at the threshold of the next millenium. All thru the past decades, efforts have been initiated to reduce the element of poverty. However, the developing nations or Third World countries have been ravaged with the increased syndrome of corruption, with the excessive transfer of scarce resources towards maintaining the defense juggernaut, and with tremendous dependence on the multi-lateral international donors and financial institutions. Pakistan also falls into this category. The country has not witnessed any significant revolution in the alleviation of poverty as there have been vested interests with far more concern for their self rather than for the general well-being of the people.
The time has come for the huge gap between the wealthy and the poor to be reduced on an urgency basis, and the old and antiquated approaches and conceptions are discarded immediately. The time is ripe for the poor and the disadvantaged people to take matters into their own hands and call for a complete overhaul of the way thru which they have been subjected to become dependent on the illusionary largesse of the government. The time is now imperative for a fundamental and radical transformation of the present system of subjugation and oppression of the poor by those forces, that are inimical to the welfare of the poor, into a comprehensive and popular program of equality, opportunity, and cooperation.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government and those with means, to understand that although economic progress is not an easy task, the challenge to achieve this is essential. The advanced world is goading the Third World countries to channelize their resources towards this route so that poverty elimination and improvement in backwardness of these countries are possible. The recourse to technical assistance, foreign aid and grants, trade opportunities, conflict mediation, and access and cooperation in the fields of education, medicare, and sanitation, can make these insuperable difficulties attainable and achievable. "An avowal of poverty is no disgrace to any man; to make no effort to escape it is indeed disgraceful." - - - - Thucydides.

September 06, 1998

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