After the government imposed a countrywide shutdown in late March, it announced a number of stimulus packages to help people and businesses cope with the economic shocks of the pandemic. As part of this, the government allocated Tk 1,250 crore for the 50 lakh poor families whose earning members have lost their jobs because of the lockdown, and the fund disbursement began on May 14, ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. However, it is frustrating to learn that around two months after the government started the programme, it has managed to disburse funds among 16.16 lakh targeted people only while a staggering two-thirds of the 50 lakh poor families are yet to receive the cash support (Tk 2,500 each) because of several flaws in the beneficiaries' list.
Just before the fund disbursement started on May 14, The Daily Star ran a report that there were anomalies in the list and that the beneficiaries' NID numbers didn't match with those in the EC database. Two months later, that problem still exists while many other new problems have also been identified by the finance ministry.
Reportedly, the government's information and communications technology division and the disaster and relief management ministry together compiled the list of the potential beneficiaries from across the country and sent it to the finance ministry. When the finance ministry cross-checked the names of the beneficiaries, apart from the NID mishap, they found some other gross anomalies in the list and cut down around five lakh names from the list—among them were government officials, pensioners, and beneficiaries of other social safety net schemes. Surprisingly, there were also names of 557 people in the list who each owned Tk 5 lakh in savings certificates while around three lakh names were included there more than once. There were also several types of inconsistencies in the list.
All these flaws in the list need to be fixed immediately if the government wants to provide its cash assistance to the right people—rickshaw and van-pullers, day labourers, construction workers, agriculture farmers, employees of shops, people employed at small businesses, poultry labourers and transport workers, etc.—who have been the worst affected by the pandemic. And the first step to disburse the fund to the targeted people would be to rectify the list from the field level. It is good to know that the PMO has already directed the upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) to do so. The finance ministry's recommendation to identify the mobile phone numbers that are being used by the potential beneficiaries and opening Tk 10-account under the supervision of the upazila administration should also be implemented. Besides, the NID problems of the beneficiaries need to be solved.
Corruption, weak targeting of people and inefficiency have always marred the government's safety net schemes. We hope the government will soon solve these issues and provide financial assistance to those who need it the most.