Social safety nets will widen, hopes planning minister

DHAKA Planning Minister MA Mannan today expressed his optimism about bringing more eligible people under the social safety net coverage to lift them out of poverty.

We've covered most of the people (eligible) and we're hopeful of bringing in the rest of one-third population under the various schemes (social safety net and pension schemes), he said.

Mannan also noted that for accomplishing this huge task, there is a need for making accurate calculation for which a wide range of researches are needed to be carried out both by the public and private sectors.

The Planning Minister was addressing the CPD-Oxfam dialogue on Introducing 'Universal Pension Scheme' in Bangladesh: In Search of a Framework' held at a city hotel.

Chaired by CPD Distinguished Fellow Dr Debapriya Bhhattacharya, the event was addressed by Parliamentary Standing Committee Chairman on Planning Ministry Abul Kalam Azad as special guest and former lead economist of the World Bank local office Dr Zahid Hussain as special commentator.

CPD Distinguished Fellow Prof Mustafizur Rahman made the key-note presentation while Country Director of Oxfam in Bangladesh Dr Dipankar Datta the introductory remarks.

The Planning Minister said it was the Awami League government which introduced the social safety net programmes after assuming office in 1996. Then again assuming power in 2008, the Awami League government expanded the coverage of different social safety net programmes, he added.

Noting that around 11 percent people are still living below the extreme poverty level, he said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is very much eager to lift this section of people out of poverty through implementing various programmes and social safety net schemes.

Mannan, however, opined that the allowances under various social safety net programmes should not reach such a level that would discourage the poor and underprivileged people in doing their works. The threshold of various allowances should have to be fixed considering our economic perspective so that the productivity is not hampered.

Parliamentary Standing Committee Chairman on Planning Ministry Abul Kalam Azad said this is the proper time for Bangladesh to pay attention to universal pension strategy.

He also highlighted the steps of the government over the last 10 years to boost the social safety net programmes. Prof Mustafizur Rahman in his presentation showed that more than 40 percent of over 65 old-age population does not receive any kind of pension.

Quoting the data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Ministry of Finance, he said out of the country's 7.9 million over 65-year population, 7.6 percent people receive government retirement pension, 39.9 percent receive old age allowance while 10 percent are private sector employees who receive some kind of gratuity or provident fund.

Prof Mustafiz said Bangladesh is now moving into such a level where it can aspire for launching a universal pension scheme. In this regard, he said a Universal Pension Act is needed to be enacted which will create the scope for forming a Universal Pension Fund Authority in Bangladesh.

The CPD distinguished fellow also cited that an additional 2 to 3 percent of GDP equivalent of tax will be needed to be mobilized to establish pillar zero or non-contributory pension scheme, financed through government budgetary allocations, which exist in Bolivia and in India.

Dr Debapriya said Bangladesh is becoming a modern, progressive middle-income country where almost one fourth of the country's population still remains below the poverty line.

So, efforts are needed to lift this section of people out of poverty while the upcoming 8th Five-Year Plan can give an outline for incorporating the universal pension scheme, he opined.

The speakers at the dialogue suggested for making the various social safety net programmes and pension schemes more affordable, adequate and sustainable as well as increasing the tax-GDP ratio.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)