People received almost no relief in 6.7% areas, it says
The incentives announced by the government have no guarantee to reach people from all classes and professions affected by Covid-19.
Transparency International Bangladesh, a civil society organization dedicated to fighting against corruption, said this in a study report titled "Governance Challenges in Tackling Coronavirus" in a virtual press meeting on Monday.
The report said, in 90% areas of the country, people eligible for getting relief materials received half or less than half of the amount they needed to meet their family needs.
People received almost no relief in 6.7% areas, it said.
In reference to a Brac survey, the report said only 14% of people from lower-income groups received relief.
There were allegations that 82% of beneficiaries were listed to receive relief based on political considerations, the report added.
Moreover, the study found there were 100% irregularities in the disbursement of direct cash (Tk2,500) to the poor hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown.
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak in Bangladesh, the government declared 19 stimulus packages amounting to Tk103,117 crore (3.3% of total GDP). The report stated that these are basically businessmen friendly incentives.
There is no arrangement to overcome the fall in aggregate demand in the incentive packages, it said.
The incentives also lack adequate allocation for ensuring food security, and there are about 50 million jobless people in the informal sectors, TIB said.
The Bangladeshi branch of the Berlin-based Transparency International said, in the agricultural sector there is no incentive for small farmers and those who cultivate lands of others.
There is no announcement of a farm loan waiver while there are more opportunities for middlemen to get loans in the marketing of agricultural products.
The loan defaulters have been facilitated to avail the opportunities of incentive, according to the TIB report.
Restriction on freedom of expression
Mentioning data from ARTICLE 19, a British human rights organization focusing on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression, TIB said 67 cases were filed and 37 journalists were sued under the Digital Security Act 2018 after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, for publishing reports of relief embezzlement.
TIB said, according to the Centre for Genocide Studies-Dhaka University (CGS-DU), as many as 88 people, including journalists and cartoonists, were arrested in 79 incidents on charges of spreading false information and rumours about coronavirus on social media.
Dr Ifteqaruzzaman, executive director of the institution, said there were ample opportunities to tackle the pandemic with good governance and control of corruption.
The government announced incentives for affected people, especially the poor. However, considering all indicators, it can be said there is a lack of good governance, he added.
Temporary suspension of any corrupt person is a kind of reward, he continued.
TIB observed that there are deficiencies in every indicator of good governance in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Lack of planning and coordination in various activities adopted by the government is apparent, it said.
The weak capacity of the health sector which is a result of lack of planning in the long-term, lack of good governance, and lack of capacity, have become apparent during the crisis.
The government failed to make adequate preparations even after getting three months in hand.
There has been a tendency to make bureaucratic decisions by ignoring specific opinions in all cases, including lockdowns.
The private sector has not been allowed to participate properly despite having the opportunity to do so.
Due to the lack of widespread social participation and proper information dissemination, the government failed to create public awareness which made the lockdown ineffective.
Health workers’ health risks and crises in medical management also increased due to irresponsibility and corruption in the supply of unhealthy protection materials, the organization stated.
Actual intended beneficiaries were deprived due to lack of coordination.
TIB gave several recommendations to tackle the current situation which are as follows:
The facility of sample testing through proper use of existing equipment and manpower at government and private levels must be expanded to the district level. The number of tests needs to be increased through the optimal use of existing capacity.
The decision to revoke the lockdown needs to be reconsidered in the event of increasing infections and deaths. Area-wise risks need to be considered in terms of the prevalence of infection through the formulation of logical and precise plans for the withdrawal of lockdowns, and the expansion of testing.
Coordination between different ministries and government departments needs to be increased to deal with the crisis.
To increase the overall capacity of the health sector at the district level, the allocation in the national budget should be increased (5% of GDP), and the quality of expenditure in the health sector should be ensured.
To prevent irregularities and corruption in the procurement process in the health sector, accountability must be ensured and exemplary punishment must be provided.
Screening and triage management at all levels of hospitals must be ensured. An adequate supply of quality safety equipment should be ensured for all levels of frontline health workers.
For integrated treatment, coronavirus treatment should be ensured at all private hospitals by including private hospitals under government rules.
All hospitals need to ensure regular medical care for the treatment of Covid-19 patients as well as other ailments, and strict punishment should be given in case critically ill patients are refused treatment.
Proper management of medical equipment including used safety equipment must be ensured.
Financial assistance should be provided for the very poor, informal sector workers, and day labourers, and current agricultural loans should be waived.
The list of relief and social security beneficiaries needs to be updated and the list of beneficiaries for relief or cash assistance must be published online.
The participation of non-government organizations must be ensured to help marginalized and backward communities across the country.
To successfully implement hygiene rules, it is necessary to take the initiative to distribute free masks and sanitizers among low-income groups.
Free flow of information must be ensured to facilitate the disclosure of information and to ensure the rights and accountability of management.
The people’s representatives who have been suspended for their involvement in corruption should be given strict exemplary punishment.