November 05, 2010

Old and tired solutions

The Aquino administration’s conditional cash transfers (CCT) scheme is a quick fix, band-aid solution aimed at giving substance to Pnoy’s claim that he is addressing the poverty problem. It toes the line of the World Bank regarding the right “anti-poverty strategy” and covers up the fact that the same failed neoliberal socio-economic policy framework of previous regimes is in effect. Not least of all, the CCT is bound to be another tool for political patronage favorable to Pnoy’s camp while he turns a blind eye to another huge window of opportunity for corruption in his government.

In sum, the CCT is a jazzed up dole-out program – complete with technocratic justification, a more complex administrative infrastructure, the ideological and political laundering conducted by Pnoy’s allies who used to be critical of the previous regime’s exact same programs, and the big bucks to complete the swindle.

Let us take the more sophisticated arguments used by the CCT defenders including erstwhile critics of the unlamented Arroyo regime’s anti-poverty programs.

There is the disarming admission that the CCT is not a solution to poverty.

It is acknowledged that jobs that bring in decent incomes must be generated and that providing accessible and sufficient social services are key. As for Pnoy loyalists still trying to strike a progressive pose, there is talk about the need for economic growth and the equitable sharing of its fruits as the only way to overcoming poverty. Having said as much, they then proceed to justify the CCT albeit admitting that it is an “ambitious project” that is being rapidly expanded.

In a nutshell, the spin is that CCT saves the so-called poorest of the poor who “have fallen through the cracks of a ruthless market economy.” Since economic policy makers are not about to change gears nor shift tracks in so far as their “free market” orientation, it is reasonable to anticipate more numbers of the absolutely poor to grow hence the need to escalate the CCT.

Doesn’t this line sound familiar?

Recall the much-ballyhooed safety nets that were being touted as the lifeline for those who would lose out when the ruthless structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF-WB were implemented?

Those safety nets were full of holes which left the disadvantaged free falling into greater want, disease and misery than ever before.

Why not do something about the ruthless policies dictated by international financial institutions (IFIs) and carried out by succeeding governments and put a stop to and even reverse them instead of just trying to alleviate the suffering of those who are left destitute in their wake?

The approach is so old-hat and unenlightened it would shame today’s social workers who have long ago realized that dole-outs, no matter what the good intention, are temporary, unsustainable, and encourages mendicancy. They also serve to postpone or even avoid the more fundamental and far-reaching socio-economic policy reforms that only a seriously reform-minded government can initiate and follow through.

And yet the CCT’s current proponents, especially the all-powerful IFIs dangling their grants and loans together with technical briefing papers and so-called expertise, present the CCT as a more elegantly designed program since it will weed out the not-so-desperately poor who may line up for the cash; thus it is said to be more cost-efficient.

Not only that, it is supposed to modify the poor’s behavior for the better, i.e. they will bring the kids to school and mothers will have post-natal check-ups. Of course the working presumption is that they wouldn’t do so on their own while conveniently overlooking the fact that such behavior is not forthcoming because the family doesn’t have the sufficient income to meet basic needs in the first place.

One CCT defender sheepishly concludes that while the program will not restructure the existing iniquitous social relations nor even significantly alter the behavior of poor people, it will at least alleviate hunger and disease and give hope to the despairing.

But if this is the best argument that they can come up with, we daresay it is no argument at all because it merely states the obvious relief that such dole-outs aka cash transfers can give to those at the end of their rope with not much else.

Such an intent and outcome would be enough for charitable institutions and relief agencies but can not be accepted as the government’s approach to tackling poverty, especially the endemic and intractable kind we are afflicted with.

The excuse that generating jobs is not the department of social welfare’s business also doesn’t hold water. The CCT is obviously being touted as a major anti-poverty program of the Pnoy administration considering the amount of money the government has allotted for it even incurring new foreign debt in the process.

The issue of the CCT reveals once more just how lacking in ideas and bereft of true reforming intent is the Pnoy administration for all the soaring rhetoric about bringing about meaningful change. His approach and actual policies and programs are clearly more of the same failed and discredited ones of the Arroyo regime that he so fervently campaigned against.

It is worth quoting in full think tank Ibon Databank’s summation of what is in order in so far as seriously addressing the poverty problem in the country.

“The poor and worsening welfare of tens of millions of Filipinos is a serious development challenge. A genuine poverty-reduction effort means fundamental changes in economic policy towards improving the country’s domestic productive sectors.

“The severe income, wealth and asset inequities in the country also mean that radical redistributive reforms in favor of the poor majority are in order.

“Universal access by all Filipinos to health and education will be more likely achieved through strengthened public health and education systems, not privatized ones and certainly not by selective, targeted and temporary interventions.

“If these progressive socioeconomic policies were in place then programs such as the 4Ps/CCTs would not be necessary – and without such policies no amount of 4Ps/CCTs will ever be enough.”

It can only be concluded that the CCT will merely deepen poverty because it hides the real causes and obfuscates the real solutions required. Not only this, the CCT justifies continuing the wrong policies that have entrenched poverty and inequality in the first place. Politically, what it hopes to achieve is the appearance of poverty alleviation in the new style approved by imperialist funding agencies and in tune with Pnoy’s increasingly tiresome rhetoric. #

Published in Business World
5-6 November 2010


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