What explains the delay in processing donations?
Can government authorities really be so inefficient and inept they can't even process much-needed medical equipment and medications they received as donations from international organisations and through various funds for months on end? Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, such a situation is not only possible but almost inevitable, given the lack of foresight, planning and coordination of concerned authorities.
According to a report in Prothom Alo, donations from the various organisations has been lying in the Chittagong port for five months, which, by the admission of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) itself, is disrupting the ongoing Covid vaccination programme and malaria and worm prevention activities across the country.
What is particularly astonishing is the reason cited for the delay in releasing these donations. Apparently, the DGHS needs to pay Tk 20 crore as customs duty and port fees to get these goods out – money which it does not have in its budget. While DGHS officials say that donations and essential items should get duty exemption in public interest, NBR and port authorities maintain that there are no provisions for such exemptions and that in order to waive the duty on special consideration, separate paperwork must be filed seeking permission (which has not yet been filed). As things stand now, the DGHS has reportedly asked the Finance Ministry to provide them the additional funds needed to get the goods released from the port, but is yet to resolve the issue.
What we fail to understand is why it should take so long for the agencies to sort out the confusion. Is it the first time that such donations are coming into Bangladesh? It seems bizarre that there should be no established protocol or precedent for how to process them, given that over the decades the country has received billions of dollars' worth of donations in goods and equipment from different countries and global institutions. Besides, even if there is no precedent, one would expect the concerned agencies to move at a fast speed, particularly as such unnecessary delay at the port risks damaging the effectiveness of emergency health supplies. Most importantly, it sends a wrong message to our development partners about our sincerity in making use of the donations.
It is unacceptable that such bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies are holding hostage important interventions serving the public. The government must revisit its policy and ensure a common understanding among all government bodies. In the meantime, we urge the concerned authorities to process the supplies with the urgency they deserve, instead of spending another few months sending letters from department to department without making any headway.