Relief rice theft amid raging Covid-19 crisis
At a time when the country is struggling to deal with the coronavirus crisis amid shutdown, some public representatives and Open Market Sale (OMS) dealers have been misappropriating rice meant for vulnerable group feeding and OMS projects.
Law enforcers and local administrations have so far revealed at least 22 incidents of stealing rice in 20 upazilas and recovered 2,832 sacks of rice, each containing 50 kg, in the last 12 days.
Police have so far arrested 24 people, including 10 public representatives, in connection with those incidents. Most of the other arrestees are local Awami League leaders, their relatives and close aides.
Such acts of misappropriating rice during the ongoing crisis have drawn huge criticism from the users of social media.
Yesterday, police arrested two traders for hoarding a huge quantity of essentials, which were meant to be sold by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) in Rangpur city.
Police also recovered 30 cartons of bottled soybean oil and two sacks of sugar, each sack containing 50 kg.
Uttam Proshad, deputy commissioner of Rangpur DB, said they raided the house of a man around 1:00pm yesterday and arrested him for hoarding the essentials at a toilet of his home.
Police said the arrestee purchased the TCB products at cheaper prices and had been selling those to customers at much higher prices.
On Friday, police picked up a rice dealer and his abettor in Netrakona's Kendua upazila for allegedly stealing 90 sacks of rice meant for selling at Tk 10 per kg. The sacks contained 4,500 kg of rice.
The arrestees are Aminur Rahman Shakil, 45, the dealer; and Saiful Mia, 40, a scrap vendor of Aamlotola village in Kendua. Aminur is son of Boailbari union Awami League General Secretary Abu Bakar Siddique.
In Bogura, police arrested a local Krishak League leader from Sonatola upazila a few days ago in possession of 50 sacks of rice which was meant to be distributed among the people from low income families.
Besides, 115 sacks of rice were seized in Jamalpur's Melandaha upazila, 90 in Pirganj of Rangpur, 14 in Pabna's Saltha, and 87 in Tarail of Kishoreganj.
The stealing has reached such a level that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has decided to monitor the situation and bring involved in the misappropriation to book.
Asked about the situation, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said it was really unfortunate that a section of people was getting involved in such activities despite the warning from the prime minister.
"No rice meant for relief has been stolen yet. The incidents revealed so far showed that OMS and VGF rice had been misappropriated. We have instructed all district administrations to monitor the situation strictly," the state minister said.
Meanwhile, the local government ministry in a statement yesterday said stern actions would be taken against those involved in corruption in relief distribution.
Dr Ifekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said such a national crisis was expected to bring out the best of human virtues -- empathy, solidarity and philanthropy, which are seen around in many ways.
But most regrettably, the worst of human vices also came out now, which was not unexpected at all, he added.
"No words are enough to condemn that many of those involved in abuse of power, misappropriation and other forms of immorality and illegality are public representatives and OMS dealers who are also often politically linked."
The TIB executive director said those people must be brought to justice.
On March 31, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would not tolerate any corruption in relief distribution.