Lack of publicity, complicated procedure coupled with unwillingness of expatriates to be blamed for situation
Only a handful of expatriate returnees have so far availed the financial incentive that the government allocated as a soft loan nearly a year ago to help them survive the brunt of the coronavirus along with their families.
Lack of publicity, lengthy procedure to get the loan from Probashi Kallyan Bank coupled with unwillingness of the expatriates are to be blamed for the unsatisfactory state of the loan disbursement, officials say.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina allocated an overall incentive package of Tk72,750 crore to overcome the possible economic impact on the country of the novel coronavirus. Of them, Tk700 crore was allocated for expatriates.
More than 400,000 expatriates had to return home from as many as 26 countries around the world, only to find themselves in more difficulties because of their lengthy stay in Bangladesh without any income.
The incentive package was aimed at helping them to run their families and find alternative jobs or set up small businesses.
The Probashi Kallyan Bank, an initiative of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, was tasked with disbursing the fund among interested expatriates.
Till Monday, only Tk104 crore out of the Tk700 crore had been disbursed among 4,879 expatriates, according to the Probashi Kallyan Bank.
Officials said the poor manpower of Probashi Kallyan Bank was another reason behind the slow disbursement of the loan.
What expatriates say
Many expatriates claimed that they did not even know about the initiative.
Mohammad Sentu, who returned from Bahrain in the middle of the pandemic, told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday that he was not well informed about the loan disbursement of Probashi Kallyan Bank.
“I did not know about this soft loan, I am hearing about it from you first. I am going to communicate with the bank in this regard now,” Sentu said.
Mohammad Salahudin, another Bahrain returnee from Sylhet, said his loan application had been denied on the ground that it did not meet the terms and conditions associated with the loan.
“When I applied for the loan at the bank in my area, they asked me to show my visa paper. I came to Bangladesh from Bahrain in January last year, I was supposed to return on March 27. But could not catch my flight due to the pandemic. In the meantime, my visa also expired,” he said.
“That is why I tried to get the loan but got rejected. Now I am getting a loan from my friends and family while I wait to get back to Bahrain,” Salahuddin added.
Some expatriates said they were not taking the loans as they were still concerned about when they would be able to return to their jobs abroad.
Another expatriate, from Dhaka’s Dohar, Pabitra Chandra Das said: “I am not sure when I will be able to get back to my job abroad again. In this condition, how can I get a loan from the government, because whatever the interest rate, I have to pay it later?”
Not interested in loan
According to a high official of Probashi Kallyan Bank, expatriates are very keen to get grants or free money from the government but they are not too interested in getting loans from the bank.
The official said some expatriates had blockaded the bank’s Comilla district branch, saying they wanted their part of the Tk700 crore that the government was handing out.
“Then we had to explain to them that it was not free money or a grant, that it was being allocated as a loan,” the official at the bank’s head office said.
What authorities say
The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, against the backdrop of the low figures of loan disbursement, considered using private banks to disburse the loans.
However, the authorities backtracked from the idea due to the high interest rates of the private banks, ministry officials said.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune at his ministry on Wednesday, Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad said he was surprised to see the expatriates’ response about acquiring the loan.
“We thought they would come forward to take the loan in bigger numbers. However, It didn’t happen and we are trying to find out the reasons,” he said, adding that the terms and conditions for getting the loans had been relaxed and the process had been made easier to encourage expatriates.
Some top officials of the ministry claimed the Probashi Kallyan Bank was not capable enough to carry out the program due to insufficient manpower at its 73 branches across the country, which was why the disbursement was being hampered.
When asked, Minister Imran Ahmad said: “In some of the branches, we do not even have security guards. We are trying to strengthen the bank’s capacity in this regard.”