*Sania chairs international consultative clinic on food subsidy reform International experts laud the design of Pakistan’s digitally led Ehsaas Rashan Riayat*
Islamabad : Pakistan has recently introduced a targeted food subsidy programme, “Ehsaas Rashan Riayat” to compensate for prices increases in the food items which would affect the poor. To learn from the experiences of other countries, an international consultative clinic on food subsidy reforms was convened by the World Bank to inform the design of Pakistan’s targeted commodity subsidies reforms.
Senator Dr. Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation chaired the event. Speakers and experts from Washington, Cairo, Jakarta, Islamabad and Karachi joined the clinic.
At the event, Dr. Sania was joined by Stefano Paternostro, Practice Manager, Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice, South Asia Region, the World Bank; Ugo Gentilini, Global Lead, Social Assistance, Global Practice, World Bank; Dr. Ibtissam El-Gaafarawi, Advisor to the Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Minister and Professor at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research, Egypt; and Dr. Elan Satriawan, Chief of Policy Working Group in TNP2K, Indonesia. Lire Ersado, Human Development Practice Leader for Pakistan, the World Bank moderated the event. Other participants from the World Bank were Melis Guven, Amjad Khan, Gul Jamy, Zaineb Majoka and Ali Qureshi.
Giving an overview of the programme, Dr. Sania said, “Learning from international precedents and pilot learning, the Ehsaas Rashan Riayat will enable small and medium Kiryana stores as well as government owned Utility Stores to disburse subsidies to the poorest families. Ehsaas and National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) have developed mobile point of sale Android application that is integrated with a central Ehsaas subsidy platform, and which enables processing of subsidies against the CNIC of a beneficiary through a real-time verification process.”
“The use of a digital platform in this program will enable us to track utilization of subsidy by each beneficiary at product and geography level which will provide much needed transparency in the process. Participating Kiryana store owners will be required to open bank accounts which will help further increase financial inclusion and will help increase scale of digital transactions in Pakistan”, she further added.
The World Bank provided a brief overview of key issues on cash vs in-kind transfers and illustrated pathways of reform charted by select international country experiences. Egypt highlighted recent evolution in the structure of its near-universal food subsidies, including ration cards, Baladi Bread and laid out operational innovations and challenges stemming from reforms. Indonesia detailed the country’s journey from large scale price subsidies for commodities, “Rastra” to electronic voucher transfers including their pilot to scale-up.
Participants appreciated Pakistan’s digitally driven Ehsaas Rashan programme that is meant to grant a subsidy of Rs. 1,000 a month to Rs. 20 million low-income families on the purchase of certain food items including flour, cooking oil/ghee and pulses. They highly lauded that the first of its kind technology-led, targeted subsidy disbursal programme will make beneficiaries and storeowners more digitally adept.