Tuesday, April 16, 2024

World Bank advises govt to give Botswana’s poor tough love

Having highly refined language skills, the authors of a World Bank report that assesses Botswana’s poverty don’t use the vocabulary used in the headline but it is clear from reading that report that they feel that the government is mollycoddling the poor.

On studying the Destitute Persons’ Programme, the researchers found that some people don’t want to graduate from the programme because the benefit is higher than what they could earn working at the minimum wage in agriculture. On the basis of this, the report concludes that this element “may become appealing to non-intended beneficiaries.” The report says that in 2009/10, people of all ages who stopped their education before age 16 had poverty rates above the national average ÔÇö some by a large margin. Starting with persons who completed their schooling at age 17, all ages had poverty rates below the national average, with gradually decreasing rates of poverty as age of school completion increased. The study established a correlation between sectors with less-educated workers and high rates of poverty and also found that the prevalence of undernourishment was a percentage point higher than the sub-Saharan Africa average and 10.7 percentage points higher than the lower middle countries’ average.

The Bank recommends that over the medium term, the government could consider enhancing social-protection programmes by introducing work requirements for able-bodied individuals (in areas where Ipelegeng, public works programme, does not operate) and by tying cash assistance to certain behavioural changes related to the use of nutrition, health, and education services.

“A programme of this type offers the opportunity to promote behavioral changes that help families increase their children’s human capital, helping break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been successfully implemented in a variety of middle-income countries. They have been rigorously evaluated and found to be highly effective in improving child outcomes, including poverty status, nutrition, health, and schooling,” says the report, giving Burkina Faso as a recent example.

The latter’s programme compared the impact of conditional versus unconditional cash transfers and found the former to be very effective at getting parents to increase their investments in children: “The conditionality pushed parents to enroll marginalized children in schoolÔÇöthose not enrolled at baseline, girls, and low-ability children.”

In place of a social protection system that targets individuals ÔÇô including rich ones, the Bank has proposed that Botswana should adopt one that targets family ÔÇô the Family Support Grant (FSG) as it calls it.

“The FSG could provide cash transfers to families in return for behavioural changes that would build their human capital and help them rise out of poverty. The persistence of high rates of under-nutrition may be an argument for ensuring that transfers are conditional on behavioural changes, such as attending health clinics for growth monitoring, participating in feeding and caring practices, education, giving babies micronutrients, and taking severely undernourished children to clinics for therapeutic feeding. In addition, the relatively large number of young children who are not attending primary school may be another argument for requiring parents to send their children to school. A CCT could also help reduce the large drop in secondary-school enrollment by giving parents an additional incentive to ensure that their children continue studying and complete secondary education,” recommends a bank which has a solid reputation of giving the Third World poor tough love, sometimes with disastrous consequences.


Read this week's paper