The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is the only social safety net operated by the state with a database of more than 27million households or about 167million people — the first of its kind in South Asia. The government will increase the allocation for the BISP in the budget for 2015-16. While other projects started by previous governments have languished when the regime changed, it is heartening to see that the BISP has become a stable welfare program. What needs to be made sure is that it is depoliticized so all parties can support it. Additionally the program needs to be audited, so that any corrupt practices are exposed and removed, and the aid given to households is unbiased, regardless of where the votes of that household go.

There are many areas of reform that should be debated. Firstly, that cash hand-outs are not sustainable, there should be a focus on vocational training and education. The BISP has a Co-responsibility Cash Transfers programme linking cash transfers to primary school education. These are all good steps. Pakistan ranks at 113 out of 124 countries in the Human Capital Index because of its poor performance on educational outcomes according to the Human Capital Report 2015 issued by the World Economic Forum. If we are to develop our economy, welfare programs like the BISP have to focus on education and training. There are many gains to be made considering the size and outreach of the BISP.

The thinking of politicians also needs to change. Whatever the last government did right, whether construction or policy, should be treated as infrastructure and not as legacy. What is half-done, should be completed, whether it is road, railway, power plant or school. This is one way that we can progress to becoming a democracy, rather than an oligarchy. The focus of the voters and the politicians has to be on institutional capacity and policy, rather than personality and personal power.