Bio­met­rics in anti-poverty schemes

The tech­nol­ogy can help en­sure cash reach those who need it most

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By MARYANNE GICOBI The Eastafrican

East African coun­tries need bio­met­rics and bet­ter record-keep­ing for any mean­ing­ful gains from anti-poverty schemes.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tre for Global De­vel­op­ment (CGD), a think-tank in Wash­ing­ton, the ab­sence of proper iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tools in­hibits cit­i­zens’ ac­cess to ba­sic rights and ser­vices.

“Un­der-doc­u­men­ta­tion is per­va­sive in the de­vel­op­ing world, and the iden­tity gap is in­creas­ingly recog­nised as not only a symp­tom of un­der­de­vel­op­ment but as a fac­tor that makes de­vel­op­ment more dif­fi­cult and less in­clu­sive,” says a study by CGD.

Ac­cord­ing to the think tank, civil reg­is­tra­tion sys­tems are of­ten ab­sent or cover only a frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

“Bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy can help en­sure that cash pay­ments reach those who need them most, even in the dif­fi­cult con­di­tions of places,” reads the study ti­tled “Leapfrog­ging tech­nol­ogy: The case for bio­met­rics.”

At the be­gin­ning of the year, Kenya in­tro­duced bio­met­ric smart cards to dis­trib­ute monthly state stipends to the el­derly, or­phans and the dis­abled.

The cards cap­ture fin­ger­prints of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries or their care­givers, re­plac­ing a sys­tem where ben­e­fi­cia­ries had been re­ceiv­ing cash from state-owned Post­bank and local chiefs us­ing their na­tional iden­tity cards, a model that was prone to fraud.

Ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment, the three cash trans­fer pro­grammes have been suc­cess­ful in terms of im­proved house­hold food se­cu­rity, re­ten­tion of chil­dren in schools, ac­cess to ba­sic health care, for­ma­tion of so­cial sup­port net­works, and in­creased self-es­teem and dig­nity among ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

The Cen­tre for Global De­vel­op­ment says coun­tries can ver­ify iden­ti­ties with bio­met­ric in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing voter registries and health records, as well as keep track of the re­cip­i­ents of so­cial spend­ing.

Data­bases that store fin­ger­prints ex­clude ghost or dead re­cip­i­ents, and check­ing such data at dis­burse­ment means the right per­son is paid.

The data­bases also help cut ad­min­is­tra­tive costs and make it less likely that the same per­son ben­e­fits from over­lap­ping schemes. They re­duce ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties such as en­rol­ment of in­el­i­gi­ble pop­u­la­tions into the pro­gramme.

In Uganda, the govern­ment trans­fers money for the so­cial pro­tec­tion pro­gramme through mo­bile money ac­counts via MTN Mo­bile Money, an elec­tronic money trans­fer ser­vice.

This sys­tem has been lauded for be­ing fraud-re­sis­tant. It records what has been paid, makes it eas­ier to reach re­mote ar­eas and can in­cor­po­rate se­cu­rity checks and re­duce the need to trans­port and store cash. In Tan­za­nia, govern­ment cash trans­fers are paid through bank ac­counts or mo­bile money. Poor fam­i­lies en­rolled re­ceived Tsh29,000 ($13) each month as an in­cen­tive to in­crease house­hold con­sump­tion of food and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices. To reach a wider pop­u­la­tion, Kenya has in­creased the age limit of the peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for the state fund to 70 years up from 65 years.

So­cial wel­fare pro­grammes across the re­gion have been be­dev­iled by un­cer­tain­ties like how to iden­tify the re­ally poor and vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety.

Peo­ple scrap­ing a liv­ing as street ven­dors, sub­sis­tence farm­ers, and ca­sual labour­ers are un­likely to fea­ture in the so­cial wel­fare pro­gramme, so the de­ci­sions about who should re­ceive ben­e­fits of­ten rely on ob­serv­able fea­tures for poverty, such as whether some­one is old or or­phaned or lives in poor-qual­ity hous­ing.

So­cial wel­fare pro­grammes across the re­gion have been be­dev­iled by un­cer­tain­ties like how to tell the re­ally poor and vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety.”

Pic­ture: Joseph Kanyi

El­derly cit­i­zens at the launch of Inua Jamii cash trans­fer pro­gramme tar­get­ting those aged 70 and above. Kenya has in­tro­duced bio­met­ric smart cards to dis­trib­ute monthly state stipends un­der the pro­gramme.

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