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TIB: Covid-19 exposed, created opportunities for corruption

  • Published at 06:31 pm November 10th, 2020
Representational photo: Bigstock

The corruption watchdog presented the findings of their latest report on Tuesday

The widespread corruption in the Bangladesh health sector has been exposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the crisis has also created new opportunities for corruption in the country, according to a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) survey.

Each affected family, who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the system, had to pay an average bribe of Tk220 to get cash assistance of Tk 2,500 announced by the prime minister.

More than 12% of the beneficiaries have been victims of irregularities and corruption while enlisting for cash assistance and 10% of OMS card holders faced the same.

Vested quarters included the names of around 3,000 government employees and 7,000 pensioners in the cash incentives list. Besides, 300,000 names were included more than once.

Irregularities and corruption reduced public trust in health sector and crises in conducting laboratory tests, providing healthcare services and relief distribution among the financially hit people are still ongoing, as per the survey titled “Governance challenges in tackling Coronavirus.”

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Md Julkarnayeen, deputy program manager (research and policy) of TIB, presented the findings on Tuesday at a virtual program.

The TIB collected information for the survey from Covid-19 and non-covid patients, health workers of Covid-19 Designated Hospitals, and beneficiaries of social safety net programs, cash incentives and OMS cards between June 16 and October 31 .

It found that a tendency to serve personal interests through irregularities in relief and incentive programs still persists, depriving the real affected families at the field level.

Politically influential persons who were involved in the irregularities were not properly identified and punished, except in a few instances.

‘Policy to reduce Covid-19+ cases’

The survey also found that there was a tendency to hide irregularities, corruption and mismanagement by imposing restrictions in disclosure of information.

The government has taken some policies that reduce the number of testing and case detection, accordingly. In this way, the government reduced the number of positive cases and claimed success in controlling coronavirus, showcasing it as a political achievement, the report claimed.

The tendency to make bureaucratic decisions by ignoring specialist opinions in tackling the coronavirus also continued.

The report also said the expansion of private testing facilities and urban-centric government run laboratories exposed the fees for tests, depriving poor people and putting them at risk of harassment and corruption.

It said 108 local government representatives have been terminated temporarily due to their involvement in corruption in social safety nets programs; among them, 90 are involved with the ruling party. 

At least 30, who were suspended, returned to their posts with High Court orders.

Government lawyers did not present evidence of irregularities strongly in court and, in some cases, lawyers did not present/appear in the court.

Disparity in the disbursement of stimulus package

The government announced Tk111,141 crore in 20 stimulus packages to absorb the economic shock but, so far, only 26% has been disbursed.

Also Read - TIB: Bangladesh Bank now ineffective in controlling defaulted loans 

The dispensing rate of the package for large industries and export-oriented industries is very high (73%-100%), allegedly due to political influence and lobbying. In contrast, a slow pace was observed in the case of disbursement of the package for the agricultural sector, low-income farmers and small traders, small and medium enterprises.

Fight against coronavirus lacked coordination

The Health Ministry and administration had a lack of coordination during the pandemic. Several committees formed at the national and local levels had no cooperation, the survey said.

Surprisingly, no MPs were included in the relief and cash incentive distribution process.

Health sector syndicates ran the show

TIB claimed few syndicates consisting of a section of officials of the Health Ministry, DGHS, CMSD, ACC, and some senior officials of different hospitals controlled all procurement in the health sector.

Without forming an expert committee and verifying the proposed cost, they installed overpriced centralized liquid oxygen tanks and pipelines in 23 hospitals. Issuing purchase orders to an automobile company for PPE supplies withdrew a huge amount of money.

Without any evaluation of the technical and professional experience and efficiencies certificates, documents by the Evaluation Committee, they awarded the work order to an automobile company.

Corruption at Covid-19 testing facilities

Some 15% of the service recipients have to pay extra money for the coronavirus test. They need to pay maximum Tk3,200 in government-run labs and maximum Tk 7,650 in case of private labs.

Around 4.5% of the service recipients had to pay a bribe of Tk946 on average to get an early serial number for a sample test.

Irregularities in medical services

Corruption and irregularities – such as negligence of duty, absenteeism of health workers, supply of low quality PPE – were found at 35% of hospitals.

Two high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Health and the DGHS in a corruption investigation were not included in the case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), although there were allegations of direct involvement.

Some private hospitals are accused of charging higher service charges continuously during the pandemic. The uncontrolled medical equipment market was also not held accountable.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, which was supposed to oversee the services, did not have any meeting since March 24 this year.

Actions was taken in some cases, such as against Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care. Besides these, no action – other than transfer and resignation – were taken against any officials of the Ministry of Health or DGHS accused of being involved in irregularities and corruption.

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