According to a finance ministry report released on November 26, of the more than Tk 1,21,000 crore earmarked by the government under its 21 stimulus packages to tackle the pandemic fallout, 39.23 percent or Tk 47,615 crore was disbursed till October 31. The report estimates that a total of 3.54 crore people have received assistance from various stimulus-cash-food support packages over the period, and 76 lakh firms, organisations, entrepreneurs, and other beneficiaries got loan facilities under the economic bailout scheme. While we appreciate the success of the government in implementing the various schemes, we must also mention here that not all sectors got similar attention.
The finance ministry divided the 21 packages in three broad categories—job retention, restoration of demand and maintenance of supply chains; employment creation and revitalising rural economy; and enhancing social security and food supply. The readymade garments sector, under the first category, is ahead of all others in terms of fund disbursement. An interest-free loan of Tk 10,500 crore was given in two phases with a service charge of two percent for providing salaries to workers and employees of 1,992 export-oriented industrial units for four months. Reportedly, the full amount was disbursed by June and the support in the form of salaries helped save jobs of 50 lakh workers. While the fund disbursement rate for many of the export-oriented and large industries has been quick, the progress has been slow for small and medium enterprises and farm sectors, as they are yet to get enough benefits from the packages.
Although, according to the finance ministry report, the government has distributed Tk 880 crore of the allocated Tk 1,258 crore to 35 lakh poverty-stricken families as cash incentives, under the second category of stimulus packages, there have been reports of gross anomalies in making the list of beneficiaries. A recent TIB report revealed the amount of corruption and irregularities involved in the entire process. Even if we take the government's account at face value, 15 lakh people have still been left out of the scheme.
While the government's free food distribution and OMS (open market sales) programmes have seen some success in the third category, they were also marred by corruption. The government also failed to provide frontline health professionals with the incentives it announced over four months ago—Tk 100-crore of funds was earmarked to this end, but it could not be released as the health ministry has not yet sent the list of recipients.
However, we appreciate the government for preparing the report in order to evaluate the progress of the stimulus packages. Now, what we need is an independent evaluation of the packages that have been executed so far. We hope our economists, local think-tanks and other stakeholders will work together to find the weaknesses of the scheme, so that the government can make adjustments to the packages whose implementation is lagging behind.