Biometric cash relief payments system in Pakistan shows positive results with $695M disbursed

biometric fingerprint data

Pakistan’s biometric COVID-19 benefits scheme, Ehsaas Emergency Cash, has disbursed 112 billion Pakistani Rupees (roughly US$695 million), The International News reports, out of $900 million allocated.

The emergency financial relief scheme disburses Rs 12,000 per household (roughly $75), and has now reached more than nine million families in Pakistan. The goal is to reach 12 million families to benefit 80 million people.

An information portal was launched to help inform the public of relief payment rules, such as the number of beneficiaries and bank disbursement details, and digital capabilities previously being built up to support a poverty alleviation program (also known as Ehsaas), such as an SMS request service, were adapted for emergency payments, according to the report.

An analytics system was launched in 2019 to catch errors and fraudulent claims, which reduced the list provided by the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) by more than 800,000. The system was also used to identify beneficiaries.

The International News suggests that the transparency and openness with which the program was launched are unusual by the standards of Pakistan’s government. Difficulty with fingerprint verifications, perhaps exacerbated by the closure of NADRA offices preventing biometric templates from being enrolled or updated, was recently reported.

The program’s success comes despite some concern over the use of contact fingerprint biometrics, as noted in a World Economic Forum article by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Sania Nishtar, a Federal Minister in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Two commercial banks won a tender last year to operate the Ehsaas program’s biometric cash transfer system, with retail agents in small shops disbursing cash outside of banks, and ATMs with integrated fingerprint biometric capabilities. Other concerns included connectivity and cybersecurity, the limitations of the data-driven system, which could result in payments being authorized for deceased people whose records have not been updated, and the possibility of help-lines being overloaded.

On the recipient side, transportation, theft after picking up aid, and low levels of financial and digital literacy were considered challenges, Nishtar writes.

Nishtar claims a “whole of government” approach with daily coordination meetings with stakeholders enabled “policy interventions in real-time to facilitate implementation.”

According to the report, initial indications are that the program has successfully delivered a measure of stability and security to the most vulnerable families in Pakistan.

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