The federal government is hard-pressed in responding to the raging coronavirus pandemic with each useful resource, instrument, coverage and technique it may possibly get its fingers on.
A key lesson from COVID-19 we can’t afford to overlook, a minimum of for some time, is that social safety is as necessary an instrument as social distancing that international locations should deploy to struggle the virus.
The virus is destined to stick with us, alive and spreading, till vaccines and coverings are discovered.
Till then, if not even later, social safety is a two-in-one instrument — it protects each lives and livelihoods.
It protects lives by obviating the necessity for searching for work outdoors the house when harsh measures to include the virus unfold are in place.
It protects livelihoods by supporting hundreds of thousands of hardworking individuals who have misplaced self and wage employment with little or no financial savings to attract from. It helps struggle starvation, a non-contagious however no much less lethal human deprivation.
The federal government has determined to increase the present Outdated Age and Widow allowance programmes, applied by social welfare ministry, by Tk 815 crore.
It has additionally introduced an emergency cash switch programme for households impoverished by coronavirus with a provision of Tk 760 crore. Who in authorities will implement this programme is but to be determined.
It is usually offering free meals to the poor and promoting rice beneath the Open Market Sale (OMS) programme at a extremely subsidised price of Tk 10 per kg. The federal government has additional promised housing help for homeless folks.
Tips on how to ship social safety shortly and effectively are outdated questions — and coronavirus has added a brand new dimension.
How do you ship social safety safely when the nation is in lockdown and there’s a want to guard the poor and the weak inhabitants from contracting COVID-19?
Richard Chirchir, director and senior administration info specialist for growth pathways, in a latest weblog titled “7 methods expertise might help the social safety response” gives some helpful concepts.
Fast, environment friendly and secure supply of social safety is feasible by leveraging current expertise options with out having to construct these programs from scratch.
What’s crucial at this tough time is to make sure that help is delivered to supposed beneficiaries on a well timed foundation.
Expertise can play a vital position in augmenting supply in a number of methods, relying on the contextual constraints and alternatives.
A key consideration within the design is the parameters on which info must be collected to register the beneficiaries and ship the help.
This isn’t the time to design restrictive poverty-targeted schemes.
Important info parameters corresponding to ID numbers, names, addresses, cell numbers and transaction profile may be collected as a substitute of further monitoring info corresponding to belongings, family composition and socio-economic particulars.
The accrued historic transactional database of the cell monetary service (MFS) incorporates a wealth of knowledge, which, if used well, can establish the needy from transaction data.
This database is already linked to the cost service supplier programs which are regulated by the Bangladesh Financial institution (BB). Subsequently, monetary regulatory supervision may be assured.
It will facilitate direct cash transfers from the federal government accounts, through the banks, to the accounts of the beneficiaries.
Cashless cost supply by cell cash accounts must be inspired to keep away from dangers of crowding and the spreading of the virus by the dealing with of cash.
Bangladesh has the capability to system a number of financial institution supply mechanisms beneath which advantages may be withdrawn from completely different business banks by the MFS system. These banks will obtain the suitable sum of money by BB’s Bangladesh Digital Funds Switch Community (BFTN).
Most Bangladeshis have nationwide identification (NID), entry of adults to cell phone gadgets is near 90 per cent, and the MFS system has a longtime capability in the usage of expertise.
Individuals who have entry to smartphones can open their accounts immediately so long as they’ve the NID.
Those that haven’t got smartphones can go to one of many 60,000 digital KYC centres of the MFS operators throughout the county with their NIDs, the place they’d be capable of immediately open the MFS accounts.
If the suitable authority instructs to open accounts, the needy folks would have the option to take action with out a lot trouble.
Following a BB discover on April 6 making it a requirement for staff in export-oriented industries to have MFS or checking account, MFS account openings surged from 20,000 per day to 90,000. bKash, Rocket and Nagad have collectively added 2.6 million new accounts in April.
Liquidity constraints on the agent degree pose a problem that may be dealt with. Earlier than coronavirus, there was no proof of liquidity constraint on the MFS agent level.
MFS brokers are unbiased entrepreneurs who provide MFS companies in exchange for commissions. Nonetheless, beneath coronavirus restrictions, banks are understandably open for very restricted hours.
The digital fund movement channels corresponding to BFTN are additionally working for restricted hours.
With out their full engagement, MFS suppliers are going through extreme challenges in cash administration and in conserving the brokers lively.
MFS brokers’ actions have declined 20 to 30 per cent as a consequence of these disruptions, which can go away as and when the banking hours return to normalcy.
In the meantime, some regulatory tweaking can generate further ease within the MFS system.
For instance, extending the every day and month-to-month fund switch limits from financial institution accounts and playing cards to MFS accounts may ease the liquidity constraint to some extent. At the moment, these limits are Tk 30,000 every day and Tk 2,00,000 month-to-month.
Growing the boundaries will enhance digital liquidity within the MFS system, thus decreasing dependency on the bodily agent level.
This type of changes can permit prospects who’ve financial institution accounts to convey extra money from their banks to MFS accounts to pay for his or her groceries, utility payments, home helps’ month-to-month salaries and so forth.
These are verified prospects who don’t pose any further threat. This reform will, due to this fact, assist make the nation’s cost programs adapt to bodily distancing.
Digital options will also be used to handle food-based social help.
Monitoring the supply of meals on the last-mile has all the time been a problem.
Attain of cell connectivity and innovation in ICT have enabled real-time information interchange till the final degree of service supply utilizing low information utilization functions in cell gadgets.
Low-cost cell applied sciences may be developed to allow the supply of meals entitlements on the doorstep of the beneficiary. These require utilizing enterprise fashions analogous to ones that e-commerce entrepreneurs use to ship their orders.
Why do folks must line up densely in public locations to get the meals rations in digital Bangladesh?
There isn’t a time to re-invent when the present wheels are good to drive. Sometimes, new info programs would take months if not years to develop and implement.
Nonetheless, if necessities are easy, then purposeful info programs may be developed from current information in a matter of weeks.
I’ve little doubt our IT, MFS and e-commerce professionals can shortly provide you with interoperable programs permitting info exchange and real-time monitoring of last-mile supply if given an opportunity.
This may rely on collaborations with expertise suppliers and the accountable public businesses such because the ministries of social welfare, catastrophe administration and aid, and finance and the BB.
Totally different international locations are pursuing very completely different methods in testing for COVID-19.
The World Well being Organisation helps a coverage of widespread testing. When the healthcare system is overloaded, you don’t need a number of non-sick folks coming to well being services and risking contagion.
The digital well being group is making an attempt a slew of latest instruments aiming to watch the unfold of the illness and facilitate higher therapy.
The database used for the social safety programmes can be utilized to attract random samples of staff to do aggressive testing, as soon as dependable assessments and kits can be found.
However the boundaries of scientific understanding of COVID-19 immunity, assessments on the group degree might be crucial within the weeks and months forward for illness surveillance, therapeutics and return-to-work screenings.
COVID-19 has dropped at the forefront the synergy between social safety and public well being.
Lockdown and social safety purchase time for constructing the well being system readiness to unlock the method of reopening the economic system.
Allow us to remake the Bangladesh shock by a robust and coordinated effort in social safety, well being and digital platforms for delivering social help, facilitating bodily distancing and conducting group testing in city and rural areas.
The success of COVID-19 digital initiatives may be considerably enhanced by establishing suggestions programs in coordination with the present governance programs within the establishments inside and out of doors the federal government.
The author is an economist