Rich grab cash assistance meant for the poor

Rich grab cash assistance meant for the poor

The vice president of Rajshahi city Krishak League, Murshid Kamal, is known as a well-to-do person and earns a good amount in rent from his shops in the Lakshmipur market. Last Eid he received cash assistance of Tk 2,500.

When asked about the matter, Murshid Kamal told Prothom Alo he had no idea how his name was on the list of the poor. However, since the money was allocated in his name, he took it and then deposited it again in the prime minister’s relief fund.

This is the state of the government initiative to distribute Tk 2,500 in cash each to 5 million poverty-stricken distressed families.

In the same manner, a family with a three-storey house, living in air-conditioned comfort in the division town, also received Tk 2,500 assistance.

Such corruption in the government’s aid and assistance is nothing new. Corruption was the main cause of the food shortage that had emerged in 1974.

Amartya Sen won his Nobel Prize on the issue of discrepancies, not the shortage of food, leading to famine. Nearly 50 years have passed since independence of the country, but Bangladesh hasn’t been able to shake off the glitches in this distribution system. On the contrary, the problems have grown all the more acute.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina had announced a lump sum payment of Tk 2,500 each to 5 million families who had suddenly fallen into difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak. It had been decided to distribute the money through mobile finance service (MFS) and the district and upazila administration had been given the responsibility to draw up a list of 5 million families. The prime minister launched this cash assistance programme on 14 May.

Once the cash distribution began, it was seen that the list was full of faults. Instead of people who were qualified to receive the money, relatively well-to-do persons were receiving the assistance. Rickshaw-pullers, rickshaw-van pullers, day labourers, construction workers, agricultural workers, shop employees, poultry farm workers, bus and truck workers, hawkers and other poor people in different professions were supposed to receive this cash.

When questions surfaced about the lists drawn up by the local administration, the finance division of the finance ministry took up an inquiry into the matter. It was seen that the lists included government employees, pensioners and even persons with over Tk 500,000 in saving certificates. There were many who were already getting benefits from other social safety net programmes. The finance division issued a letter in this regard on 30 June and submitted it to the prime minister’s office.

The finance division also issued letters regarding the lists to the disaster management and relief ministry, the ICT division, all divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners, asking for the lists to be revised.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib is quoted as saying, blankets are sent as aid for every one of the country’s 75 million people. If that is so, even he was entitled to one. Where was that blanket? Pointing to the corrupt people, he also said, “Everyone gets oil mines and gold mines, but I have got mines of thieves.”

The finance division’s letter said that Tk 12.5 billion had been allocated for 5 million families two months ago and Tk 80 million had been allocated for the distribution of this money. So far only 1,616,385 persons had received the money and 2,177,311 were in the process of receiving it. That means, two thirds were still waiting to receive the money.

Widespread discrepancies

After scrutiny, the finance division dropped 493,200 persons from the list. Around 3000 of these persons were government officials and 7000 were persons receiving pension. And 557 had savings certificate of over Tk 500,000 each.

This lists had over 100,000 persons who were receiving benefits from other social safety net programmes. And over 300,000 names appeared on the list several times.

That is not all. There were information errors regarding around 2.3 million persons. And 830,000 persons had no registered mobile phone numbers tallying with their national ID cards or smart cards. The NID or smart card numbers and dates of birth of another 800,00 didn’t match the information of the election commission’s server. There were a multitude of other such discrepancies.

Teacher of economics at Dhaka University, Sayema Haque Bidisha, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “We have seen such discrepancies in food assistance, but never could imagine that this would occur in the case of 2,500 taka cash assistance.”

She went on to say that since this was a safety net programme and a large sum is allocated for this in the budget, it is essential to ensure transparency in the manner. The government must remember that this is the people’s money, tax money. It cannot be looted indiscriminately.”

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is often quoted as saying, blankets are sent as aid for each and every one of the country’s 75 million people. If that is so, even he was entitled to one. Where was that blanket? Pointing to the corrupt people, he also said, “Everyone gets oil mines and gold mines, but I have got mines of thieves.”

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