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Opportunists make hay

Reveals TIB study, exposes state institutions’ weakness

FE REPORT | November 11, 2020 00:00:00

Exposing weaknesses and inefficiencies of state institutions, the coronavirus pandemic has also favoured opportunists to commit more irregularities imperiling lives of many people, a TIB study opined.

The country's health sector has become a breeding ground for irregularities following opacity in procurement and supply chain of medical products and services, it revealed.

The study pointed out that vulnerable communities and small businesses have faced huge discrimination in receiving support from different stimulus packages.

The insights were made during a virtual event to disseminate findings of a follow-up study styled 'Governance Challenges in Tackling Coronavirus' by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

TIB executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman and deputy programme manager (research and policy) Md Julkarnayeen addressed the event moderated by TIB director (outreach and communication) Sheikh Mazur-e-Alam.

Making his observations on the study, Dr Zaman said the health sector's weaknesses have been exposed during the pandemic period.

"Opportunist quarters in the health sector get involved in enormous graft activities, especially in areas of procurement and supply of health equipment and services," he added.

"The government has taken strategy to control flow of information to safeguard irregularities in the sector by violating people's right to information."

The government was more active in controlling flow of information than checking corruption which is a matter of distress and contradictory to democratic practice and the constitution, Mr Zaman mentioned.

It is also alleged that the government is increasing the use of the Digital Security Act during the COVID-19 pandemic to interrupt freedom of expression.

According to Article 19, 145 cases have been filed under the law as of September 2020.

Legal charges have been framed against 291 people in these cases and 134 arrested, the TIB executive noted.

Of the accused, he said, 60 journalists have faced legal charges under 34 cases and 30 have been arrested.

Potential irregularities were spotted in the corona-testing process, hospital management, social safety net programmes, relief distribution and disbursement of funds under stimulus packages, he cited.

Opinion and influence of politically and financially powerful people get priority in framing stimulus packages which have been discriminating rich and poor in disbursing funds, Dr Zaman argued.

Despite some arrests, the people working backstage in health sector still remain untraced, he said.

"The government move to contain corruption in its institutions is limited to transfer and making someone OSD (officer on special duty)."

The Anti-Corruption Commission has become a bit active but it has still been wandering within its own bubble, Mr Zaman commented.

Presenting findings, Mr Julkarnayeen said the government has so far disbursed around 26 per cent of its Tk 1.11-trillion bailout scheme.

The bailout plan, divided into 20 packages, was meant to absorb economic shocks caused by the pandemic.

The dispensing rate of the package for large and export-oriented industries is very high, about 73-100 per cent, allegedly due to political influence and business lobby.

Again, a slow pace in disbursement was observed in the package for agriculture sector, low-income farmers and small traders, and small and medium enterprises.

The cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise sector has so far got 21-per cent funds from the Tk 200-billion package announced by the government.

Around 42 per cent of the funds were disbursed under special refinancing scheme for agriculture while 36 per cent for low-income professionals, farmers and small business owners.

Mr Julkarnayeen said prejudice in safety net programmes was observed for marginalised communities, indigenous people, dalit and people with special abilities.

Due to the pandemic, more than 500,000 indigenous people in plain land have become poor while 72 per cent of them have become jobless.

A large number of them are being deprived of incentive packages as only 25-per cent indigenous households in hill tracts and plain land got incentives.

However, a survey that the TIB conducted on 37 hospitals of 35 districts revealed that 49.6 per cent of doctors and 45.9 per cent of nurses were not getting sufficient PPEs and protection.

Some 48.6 per cent of the respondents said they were given normal surgical masks instead of quality ones namely K95 variety.

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