WB assistance to TASAF fills crucial gap, softening harsh realities

16Sep 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
WB assistance to TASAF fills crucial gap, softening harsh realities

MORE assistance has been announced by the World Bank towards the end of last week that it has approved USD450 million (over 1trn/-) for the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF) improved social safety nets which will benefit over five million people, mostly women.

Obviously this timely replenishment of TASAF resources is a welcome move as eroding the level of poverty is still a major challenge, with modest progress noticed over two decades. It’s reality.

While World Bank reporting doesn’t always indicate that the sums involved are loans rather than grants, it remains a fact that the bank, by statute, does not offer grants in any situation, but by contrast its loans take decades to mature for payment.

Again it places low charges in comparison with market rates, and when it comes to the International Development Association (IDA), its soft loan window, the charges are even smaller. So its loans are welcome, not a burden.

An IDA statement said that the money will be used towards improving food consumption and livelihoods, while increasing children’s primary school attendance and completion - aside from access to health care.

The financing will also improve secondary school participation, as the mandatory fees were waived back in 2016, and parents only need to meet uniforms and other auxiliary requirements. Strengthening capacity boosts attendance, visibility.

World Bank resident economists laud the country’s earlier social safety net programme, basically financed by the bank, that it helped beneficiaries to save more money and obtain more assets.

As a result, many had more food and access to better education and health care but plenty is still needed, implying that there is a sort of vicious cycle involved, if benefiting families quit the poverty line of stay there or wish to stay there.

To use an adage that was popular during the 1990s, is TASAF providing fish or teaching the poor to fish?

Figures that the bank provides as to the state of the poor to manage their lives after years of intervention are sobering, even disheartening. Talking of the new financial input, it says it will be critical to improve the lives of many more people in need and overall raise the country’s human capital index, which is still very low at 0.40 – level of basic literacy, numeracy. This fosters poverty.

What the bank is actually doing in that regard or what it can promise in relation to wider impact, especially if one sought a time frame outlook, was at best unclear. Country director Bella Bird says the bank will continue to work with the government and engage with ordinary people and other stakeholders on the complex set of development issues facing the country and its people. Does it mean work within the set policies, or find answers for the challenges?

The first phase of the programme targeted over 10 percent of the country’s population, approximately 650,000 households living under the food poverty line. Bank data shows that about 350,000 other households were at-risk of falling under that line, “because of a shock affecting their income.” Yet that is the case nearly everywhere especially in sub-Saharan Africa. If 30 to 40 percent of children under five years in SADC countries are chronically malnourished and stunted, how successful is the IDA programme? Do we have alternatives?