One seemingly less important budget proposal made yesterday by President Mahinda Rajapakse – many might have missed it – is the eligibility extension of the popular ‘low cost’ UPAHARA package by Mobitel to clergy and employees of co-op societies. Only public sector employees plus retirees had the privilege before.
No doubt, a private company, even a one with govt hand in it, can offer special rates for a niche market, which it finds lucrative. However, when that is recognized more as govt policy, and spelled in a budget speech, inevitably eyebrows go up and questions arise.
The most deserving beneficiaries of low cost teleuse are the poor – or the so called ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ (BoP). That we all agree.
As LIRNEasia found from its previous Teleuse at BoP studies, contrary to the popular belief, 92% Sri Lankans in BoP use phones, though not necessarily own them. The ownership was 41% in 2006, but certainly more now.
On a scale of 1-5 (1= worsened, 5=improved) BoP teleusers in Sri Lanka marked their perceptions of the ability of a telephone at 4.58 to act in an emergency, 4.35 to build family and social relations, 3.98 to increase the efficiency of daily activities, and 3.19 to earn more or spend less on their day to day activities. Bottom line: Telecom is not a luxury for poor – but an essential part in their livelihoods.
So why doesn’t the govt offer the advantage of low cost communication to the poor?
Most in the two newly introduced categories – clergy and cooperative society employees, just like most govt employees – do not fall to the two categories D and E – the bottom-most layers in the social pyramid. They are placed at the top layers. They are not the ones who need financial support most.
Is there any logic in preventing a poor farmer the benefit of low cost communication which, for instance, the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance himself enjoys?
Why support the better-off, ignoring the poor?
(Catroon is by Anjana Indrajith of Lakbima)