Will MPs' generosity really benefit the needy?
Vol XXVII NO. 222 Thursday 28 October 2004
By AMIRA AL HUSSAINI
Life is finally smiling and the lives of thousands of 'poor' people may now change drastically, thanks to the generosity of Bahrain's MPs.
Because of the huge surge in Bahrain's income due to the soaring oil price ($55 a barrel and rising), Parliament has passed a proposal to give a one-off BD500 to any Bahraini breadwinner earning less than BD1,000 a month.
One MP suggested that the payment should be BD1,000, but his ingenious idea fell on deaf ears because BD500 is a reasonable enough gift, as long as it is not coming out of the MPs' pockets and will not affect their salaries and incentives, which certainly have made them a cut above the rest.
Their proposal is as follows: "The money will go to the breadwinner of 'needy' families, whose monthly income is less than BD1,000 a month. This excludes ministers and Shura and parliament members."
I feel uneasy on three points...
1. Who is the breadwinner? Is it every man with a marriage certificate? Or is it every citizen within a certain age group? Does it cover widowed and divorced women?
What about families which have been deserted by their breadwinners (men) and who have to scrape the floor to make ends meet? How do those families without a legal status and a family head benefit from all those windfalls, generated by one generous gesture after another?
How will they profit from this generosity if it gets the Cabinet green light? One would think, if parliamentarians really wanted to help poor people, they would suggest giving the aid to families without a breadwinner.
2. What is the criteria being used to define needy people? Needy at BD1,000 a month? This beats the former Bahrain Human Rights Centre's description, which defined the poverty line as being below BD309 which I thought was a bit exaggerated! Maybe I am disillusioned, but a monthly salary of BD1,000 is a comfortable salary by Bahrain's standards, unless standards in Bahrain have gone up while I was asleep.
3. Why not include ministers and Shura and parliament members in the scheme? They are citizens too and have certainly benefited from many perks and gestures in the past.
Will BD500 make a difference to them? Come to think of it, how much of a difference would BD500 make to the lives of poor people?
I am not being ungrateful but what is a one-off payment of BD500?
Will it help get a gifted but needy student through university?
Will it help renovate that old crumbling house?
Will it pay off debts which have accumulated over the years?
Will it be used to foot the medical costs of a bedridden member of the family?
I know I have more questions than answers.
I hope voters too will ask themselves why MPs are so determined to get their scheme through at the beginning of the third year of their four-year term.