Community leaders allege graft in relief schemes
Many poor people did not get the relief meant for them during the coronavirus pandemic because of the corruption perpetrated by a section of local elected representatives, alleged leaders of community-based organisations yesterday.
They made the allegation at a virtual national dialogue titled "Relief Supports to Cope with Covid-19: How Effective Were They?"
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Oxfam in Bangladesh organised the event in association with the Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh.
A total of 130 people from 13 districts attended the dialogue, where many alleged solvent households were extended assistance from the government while the poor did not receive the necessary support.
"Some solvent people had received the relief," said Shirina Khanom, a leader of a community-based organisation (CBO) in Gaibandha. She alleged some chairmen and members of the union councils had not selected the beneficiaries properly.
A list of the beneficiaries was prepared using the national identification cards of the poor. Some of them were given the relief, while the rest got nothing, she said.
The representatives of the local government embezzled a portion of the reliefs, Khanom alleged.
The CPD and the Oxfam have been implementing a project titled "Enhancing the participation of CBOs and civil society organisations in democratic governance in Bangladesh" with support from the European Union for the past three years.
Jahanara Begum, chairman of the Human Rights Committee at Dimla of Nilphamari, alleged that the chairmen and members of union councils had not provided assistance properly to the poor under the vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme.
Amina Akhter, who hails from Mohonganj of Netrokona, said many solvent households had managed to secure relief along with the poor households.
Md Sujaul Islam Suja, president of the Rowmari upazila press club, said although adequate government supports were available during the pandemic, the assistance went to the same persons because of the absence of a database.
A total of 2,600 households were selected for the survey, which was carried out in January and February. Twenty-four focus group discussions took place to verify the information gathered.
The survey covered the beneficiaries eligible to receive aid from three relief programmes: cash support to Tk 2,500 to 50 lakh households, and food (rice) distribution, and cash support under gratuitous relief (GR).
A high level of influence of acquaintance with local government representatives was cited in connection with the selection process, said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the CPD, in his keynote paper.
"Transparency is vital while providing relief supports, and there has been some lack of transparency."
The government had initially decided to give cash support to 50 lakh families whose breadwinners lost jobs because of the pandemic-induced slowdown. It extended the support to 36 lakh families after removing fake beneficiaries.
Among the respondents whose income declined because of the pandemic, 77.3 per cent did not receive GR (rice), GR (cash), and Tk 2,500 cash support, the survey report said.
A large number of workers in the informal sector remained outside the three relief programmes.
Only 20.6 per cent of day-labours received the support, while it was 32.3 per cent among the respondents who make a living by pulling three-wheeler rickshaws and vans, the survey found.
"Many of the new poor were excluded from the three packages. These people did not previously belong to the poor category. They lost their incomes during the pandemic," Rahman said.
There was hardly any scope for self-selection for the three programmes, the report said.
As a result, the share of beneficiaries who had applied on their own and got selected was significantly low, accounting for only 1.4 per cent in the case of the GR (rice) relief programme, 1.5 per cent for GR (cash), and 7.6 per cent for the cash support scheme.
The dissemination of information about the hotline was inadequate as only 1.6 per cent of the beneficiaries were aware of the telephone numbers set up to support them, Rahman said.
A lack of an updated database had severely constrained the quality of delivery of the social safety net programmes, according to the survey.
The absence of a central database for distributing relief packages was affirmed by government officials as well, Rahman said.
The deputy commissioners tried to update the poverty database prepared by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2014 to select the beneficiaries for the relief schemes.
Md Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, said people raised no complaints about the ongoing relief programmes.
AB Tajul Islam, a lawmaker and the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of disaster management and relief, said corruption in the relief scheme had lessened to a large extent during the pandemic.
Shameem Haider Patwary, another lawmaker and a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of law, justice and parliamentary affairs, recommended the relief distribution be based on the poverty scenario of each district.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, another distinguished fellow of the CPD, said there was a lack of government and private initiatives to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.
"The CBOs, NGOs, and media should work together with the government to ensure transparency, accountability and monitoring in relief distribution."
M Abu Eusuf, professor of the department of development studies at the University of Dhaka; Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser to the Access to Information programme; Tanvir A Mishuk, managing director of Nagad; Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the CPD; and Dipankar Datta, country director of the Oxfam in Bangladesh, also spoke.