ISLAMABAD – The World Bank team, which is in Pakistan to conduct a review of the Pakistan Social Safety Net project, has shown serious concerns over the slow progress of its projects for BISP.

During the wrap up meeting of World Bank’s team with Chairman Benazir Income Support Programme, donors have also raised their concerned regarding the vacant seat of Secretary BISP and has observed that BISP may miss the crucial targets if a regular Secretary is not appointed immediately.

Frequent changes in management is one of the major reasons for the slow progress of the project, sources said. Enver Baig, Chairman BISP, has changed 3 secretaries in a span of 9 months which has not only resulted in slow progress of the project but has also raised the development partners’ concerns about BISP’s ability to achieve the targets.

World Bank is supporting BISP through a soft loan of $210 million ($60 million technical assistance and $150 million additional financing).

The IMF has set a target for BISP to make payments to at least 5.3 million beneficiaries by June 2015 but the distribution of Benazir Debit Cards across the country is on a halt due to expired contracts with banks and NADRA. Moreover, the Bank also has certain timelines which have to be met well in time for disbursements to be made.

BISP is without a secretary after departure of theShabbir Ahmed who was appointed on additional charge by the government for a period of three months that expired on 18th September, 2014. The Bank is conducting a review in the absence of the secretary and the officers find it difficult to commit anything without the approval of the secretary, a senior official said.

Moreover, the BISP Board which is entrusted with the responsibilities of taking important policy decisions is supposed to meet every quarter but no Board meeting could take place during this calendar year.

BISP may miss the targets set by international development partners as the contracts of the banks expired in December last year. BISP took the approval from the Prime Minister to extend the previous banking contracts and started the process of fresh hiring of commercial banks but the process could not be completed even after almost one year.

One previous secretary was of the view that the chairman interferes too much in the working of principal accounting officer which makes it difficult to operate. The chairman has also pressurized previous secretaries in making postings/transfers of his favorite officers which has led to rifts between the chairman and the secretary.

This situation had also put the BISP officers in a dilemma whether to follow the orders of the secretary or the chairman. Absence of the secretary of such an important programme is also a question mark on the government’s seriousness to run the poverty alleviation initiative. No policy decision could be taken regarding the crucial affairs related to BISP for the last few weeks, sources said. The chairman, in the absence of the secretary, is meddling into the administrative affairs which are beyond his domain as per the BISP Act.

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