Key Role for Zakat Committees
Reformed zakat committees operating at the grassroots are ideally suited for striking “a desirable balance” between productivity and welfare to achieve poverty alleviation. As part of the process of Islamisation of the economy, zakah administration has been operative in Pakistan since the early 1980’s, and presently controls two to three billion rupees annually for disbursement to the most deserving in the society. Main instrument for disbursement of zakah funds is the zakat committees operating at the local level. These committees cover practically all villages in the country. Basis of disbursement of funds and benefit is the list of the beneficiaries which each management committee is supposed to maintain.
Studies about the working of the system have shown that while it suits the cultural genius of the masses, especially in small communities, perfectly well, it suffers from political intervention and financial corruption. In view of its cultural suitability it has been suggested to reform the system by removing its most serious shortcomings in financial corruption, e.g. by streamlining the method of listing its beneficiaries. Equally important is it to depoliticise the system on two counts. One, the political party in power has a tendency to use the institution to its own benefit irrespective of the social interest. Two, in the three tier zakah administration, local level administration is dominated by a much stronger provincial administration. To make the zakah system get rid of such constraints, there is an urgent need for total depoliticisation and thereby empowerment of the village-level zakat committees. Though difficult, it is not impossible. This is the way people can define their priority problems and organise themselves for resolving them at the grassroots level. Contrary to this suggestion, the Finance Bill last year rather attempted to induce more centralisation in the system, which goes against the spirit of participatory local administration and development approach.
Independent observers believe that in the absence of any other workable local level institutions for welfare (like the panchayat system), zakat committees are certainly best suited to our cultural genius and environment and should, therefore, be strengthened and reformed as a vehicle of community participation in all matters of welfare and productivity policy implementation.
Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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