A number of ministers yesterday demanded stricter monitoring of the activities of the local and international NGOs operating in Bangladesh.
They also called for scrutinising the earnings and expenditures of the non-governmental organisations, alleging that some of those provoke workers to create chaos.
The demands were made at an unscheduled discussion at the weekly cabinet meeting chaired by the prime minister at her office, said meeting sources.
Seeking anonymity, a minister, who attended the meeting, told The Daily Star that one of the cabinet members raised the issues of workers' wages and trade union.
At one point, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wanted to know whether the trade unions operate independently or outsiders interfere in those.
In reply, State Minister for Labour Mujibul Huq Chunnu said the employees of different organisations run their own trade unions but NGOs patronise those.
He pointed out that it's not monitored from where the NGOs collect funds, and where and how they spend those, according to the sources.
Contacted, officials of the NGO Affairs Bureau said they regularly monitor the activities of the NGOs operating in Bangladesh with foreign assistance.
According to the bureau's latest report, 2,565 NGOs are now running with foreign donations.
Bureau officials, however, said that in reality, around 1,400 of those are operating fully while the rest are struggling because of fund crisis.
NGO officials and trade union leaders said they carry out activities in line with the guidelines of the bureau, and there is no scope for deviation from the conditions set by it.
Md Shahadat Hossain, acting director general of the bureau, said they regularly monitor the activities of the NGOs operating with foreign donations.
“Whenever any foreign fund comes, the NGO concerned approaches us with a project proposal.
“We examine the proposal. If we find everything satisfactory, only then we release the money. We also see the follow-up report on the project, audit report, district or upazila authorities' certification, the annual report of the NGO and other issues for the next phase of the project.”
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said, “It is surprising that there is such a gap of information. All international funds, received and spent by any registered NGO in Bangladesh, are strictly subject to approval of the NGO Affairs Bureau under the office of the prime minister.
“NGOs are under legal obligation to regularly report to the bureau about their activities as well as income and expenditure.”
He further said the bureau also exercises the authority to oversee NGOs' activities by itself at the national level and through the offices of DCs and UNOs at the local level.
Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said, “As far as I know, none of the trade unions can take foreign funds directly.
“Various national and international organisations get involved in the activities of trade unions upon permission from the NGO Bureau.” These organisations are constantly monitored by the bureau, he added.
DISCUSSION ON WORKERS' WAGES
At the meeting, Chunnu said the condition of Bangladeshi workers is quite good as they are getting good wages.
A worker gets a minimum of Tk 7,000-8,000 a month, he added.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, also a labour leader, then said the workers' wages should be hiked, as salaries of government employees have been raised significantly.
He also mentioned that the prices of essentials have gone up in recent times, according to the meeting sources.
Taking the floor, Chunnu said a wage commission is formed every five years, and the last one was constituted in 2013.
The issue of hiking workers' wages will be addressed when the new commission will be formed next year, he added.
According to the current wage structure, a worker gets a minimum wage of Tk 5,300 with a basic pay of Tk 3,000. But trade union leaders proposed Tk 16,000 as the minimum wage with Tk 10,000 as basic pay.
Contacted, Garment Sramik Oikya Parishad President Moshrefa Mishu said they already placed their demand for hiking workers' wages, as the cost of living has increased manifold since the last wage commission was formed.
“The workers' wages should be hiked as prices of essentials, gas, water and electricity and house rent have gone up,” added Moshrefa.
At yesterday's meeting, the cabinet approved the draft proposals for making two separate laws for the formation of metropolitan police in Gazipur and Rangpur cities.
"The formation of two metropolitan police forces has become necessary after the establishment of Gazipur and Rangpur city corporations," Cabinet Secretary M Shafiul Alam said at a media briefing at the Secretariat.
The new laws will be made in the light of the existing metropolitan police acts, he mentioned.
About punishment under the new laws, he said that in most cases, police officials would be empowered to impose fines for violation of the acts.