Cash scheme for poor families likely to get delayedFinance Ministry says it plans to distribute the cash before Dashain but the working procedures have not been approved yet.
The cash grant scheme through which the government plans to distribute Rs 10,000 each to 500,000 poor families who lost their livelihoods to Covid-19 pandemic may be delayed as the working procedures for identification of beneficiaries and cash distribution process have not been approved yet.
On September 10, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government announced the one-time cash grant scheme through a bill brought to replace the ordinance budget passed by the previous government. It also announced that the cash would be distributed by mid-October.
“Our target still is to distribute the cash grant before the Dashain festival even though the time is running out to distribute the amount before the festival,” said Finance Secretary Madhu Marasini. “We had expected that the replacement bill would be endorsed by Parliament right away once it was presented. But the delay in getting the replacement bill endorsed by Parliament affected our plan to distribute the cash grant.”
The government had presented the replacement bill at Parliament on September 10. But as the bill could not be endorsed by September 15 as required by parliamentary rules, there was a government shutdown situation which prevented spendings in administrative and development works.
The bill finally got through the lower house on September 20 and the National Assembly endorsed it on September 23. The endorsement of the bill also allowed the government to implement the scheme designed for the poor families.
Marasini said that the Finance Ministry has already sent the working procedures related to the scheme to the Cabinet for approval.
“After the Cabinet approval, we will identify the beneficiaries and distribute the cash to them,” he said.
The government will have to spend Rs5 billion to implement the scheme.
The government’s scheme comes when there is no Covid-19 lockdown in the country. When many people lost their livelihoods during the second lockdown following the second wave of Covid-19, no such relief measures were announced for the poor.
When the country went under lockdown for the first time starting March 24, 2020, the federal and local governments had announced relief packages for the poor. Many local governments, including in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, distributed food and other relief materials targeting the daily wage workers and destitute families.
According to the Federal Affairs Ministry, 5.7 million people from 1.8 million families were provided relief packages worth Rs3 billion during last year’s lockdown.
Finance Secretary Marasini said the government came up with the cash grant scheme for the poor just as it announced various relief measures for businesses.
But doubts have been raised about the one-time cash distribution and how the government plans to make sure that the actual needy families benefit from the scheme.
In a recent interview with the Post, Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, former vice-chairperson of the National Planning Commission, said that even though there are families who are in need of state support, the question of how the government would identify the poor people who lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic remains unanswered.
Former Finance Secretary Suman Sharma said that the cash scheme will only provide a short-term relief to the poor families.
“The government should focus on improving quality of life and create employment opportunities for the poor families instead,” he said.
Sharma also expressed concern if the funds would reach the needy people.
“The misuse of funds could not be ruled out if a strict verification process is not applied while selecting the beneficiaries,” he said.
Even though the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperative and Poverty Alleviation has already identified poor families in 49 districts, the Finance Ministry said that they are not the target group for the scheme.
Finance Secretary Marasini said that the main beneficiaries would be workers from the informal sector, street vendors and migrant workers who lost their jobs and are without a source of income.
“The selection criteria of beneficiaries under this new scheme is different from the poor identified by the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation,” he said. “The poor people identified by the ministry could become beneficiaries of this scheme if they meet the new criteria set by the working procedures.”