Productive Empowerment of the Poor

Besides emergency and welfare programmes for those who can temporarily, only to a limited extent (the special people) or lifelong, not help themselves, any sustainable poverty elimination programme will have to enable the poor to help themselves. The existence of emergency and welfare programmes provide also for some assurance to the poor, that they can afford additional risk and venture out to elbow in on some greener pastures. That, besides government programmes and private welfare agencies, the poor and local communities should be further enabled and encouraged to create and strengthen their own social security funds and systems, is an essential cornerstone of such an approach.

Globalisation has its advantages, as has a liberalised market and economy, besides attempts at national or local autonomy will be defeated by powerful forces in the market. But unless the people protect themselves from defenceless exposure to the greed of the more powerful, being forced to offer not only their labour at the whim and whiff of the market below sustainability cost, their contribution in the form of taxes on consumption, constituting over 80 percent of public revenue in Pakistan, many times more than they get in return from the public exchequer, and their savings if any, utilised by the banking system for investment in the towns and abroad, Government expenditure and eroded by inflation, unless they, as well as the other players, who seek a future in the local market, participate in creating a defence mechanism of limited local autonomy, to enable more people to participate with some measure of strength and fallback self-reliance in the local, the national and the global market, the defenceless will continue to be pushed around by the vagaries of the market and those; who have or wish to develop a stake in the local market, will have to go elsewhere or under them. If the NGOs can make people including the local business community understand, that solidarity is not only a  moral  category, but also a material insurance for their own future, then funds for such ventures are no unsurmountable problem, credibility is the key asset for an NGO.

The European and Japanese imperial and industrial capital had to learn the hard way, pulling the world into two world wars, that they had to cooperate with each other and share with at least their own people, if they wished to enlarge their markets. The feudals have more than their land and money at stake, it is their way of life and self-esteem or inflated egos, thus there is no hope for them to cooperate. Most of the super-rich already have one foot abroad and will run away, when the real crunch comes. It is those who depend on the local market, its supply and demand for goods, who have a stake in it. The bazaar had traditionally had its system of network support, which has largely collapsed due to the intrusion of the state and only a baradari or family support system has survived.

The governments with their centralised development programs, of taking control of all development activities, trying to purchase local loyalties and votes through the promise or implementation of welfare or development schemes, have taken the initiative out of the hands of the citizens, but were unable to fulfil their promises. There is now large-scale resistance to pay taxes to a state machinery, that is not trusted to handle them responsibly and in the interest of national development. CBR and Ministry of Finance themselves are aware that there is limited elasticity for public revenue mobilisation in the present system. If as pointed out above, there is no hope for structural improvement in the near future, then why not allow more local organisations (NGOs) to raise tax-deductible funds for investment into public assets with more equitable access for the poor. The local businessmen, when they see their money invested into schools, clinics, local security arrangements and improvement of other local facilities in a transparent manner and visible improvement of the poor in their midst or neighbourhood, they will not only pay happily and without grudge but notice in their own business and seek new business opportunities arising from the demand created thereby. What has to be fought hard are the forces that tend to create  dissension,  mistrust  and  demobilisation  of local initiative.

Political leadership, more interested in playing on the prevailing exploitative system, seeing the initiative slipping out of their hands, will try either to sabotage it or join in. It depends on the local situation, if local private initiatives can afford to integrate or exclude them from their activities.

The type of funds, institutions and programmes to be initiated at the local level depend on the local situation. The Gramee Bank approach for savings mobilisation and micro-credit is one to be strengthened where needed by a local insurance and welfare system to protect against destitution through joblessness, illness or other family burden, access to healthcare and education a third option, strengthened by health/nutrition and environment/hygiene education, with vocational training and employment/self-employment promotion linked to the micro-credit programme to close the circle of possible activities. All such programmes need to be linked to legal aid and mediation, other counselling services (education, family, finance, business, appropriate technology, etc.) and audit, all of which can be made available at affordable cost from the professional community who can be paid retainer fees and utilise their students in the routine work. Local security arrangements, which need to be protected against infiltration or takeover by the local mafias, are another essential activity.

Last but not the least, for an effort to bring about a change the system of government and economy, which would change the fate of the poor much more dramatically than any local initiative, the organisation of advocacy for the devolution of power breathing space from the state and the mafia and equitable access to productive assets (effective rural and urban land reforms) and to healthcare, education, etc, (positive discrimination not through quota, but allocation of public revenue for making the disadvantaged competitive for access) is by itself a powerful poverty elimination activity.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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