Useless Information and the CCT
One of the things driving me to regularly write in this website is my frustration with the information our mainstream media provides. I know the amount of digging I actually have to do just so I could put together a comprehensive picture about a policy issue. This is true for corruption reporting, election reporting, and now, policy reporting. Seriously, WTF is up with mainstream media? ARE THEY THAT F***ING LAZY that they cannot even ask the important questions regarding any issue?!
The Information They Provided
Today’s rant is about this article on the Conditional Cash Transfer Program. I saw this online and on the front page of Philippine Star today. Here are the important details provided in this article:
Title: CCT Report Reaffirms Goal To Improve Lives
Findings: World Bank and AusAID released a report on the Conditional Cash Transfer program of government and it stated the following claims:
- CCT can increase income of indigent families by 12.6 percent and can reduce poverty incidence by 6.2%
- CCT can reduce overall food poverty in the covered areas by 5.5%
Sources for the report:
- Edwin Lacierda, Presidential Spokesman
- Dinky Soliman, DSWD Secretary
- Benhur Abalos, Mandaluyong City Mayor and CCT covered area
- Neptali Gonzales, Mandaluyong Congress Representative
- Melanie Encabo, Marilyn Soria, Colleen Nubia, Mandaluyong residents and CCT recipients
- Ederlyn Padias, Public School Principal from Mandaluyong City
The Information I Needed
I am not familiar with the Conditional Cash Transfer Program of the government. I am however very much interested to know whether this program works. The news report (which also happens to be a front page article) contained a lot of misleading and inadequate information.
1. Results of the Program
Let us just start with the title: ’CCT Report Reaffirms Goal To Improve Lives.’ What does this mean?! A report regarding the CCT program ‘reiterates’ that its goal is to improve lives. I think everyone arguing for development wants to see overall improvement in quality of life. But what I want to know is:
Has the CCT program improved lives so far? Given the money poured on this project, what have been the results delivered so far?
The findings presented from the article use the verb ‘CAN’. It means it is only talking of potential of the project, not the results. It promises income increase by 12.6% for indigent families. What has been the result on the field so far? Did it deliver on its promised achievements?
By the way, this program has been in place since the Arroyo administration. That should be enough time to produce a critical evaluation report.
2. Sources for Data
The article kept on pertaining to the ‘CCT Report released by World Bank and AusAID’. Where is it? There is an online version for this article and it should have included a link to the report they were talking about. They did not even cite the complete title of the report.
The closest guess I could find online that I think is the basis for this article is this report. They do not have this report in the DSWD CCT website. It is also not easy to navigate the World Bank website for information. Why did the article not refer to this? Is it because they published a front page article without even bothering to read or even look for the main source they are pertaining to?
The sources of data quoted as well were severely biased on people who support the CCT. The article referred to Lacierda (Malacanang, the administration currently hogging the credit for this program), Soliman (DSWD, the office that is implementing this program), and Abalos/ Gonzales (Mandaluyong City government, a recipient of this program). Why did it not quote other sources? Like recipients who dropped out from the program or academics who do not support the project.
3. Critical Review of the Findings
Based on the materials I checked, I cannot conclusively tell whether this program relies on grants or loans. Here are the information Fernandez and Olfindo’s article provided:
“The massive scale-up was made possible by pooling resources from the government and the World Bank. The World Bank and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) provided considerable technical assistance. Subsequent phases have also been supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in coordination with the Government, World Bank, and AusAID. In 2011, the Pantawid Pamilya aims to cover 2.3 million beneficiary households. The program has budgetary support of P21 billion, or about 60 percent of DSWD’s budget for 2011.”
So World Bank, AusAID, and ADB provided considerable technical assistance to the program. What does technical assistance mean? I am aware that the earlier phases of CCT relied on a WB loan.
Given that the program is a loan from WB, should the article completely rely on findings of a report published by our country’s lender? I am sure that WB consultants and researchers are some of the best people in the country and that their researches follow a rigorous methodology.
However, they are an institution with a set of goals and agenda to push on their own. Those goals may or may not be aligned to the goals of the country. The media should not completely accept findings produced by these organizations because there is a possible conflict of interest involved.
Just think on this carefully, if you were World Bank, would you openly disclose that your billion dollar investment in alleviating Philippine poverty was a failure?
4. Critical Review of Findings Part 2
The article also quoted Lacierda who was extolling the success of CCT programs abroad. Popoy De Vera wrote a short blog post on the lessons learned from CCT abroad. Did the Philippines follow those lessons? One of the lessons shared was the establishment of a grievance or reporting system should increase effectiveness of the CCT. The 4Ps website shows that they do have a grievance reporting system in place.
So, how many people actually use that reporting system? What are the channels for reporting provided by DSWD? What is the nature of complaints filed? How has DSWD responded to these complaints? How fast can a grievance be responded to, if ever?
Another common message I have heard from colleagues is that leakage rate of CCTs tend to be detrimental to the program. What is leakage rate? The CCT is basically a cash dole-out program. It is supposed to work if the money goes directly to the intended beneficiary. The leakage rate is the proportion of intended money for the program that is not going to the targeted beneficiaries.
Leakage rate is a nice euphemism for corruption.
What has been the leakage rate of the past phases of CCT? What mechanisms has the DSWD put in place in order to address this?
The Huge Information Gap
I can continue ranting about this topic. How could you expect people to argue rationally and intelligently about a policy issue if this is the kind of information we are provided with? I have no opinion on the CCT yet and I cannot conclusively form a solid stance since the data I have is not enough.
The Conditional Cash Transfer program is a proposed solution to the question: How do we help out the poor in the country?
Our country’s track record of wide-scale anti-poverty projects has not been good. I have been part of evaluation teams that cannot find any significant impact produced from long-term and million dollar funded projects.
What is different about CCT? What makes them think that it will not fail this time? This is the information we need in order to intelligently decide on this program.
Why isn’t the media providing it?
*Update: A reader kindly shared the link to the report. Here is the WB/ AusAID report the news article pertained to: