A major goal of the Government of Bangladesh’s (GoB) National Social Security Strategy is to reform the country’s social protection system by ensuring a more effective and efficient use of resources and strengthening the delivery systems. In order to contribute to the attainment of this goal, the Finance Division of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has undertaken the Strengthening Public Financial Management for Social Protection (SPFMSP) Project. The project is assisted by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Maxwell Stamp PLC assists the Government in implementing the Project.
SPFMSP falls under the umbrella of the DFID-funded Strengthening Government Social Protection Systems for the Poor (SGSP) Programme. SGSP is aimed at supporting GoB to establish policies, budgets and plans for a more effective and efficient social protection system.
The major objective of SPFMSP is to enhance the capacity of the Finance Division and six Line Ministries implementing major social protection schemes to draw evidenced-based budgets that respond to value for money, improve targeting, prevent leakages, avoid duplication, bring greater efficiency to delivery systems and establish an efficient social protection expenditure monitoring system. The six Line Ministries SPFMSP works with are:
- Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW),
- Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA),
- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW),
- Ministry of Education (MoE),
- Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME); and
- Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR)
LAUNCHING EVENT ON THE NEW G2P PAYMENT SYSTEM HELD
As part of the Government of Bangladesh’s commitment to serve people at the lowest economic strata, the Finance Division is offering them benefits under social safety programmes at their doorstops. To this effect, the Finance Division (FD) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) on Thursday, 17 May 2018, launched the ‘MIS Integrated Government to Person (G2P) Payment System‘ for the Maternity Allowance (MA) Social Protection Scheme of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA). The new payment system, has been piloted in seven Upazilas of Bangladesh and is developed by the Strengthening Public Financial Management for Social Protection (SPFMSP) Project under the FD of the MoF, supported by the DFID and DFAT, and managed by Maxwell Stamp PLC.
Towards the beginning of the event, Mr. Azizul Alam, National Project Director, SPFMSP Project and Additional Secretary of Finance Division, Government of Bangladesh, welcomed guests and provided a presentation on current issues facing the social protection schemes, and went on to explain benefits of the new system vis a vis the old one. He concluded by mentioning that the new payment system is successfully tested, and they were able to transfer money to the individual accounts of the beneficiaries. As such, the Government can now quickly focus efforts on accurately digitizing and covering all beneficiaries from various other social protection schemes such as Old Age Allowance, Disability Allowance and Widow Allowance programmes of the Department of Social Services (DSS).
The launching event was organized and hosted at the Secretariat, and the Chief Guest Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Honorable Minister of Finance, Government of Bangladesh and Special Guest Ms. Meher Afroz Chumki, State Minister for the MoWCA, Government of Bangladesh attended the event. High officials of relevant ministries, Bangladesh Bank, commercial banks, Mobile Financial Service (MFS) providers, development partners, and relevant project staff were present during the event.
Minister of Finance, Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said, “I am delighted to witness the entire process of cash delivery made possible with just one click from Dhaka, by way of which beneficiaries are receiving payments from Banks and MFS providers”.
State Minister of MoWCA, Ms. Meher Afroz Chumki further remarked, “I am happy to be part of this process, and I hope for a successful role out of the MA scheme under the new system. This is also an indication of the fact that Bangladesh is making strides towards the Digital Era”. She mentioned how the problems mothers face in accessing money for nutrients will now be eliminated, and hoped that the new system can be emulated across the whole of Bangladesh. She also congratulated all those who were connected with the design and implementation of the new system.
Additionally, the Secretary of the MoWCA, Ms. Nasima Begum stressed on the importance of the new system in ensuring mothers receive intended benefits from payments under the MA scheme. She urged members of their families to step back, and allow for mothers to have access to nutrients. She also thanked the FD to enable transactions on a monthly basis under the new system. Also, the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) of Bangladesh, Mr. Abul Foyez Md. Abid said, “A paradigm shift in cash transfer system is currently underway and I am happy to be a part of it”.
During the launching event, the Ministers of FD and MoWCA directly interacted with the beneficiaries of the new payment system, who had made themselves available over Skype and video calls organized by the FD and Upazila offices. The event witnessed the sending of the text messages to the beneficiaries, the receiving of the text messages informing them that their allowance has been transferred to their chosen accounts, and the withdrawal of cash from their selected cash points they chose based on time, convenience and location as opposed to traveling long distances to collect cash from Upazila headquarters on a quarterly or half yearly basis.
According to joint statements by the FD and MoWCA, vulnerable women beneficiaries of the MA programme will now be empowered to make informed decisions about which mode of payment they would like to use varying from Banks, MFS providers and the Post Office. The new system will also be compliant with Treasury Rules and will enable withdrawal of money from the Exchequer ‘Just-in-time’, which means monthly transfer of cash to beneficiaries will be the new norm. This would save the FD a lot of money and increase inclusivity of beneficiaries by 30%.
Mr. Muslim Chowdhury, Secretary of Finance Division, Government of Bangladesh, explained how the new G2P payment system will engender benefits for concerned stakeholders in four ways, as described below:
First, the beneficiaries will benefit tremendously in that they can now collect their cash from a convenient location and a provider of their choice, at a significantly lower cost given they no longer have to travel long distances with their companions and will enjoy zero cash out charges from providers. The monthly payment option under the new system will increase the probability of money used for nutrition purposes instead of spending it on household issues having previously received larger amounts in one go. It will also ensure that they can access money whenever they want, and the amount they need instead of having to withdraw the whole amount in one transaction only through one selected bank outlet.
