The Philippine government is expanding the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the cash support program for the poorest families, from the present 900,000 to 2.3 million by the end of 2011. This program is aimed at the poorest families (from the poorest provinces) in the country, in an effort of helping them out of poverty. [ see 1M Poor Families to get Govt Cash Aid ]
Families in this program receive Php 500 each month, plus Php 300 for each child (for up to 3 children). They should comply with the following requirements to stay in the program:
- Children 6 to 14 years old must be enrolled in school and attend at least 85 percent of the classes.
- Pregnant women must receive prenatal and postnatal care.
- Parents must attend Family Development Sessions.
- Children under 5 years of age must receive regular preventive health checkups and vaccinations.
- Children in elementary schools must receive deworming treatment at least twice a year.
This program has proven effective in ensuring that children do go to school and the families avail of health facilities. In the long run, this program will help these families to overcome poverty.
At the same time, however, we should be aware of possible pitfalls of this program. The first of these would be corruption. Corruption is a danger, especially since this program has a subjective element to it. After all, not everyone can join it. There is an amount of discretion by the DSWD personnel as to whom to include, and whom not to include. There is room for possible corruption; people could be asked to pay to get included in the list. Or, to pay to avoid getting taken off the list.
The government should take steps to avoid too much discretion at the hands of DSWD personnel. Strict rules about including people, or taking them out of the program, should be set; including a rule that requires at least two people to approve such a change of status. Personnel assigned to certain groups of clients should be changed regularly(perhaps once a year). And, a system of feedback by the recipients should be implemented.
The beneficiaries are given an ATM card, so that they could withdraw their allotments monthly, without intervention of other people. This is one less chance for corruption. However, what about families who live where there are no ATMs in the vicinity? Should they go to the nearest city, in order to find an ATM?
The cash transfer itself is not the only expense of the program. The government should also ensure that other facilities are available. Obviously, there needs to be enough places in the schools where the beneficiaries are. There is also a need to ensure that there are enough nurses or doctors to help with pre-natal examinations, vaccinations and deworming. And there need to be enough DSWD personnel to manage the whole system. These are expenses outside the formal program of Pantawid Pamilya, but they are essential for its success.
The payments are given to the wife/mother, and not the husband/father, and this is a good thing. The wife/mother tends to put the family’s needs first; while many husbands/fathers get tempted to drink or gamble away their money. Perhaps a good side effect of the program will be that it upgrades the status of the wife/mother within the family.
Better than Subsidies
The Pantawid Pamilya program is much more effective than subsidies on “basic necessities” aimed at helping poor people. Take the subsidy on rice: it is full of possibilities for corruption, and is inefficient. At numerous points, there is an opportunity for corruption: wholesale and retail buying of rice, storage of rice, transport of rice, identifying beneficiaries, actual distribution of rice, etc.
The rice subsidy is inefficient in that it requires a lot of people to implement it, and it in effect duplicates what private traders do – buy, store and distribute rice. It also distorts the market: sellers have “unfair competition from cheaper rice”, which may be sold below their cost price. It also forces down the farm-gate price for palay, reducing farmers’ incomes.
A conditional cash transfer program (the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, in our case), on the other hand, does not have these problems. The poor have the freedom to spend the money as they need to, and there is no distortion of markets. And they are required to keep their children in school and avail of health facilities. Education and health for the children will help a lot towards them overcoming poverty when they grow up. And since the family has a regular source of income, no matter that it is not fully sufficient for the family’s monthly expenses, helps a lot in making the family have good patterns of expenditures. A regular income will help keep them from having to rely on loan sharks, for instance.
The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is a good program of the government that should indeed be expanded. I hope that the government even goes beyond the target of 2.6 million beneficiaries.
[see also Just Give Money to the Poor ]