Denial of IDPs’ payout contract to BISP creates huge mess

ISLAMABAD: Some 400,000 families registered with the government as internally displaced persons from North Waziristan won’t have enough to celebrate on Eidul Fitr. Some things have gone so wrong that Bannu district resembles some sort of a Hyde Park, where frustration transforms into mini protests, audible even to an indifferent ear.
Contrary to initial perception of Zarb-e-Azb to be a meticulously planned multifaceted operation, the execution obviously has left a lot to be desired. Anguish and dismay that dominates feeling of sacrifice and service amongst the IDPs largely stems from the government’s decision to award cash distribution to a semi-government commercial bank and a Chinese-owned cellular company without any competitive bidding and technical evaluation. While the privileged commercial bank, which was has virtually no branch in the district, along with the cellular service operator have been too slow to respond, the entire city has been transformed into a massive transit camp where confusion battles the official claims.
Though the government has boasted to have disbursed Rs 1.42 billion amongst the IDPs, there are few takers for the tall claim. Led by the FATA Secretariat in KPK Governor House, the operation of disbursing money to the Waziristan residents has been mishandled from the very outset. However, the government has been too lousy to admit the shortcomings, if not failure. Meanwhile, the FATA Disaster Management Authority wants the nation to believe that over Rs 195 million were disbursed among the IDPs on Thursday alone. The official media claims that 39,000 families have received financial assistance, thus far.
The federal government represented by the KPK Governor failed to recognize the mammoth success Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has been. Working strictly under the World Bank guidelines, the BISP evolved procedures in sync with local needs and time constraints both. “The government has been trying to reinvent the wheel again here, just for the heck of it. Since BISP is a legacy of the Zardari era, the rulers did not want IDPs payout under the existing facility,” explains an insider at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
“The project must have been handed to the BISP which could have delivered swiftly relying on its smart card that comes with NADRA’s state-of-the-art technical support,” said a source in the finance ministry. Requesting anonymity, he said the donor community has been far from satisfied with the state of affairs concerning cash handout process. An official in the telecom sector noted that three cellular companies also dealing in money transfer across the country have their own State Bank-licensed institutions coupled with a wide network of cash outlets. “In case of the Chinese company, not only it does not have its own bank but also has marginal market share in the particular region of the KPK province,” he explained.
Three years ago, the same telecom company did not even participate in the bidding process for the BISP. The sheer on-ground reality remains that the banks prime partner lacks cash outlets in the IDP encatchment area. “Due to shortage of outlets, the existing centres are swarmed with people and only 20 per cent IDPs can be entertained,” says a local official. The dismal cashout situation, then, prompts harsh exchange of word and protests. On the other hand, the other cellular operators complain of simply handing over 400,000 customers to a company that had 4 per cent share of the region. Moreover, the locals confirm that free SIMs are being distributed and the same operator has set up public call centres to maximize its economic benefits. Enhancement of cash distribution system has not been a priority since the contract was dished out the party.
According to a conservative estimate, the Chinese company alone may reap benefits worth Rs 1.2 billion in SIM revenue over a period of time. However, roll out of 400,000 SIMs won’t make the company a market leader anyway. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the NADRA officials have been struggling for the last 15 days to fix the mess but no success reported so far. 
Even the PTA chairman and NADRA acting head had visited the district to ascertain the situation first hand. Interestingly, the contract award to the commercial bank and the cellular company remain closely guarded by the either sides. With the extended Eid holiday season ahead, there are increased fears of protests in Bannu district over lack of cash disbursement and poor living conditions of the IDPs.

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