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Jordan. The Takaful algorithm was supposed to help those in need – it discriminates against some. Human Rights Watch report

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A World Bank-funded IT system that was supposed to improve the provision of material assistance to Jordanian citizens is actually excluding many people in need because of irregularities in its algorithms, a new Human Rights Watch report points out. As indicated, it also deepens “social tensions and a sense of injustice.”

Human Rights Watch points out in its report that the World Bank-funded system called Takaful, which was supposed to help provide material assistance to Jordanian families in need, in fact eliminates many people who should be entitled to such assistance. The report was based on 70 interviews with families applying for assistance over the past two years, as well as officials, activists and checking records of the World Bank. Its authors came to the conclusion that the system’s algorithm has many shortcomings.

SEE ALSO: 1.6 million people live in extreme poverty, 860,000 more? We explain

Did the system discriminate against those most in need?

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The Takaful system is one of eight similar projects funded by the World Bank in countries in the Middle East and Africa. It ranks families applying for financial assistance in order from least poor to most poor, using 57 different indicators of their socio-economic situation. According to HRW, however, these metrics are not publicly available, nor are their weights taken into account in the assessment, or how exactly the system “issues” decisions. Many families who have applied for assistance and interviewed by the organization claim that the system does not reflect reality and often unduly and unfairly simplifies their economic situation.

HRW has identified several major issues with the system and its algorithm. As an example, two of the questions in the application forms are about how much water and electricity families use. According to the authors of the report, these are not issues that would be necessary to assess someone’s poverty. As indicated, it is not uncommon for low- and middle-income people to consume more energy due to poor thermal insulation in their homes. They can also use older, more energy-intensive devices, because they cannot afford to replace them with newer ones.

Interviewed families also indicated that having a car had a negative impact on their position in the ranking, even if the vehicle was already old and, for example, necessary for commuting to work. In addition, according to the organization, the algorithm underestimates the number of people in some households because it counts only citizens as households Jordanas a result of which the payment of benefits may be reduced or may not be due at all to families where, for example, the father or children do not have Jordanian citizenship. In this case, according to HRW, there is also discrimination based on gender, because Jordanian citizenship is inherited from the father, not the mother.

“The problem is not only that the algorithm relies on inaccurate and unreliable data about people’s financial situations. Its formula also reduces the economic complexity of life to a stark ranking that pits households against each other, fueling social tensions and a sense of injustice,” HRW points out. . According to one of the authors of the report, Amos Toh, a specialist in artificial intelligence and human rights, the results of this investigation show that greater transparency is needed for government programs that use a way of making decisions based on dedicated algorithms. “It is the Jordanian government’s responsibility to ensure this transparency,” he stressed.

The Takaful program is administered by the government’s National Relief Fund of Jordan. HRW notes that the system has extended regular cash assistance to $120,000. households in 2022, but still only a small percentage of families living below the poverty line.

In response to the results of the report, the World Bank said that it is working on improving the algorithm and plans to present the conclusions of this work in July this year. He reiterated his “commitment to improving the implementation of universal social security” and stressed that of the total project cost of just over $1 billion, 99.7 percent of goes directly to the beneficiaries. The remaining 0.3 percent goes to operating and supervision expenses.

SEE ALSO: Heavy sentences for “conspiracy against the Jordanian monarchy”. The situation of the king’s half-brother is unclear

hrw.org, technologyreview.com

Main photo source: Omri Eliyahu/Shutterstock

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