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Scaling-up Social Protection in Bangladesh: Providing Ladders out of Poverty & Social Safety Nets

Scaling-up Social Protection in Bangladesh: Providing Ladders out of Poverty & Social Safety Nets

Organized by: UNDP

10 October, 2011; 1:30 PM

Session on:

Moving the social protection agenda forward in Bangladesh

Atiur Rahman, Ph.D.

Governor, Bangladesh Bank

Guest Chair

Mr. Chairman, learned paper presenters, other distinguished participants, Assalamu Alaikum and good afternoon. Let me begin with thanks the sponsors of this conference for inviting me to this session on scaling up of social protection in Bangladesh, a key requisite for faster poverty elimination with inclusive economic and social growth that we are all working for.

The papers presented in the session have provided important perspectives and insights into the issues and challenges involved in the scaling up processes. Interestingly, though Bangladesh is still a low income economy, management and delivery of social protection pose more of challenge in this task than do resource limitations. Dr. Sen’s paper reports threefold increase in Bangladesh public expenditure for social protection from 5 percent in 1990s to 15 percent in FY 12. This substantial expansion in social protection without impairment of budget sustainability (keeping deficits at lower single digit levels) is no mean achievement. Unconditional transfer based public safety net programs are helping out the poorest and most vulnerable, while the conditional cash transfers like those for education are advancing human development and gender equality, hastening attainment of the MDGs. The transfer payment based programs for relieving extreme poverty are being supplemented by multi-pronged broader poverty reduction initiatives; including pro-poor public expenditure for health, education and social empowerment, the decades-old civil society activism of microcredit institutions (many of them now providing micro insurance services besides microcredit), and BB’s more recent financial inclusion campaign promoting adequate financing of small holder agriculture, rural and urban SMEs, renewable energy and other environmentally benign ‘green’ initiatives. A recent joint WB-PPRC study[1] using nationally representative household survey data finds that access to microfinance is a significant determinant of the ability of the poor to cope with shocks. Employment and income generated by the microfinance supported farm and non-farm SMEs are accelerating poverty reduction and usefully contributing to sustained broad based economic and social growth; halving headline poverty in Bangladesh in two decades from 59 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2010.

Impressive as these positive outcomes are, benefits from the social protection initiatives would have been substantially higher if we could address some persistent significant weaknesses on the flip side; including the lack of reliable and adequate data bases on the target groups, and


[1] How do the poor cope with shocks in Bangladesh? Evidence from survey data; by Indhira Santos, Iffath Sharif, Hossain Zillur Rahman, Hasan Zaman: Policy Research Working Paper, the World Bank, South Asia region, Social Pr

inefficient, slow and costly delivery infrastructures for the social protection benefits, plagued with leakages and misallocations. These issues crucial for sustained scaling up of social protection are dwelt upon in the papers by Ms. Ibrahim and Mr. Khan. Ms. Ibrahim’s paper reports the issues and challenges in establishing reliable data bases on the target population segments for social protection interventions; while Mr. Khan’s paper discusses the need for a modern IT based infrastructure for efficient delivery of social protection benefits. I am happy to be able to mention some important recent progress in this direction from BB initiatives. Fully automated clearing and settlement platforms for both paper based and electronic inter bank fund transfers throughout the country are already operational, providing a secure payment and settlement infrastructure supporting the operation of many mobile phone/ smart card based platforms for efficient payment flows between individuals, households, businesses and public authorities; BB has already issued necessary guidelines for mobile phone based payments. Besides this, the state-owned banks are opening accounts in the names of small farmers and people of small means with nominal deposits as low as Taka 10; more than nine million such accounts have already been opened and are in use. Public authorities paying out social security benefits to target groups can conveniently use these bank accounts and the mobile phone/smart card based platforms for leakage free direct delivery of social protection benefits to recipients.

The papers by Professor Armando Barrianos and Professor Khondker dwell on the fiscal and financial dimensions of social protection systems. The bottom line here is that to be sustainable, growing needs of public resources on safety net programs for the chronic or extreme poor will have to be funded by public revenues. Other public interventions targeting broader decline in poverty headcount can be usefully supplemented by domestic and external support from civil society initiatives, private philanthropic institutions, and initiatives of public institutions like BB’s financial inclusion campaign.

The low tax-GDP ratio in Bangladesh leaves ample room for increased funding of public expenditure for poverty reduction from growing tax revenues; provided that the economy continues on sustained growth path. Despite recent transient episode of inflationary pressure from external sources and growth related stresses, there should be no doubt about the Bangladesh economy being on a higher growth trajectory for the medium term; both GOB and BB are firmly committed to maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment fostering inclusive economic and social growth at a sustained and steadily growing pace. Support from international agencies will remain useful and welcome; as much or more so for learning opportunity from experiences elsewhere as for any financial or physical contribution. Permit me to conclude here with thanks again to sponsors of the event for this opportunity of sharing views with you, and to everyone in the audience for your patient attention.

==============

otection Unit; September 2011.

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