Additionally they will also receive more regular monthly payments instead of six months under the previous system. This in turn will enable them to use the cash for its intended purpose – for instance cash from MA scheme can be aptly used to improve health and nutrition conditions of the mother and the newborn.
Second, the new system will also benefit the FD since the money will only be withdrawn from the Exchequer when it is due to be paid, therefore negating possibilities of large sums of money remaining idle and unutilized for as many as six months. This will allow for improved and more effective cash flow management, also preventing the need for external borrowing, and will also not deprive the FD of necessary funds.
Third, new system addresses inclusion and exclusion errors, and it decreases targeting errors. Every beneficiary will have to be registered using a One Time NID Verification and Validation process, specific to each social protection program, before any payments are made. The system will also record data regarding these transactions, and will therefore serve to eliminate possibilities of double dipping, ghost and duplicate beneficiaries, and effectively preventing cash leakages from the social protection schemes.
Fourth, as individuals will be eligible to hold accounts with banks or mobile financial service providers, they will be brought under the purview of core banking and other essential financial services. Efforts will also be made to impart financial literacy to beneficiaries, and therefore the new system will collectively foster financial inclusion for underserved communities.
In the end, concerned stakeholders along with the FD expressed commitment to roll out the new payment system across all social protection schemes of Bangladesh, and encouraged all ministries to come forward and incorporate the new payment system.
SPBMU MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM (MIS)
One of the main work streams under SPFMSP is the design and development of a centralised Management Information System (MIS) for the Social Protection Budget Management Unit (SPBMU) under the Finance Division. The development of an MIS is done with a view of increasing the capacity of the Finance Division to manage and monitor expenditure, increase value for money, improve targeting, prevent leakages, avoid duplication, and bring efficiency into the delivery systems used for social protection schemes in Bangladesh. Developing an MIS also involves devising a way of automatically transferring the data from all associated line ministries’ schemes to this central MIS database. The project will pilot this initiative for one scheme, Maternity Allowance (MA) under the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs (MoWCA) and interface with the already existing MIS for Old Age Allowance scheme under the Ministry of Social Welfare.
After the successful design of the SPBMU MIS and piloting of two schemes i.e. Maternity Allowance (MA) programme of Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA) and Old Age Allowance (OAA) programme of Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW), the project has initiated the process of extending the linkage of the SPBMU MIS to other line ministries namely Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW), Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA), Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Primary and Mass Education (MoPME) and Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR).
The project conducted an assessment on the digitisation status of the schemes in the six LMs which guided the design of linkage between SPBMU MIS and six schemes of five Line Ministries in place of six ministries planned earlier. Demand Side Financing (DSF) scheme of MoHFW could not be included in the design of linkage with SPBMU MIS because its data has not been digitised and it would not be feasible to digitise the data and configure linkage to SPBMU MIS before June 2018. The report on design of linkage was submitted to DFID in December 2017.
The designed linkage report proposed linking SPBMU MIS to six schemes of Line Ministries specifically Lactating Mothers Allowance (LMA) of MoWCA, Disability Allowance (DA), Husband Deserted and Destitute Women and Widows Allowance (HDDWA) of MoSW, Employment Generation Program for the Poorest (EGPP) of MoDMR, Secondary Education Stipend Program (SESP) of MoE and Primary Education Stipend Program (PESP) of MoPME.
Figure 1: SPBMU MIS and Linkage to other schemes and systems
In the process of performing this task the development of SESP MIS was commenced to digitise the beneficiaries’ data of SESP and thereafter link the schemes to SPBMU MIS. It is good to note that the development of the SESP MIS will bring down cost of program implementation by automating most of the manual processes and paper work at Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DHSE). The SESP MIS will also improve efficiency and reduce targeting errors in the management of the Program.
The key features of the new SESP MIS hosted in Bangladesh Computer Council include:
❖ Module for capturing and modifying information of students benefiting from SESP
❖ Module for recording students’ attendance, academic performance and marital status.
❖ Payroll generation module that will automatically produce the payment list in the format required by Dutch Bangla (Payment Service Provider).
❖ NID verification modules for checking the validity of the National ID of the guardian or parent receiving benefits.
❖ Reporting modules for beneficiaries, attendance, performance and payments data etc.
SPFMSP Project is also developing a consolidated MA-LMA MIS for MoWCA which has in–built features that help will help in reducing targeting errors during enrolment of the beneficiaries such as checking the minimum age of beneficiaries enrolled, double registration checks and NID verification through SPMBU MIS.
Furthering MIS development in areas such as payment system, linkage with iBAS++ etc. The design of integration of SPBMU MIS and Integrated Budget and Accounting System (iBAS++) for the piloting of the proposed payment system was completed in December 2017 and actual implementation commenced thereafter. By end of March 2018 approximately 90% of the work on iBAS++ and SPBMU MIS integration had been completed.
Training on further SPBMU MIS development and on SPBMU MIS linkage with Line Ministries. SPFMSP MIS Team played a key role during the training of representatives from DWA and seven Upalizas by delivering a course on Maternity Allowance MIS and how it will be used in the payment system pilot. The training involved overview of the MA MIS and how the Upazila Women Affairs would be using the MIS to capture and update beneficiaries’ data including payment details and how the MIS will be used in payment list generation before SPBMU validation and disbursement through iBAS++ system and EFT by Bangladesh Bank.