IN OTHER WORDS: Poor vision

Poverty means one thing to the poor and another to the government’s economic planners. For the poor, poverty means lifelong suffering — a life that has to be spent in squalor without adequate food, shelter, health facilities, education, clean water and so on. Most importantly, it means a life without any hope. But most planners usually look at poverty in terms of the exclusion of a section of population from economic activity.

So when Pakistan’s top finance manager, Shaukat Tarin, told a seminar in Islamabad last week that the number of poor had increased to 28 per cent from 24 per cent in 2005-06 he appeared to be saying this as a passing reference. Like the rest of the government officials, he appeared more concerned at the falling growth and deteriorating macroeconomic and financial imbalances.

The removal of indirect food and energy subsidies is important to remove distortions in the economy, but it is equally important to help the low-income, poor and vulnerable groups. The Rs 34 billion Benazir Income Support Programme aimed at providing cash support to 700,000 households is marred by bureaucratic delays and alleged politica favouritism. Unless the planners understand what poverty really means to the poor, they are unlikely to take measures which are pro-poor.