The tripartite agreement between Bangladesh government, Beximco Pharma and the Serum Institute of India to purchase Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine lacks transparency, said Transparency International Bangladesh.
Little or no information has been made public about the conditions set in the purchase agreement, the mechanism followed to buy the vaccine, payment made in advance, the role of the third party and how much commission the third party got and on what grounds, said TIB at a virtual press briefing on a research report on Tuesday.
The rules of public procurement were not followed properly in importing vaccine doses, the anti-graft organisation said, adding that there was no justification for involving the third party as well.
The money the government could save by purchasing the vaccine directly from the Serum Institute of India could be spent on procuring 64 lakh more doses, according to the report presented by TIB research fellow M Zulkarnain.
However, it said the price at which the government would directly purchase Chinese vaccine – $10 – was consistent with international prices though each dose would cost double that of AstraZeneca.
The vaccination rates among low-income people and underprivileged people are very low because of inadequate campaigning and complications in registration with the immunisation programme. A majority of Class III or IV employees providing emergency services, cleaners, and field-level workers have not been brought under the inoculation drive, TIB said.
The inoculation drive stalled because of the government's dependency on only one source for vaccine, said TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman.
Efforts are on to bring in vaccines from other sources now but there has been no success yet. The government announced its intention to immunise 80% of the population but has not laid out any roadmap, the TIB chief said.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the government has intensified its control over dissemination of information. "The government is more active in controlling the leak of information about corruption than in stopping corruption itself."
For bringing Covid-related information to the public attention, journalists have been harassed, tortured and made accused in cases. As many as 85 journalists saw cases filed against them under the controversial Digital Security Act in 2020, according to the report.
TIB said its findings pointed to corruption in spending the allocations for treatment at Covid hospitals. It said it had found evidence of embezzlement of Tk5 crore against expenditures of Tk62.3 crore for purchase, recruiting workers and quarantine of Covid patients at five hospitals.
The siphoning off the fund involved a violation of the public procurement rules in purchasing 1 lakh kits, a breach of rules to issue work orders and giving work orders to inexperienced organisations, TIB said.
Due to the absence of coordination and irresponsible behaviour of the authorities, migrant workers have been facing uncertainty over joining back work, the graft watchdog said, adding that expats had to spend an additional Tk60,000-70,000 each to fly back to their destination countries because they did not have a vaccination certificate.
The TIB report said a World Bank-funded "Covid-19 emergency response and pandemic preparedness project" had been planned last year to set up a 10-bed Intensive Care Unit and 20-bed isolation unit in all district-level public hospitals, but the implementation process was yet to begin.
The research also found obstacles to the implementation of stimulus packages meant to help overcome Covid impacts. About 35% of the Tk1,28303 crore stimulus fund has not been disbursed yet.
The graft watchdog mentioned some positive steps taken by the government in recent times to deal with the pandemic, including the expansion of Covid tests by introducing rapid antigen test and GeneXpert, and setting up the 1,000-bed Covid hospital in Dhaka North City Corporation.
TIB made recommendations too.
It suggested formulation of a work plan to give vaccine shots to the targeted people, persistent diplomatic negotiations to bring in new batches of vaccines, reforms in the vaccination drive to cover underprivileged people and those living in remote areas, registration for vaccination through union digital centres and opening vaccine centres at the grassroots level.