Discussants are seen at a roundtable held on field level observations and proposals on the old age allowance programme, organised on Sunday by the Jatiya Samajik Surakkha and Manusher Jonno Foundation with support from the Department for International Development (DFID) Bangladesh. Photo: Phothom AloOld age allowance has to be seen as a right of the elderly, not charity of the state, and the authorities must ensure that the genuinely needy people receive the allowance.The government can use digital technology, including mobile banking, to this end.Besides, it is possible to reduce discrimination by organising the elderly and making them aware of their rights.Discussants highlighted these issues at a roundtable on field level observations and proposals on the old age allowance programme, organised on Sunday by the Jatiya Samajik Surakkha and Manusher Jonno Foundation with support from the Department for International Development (DFID) Bangladesh at the initiative of daily Prothom Alo.The discussion, held at the Prothom Alo office in Dhaka’s Kawran Bazar area, was moderated by Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Qayyum.Speaking as the chief guest, M Habibe Millat MP, member of the parliamentary standing committee for social welfare ministry said, “In spite of involving local MPs with the process, I do not believe that the right people always receive old age allowance.”“Many chairmen and members of union parishads try to include the names of their supporters. This happens because the demand is higher than the supply. But this is not the only sector to be dealt with in the national budget. We have many problems that we have been trying to resolve.”Director General of the Department of Social Services Gazi Mohammad Nurul Kabir said the number of beneficiaries of the social safety net programme has been raised to 3.5 million. The government has sanctioned Tk 2,100 crore in this year’s budget for this purpose. We have started the work of digitizing the whole process, from selecting the old age people to payment, freeing it of the intervention of any third party.Praising the initiative of the government for the elderly, Manusher Jonno Foundation executive director Shaheen Anam said that the local level representatives were pleased with the old age allowance project. The government would be benefitted if it can manage initiative properly.She also thanked Habibe Millat MP for his intention to drawing attention to the proposals of the roundtable at parliamentary standing committee.Dhaka University professor MM Akash said, “Self selection is the best selection. This is why I think the Department of Social Services needs to introduce a manual with guidelines on how to choose old age people from any given area. Then, they will request the local old people to choose the candidates eligible to receive the allowance.”He also put emphasis on developing a voluntary pension scheme as the current form of social safety net programme is not the solution of the problem.Cabinet Division deputy secretary Ashfaqul Amin Mukut said the social safety net programme only is not enough to solve the existing problems regarding old age allowances. Socio-cultural and other factors like the mindset of the people are also related. We have to take those into account.Jatiya Samajik Suraksha Forum executive director Rabeya Sultana ironically remarked that about 80 per cent of the MPs in Bangladesh fall within the elderly category but they tend to forget it while attending sessions in parliament.She proposed to include the older sex workers as eligible to receive the allowance. Citing an example of unfair treatment to ethnic minors in Panchbibi upazila of Joypurhat, she called upon the government to conduct studies to find out whether these people are receiving fair proportion of chances in getting old age and other government allowances.Jatiya Samajik Suraksha Forum member Alauddin Khan, Rejaul Karim Chowdhury, Mohsin Ali, Resource Integration Centre (RIC) executive director Abul Haseeb Khan, senior research fellow of BIDS Manjur Hossain, SPFM SP project team head Siddiqur Rahman Chowdhury and former BIDS researcher Sharifa Begum also addressed the roundtable.