As many as 39.5% of insolvent and poor families – who were supposed to get family cards to avail of subsidised goods – were left out of such benefits thanks to political interference, mismanagement and corruption, a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) survey revealed on Thursday.
In March-April, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) distributed two rounds of subsidised oil, sugar, chickpeas and onions to one crore families under the family card programme.
The 38.5 lakh families, who received cash assistance of Tk2,500 each during the pandemic, were supposed to be included in the list of beneficiaries.
The anti-corruption watchdog carried out the survey, titled "Challenges of Good Governance in TCB's Family Card Programme", on families who availed of the cash assistance.
Another 61.5 lakh families were subsequently included in the family card programme but they were not brought under the survey.
TIB interviewed 1,047 families – 30-35 from each of 35 districts. Among the participants, 39.5% have not received the family cards.
Of them, 80.4% said they were dropped due to corruption coming into the process, 5.5% declined to take the cards voluntarily, and 14.1% did not know the reason for being left out of the benefit scheme.
The families who did not get cards said they were excluded because of a lack of lobbying, political considerations, an excuse of card shortages and not paying bribes.
Giving cards to ineligible persons, not giving cards even after collecting photo and national ID cards and giving multiple cards to the same family are the other reasons behind their exclusion, they added.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said, "Ineligible people have received the benefit because of politically influential people. Many have been cheated. The same family received multiple cards and there was no mechanism to redress complaints," he said.
Among the left-out eligible poor families, women are relatively more deprived, he added.
Of the respondents, 51.3% felt that a significant number of well-to-do and politically influential persons and their close relatives were included in the programme after removing eligible destitute people from the list.
Of them, 76.1% are economically well-off individuals, 65% are relatives of public representatives, 44.5% are locally influential persons, 44.5% are political persons, 7.1% are government employees and officials as well as their family members, and 5.2% are TCB dealers.
Meanwhile, many of those who have received the cards have been victims of corruption. Of the respondents, 4% complained of being victims of irregularities and corruption. They say the beneficiaries had to pay a bribe of Tk50-200 to get their cards.
Again, due to a lack of ability, some poor people could not even buy TBC products. Among the survey respondents, 7.5% of the families could not purchase the products even once.
Families purchased packages of three and four products twice with one card before and during Ramadan. The package price was Tk460 and Tk560.
The study has revealed that people suffered even while collecting the products. Of the beneficiaries, 13.7% were victims of irregularities while purchasing products from TCB trucks or dealers.
The irregularities include low-quality products, selling excess products through political interference, getting back empty-handed after waiting for TBC trucks, trucks running out of stock before their turn comes, selling products less than the amount specified in the package, and forcing people to purchase products at an additional price. In some cases, dealers illegally charged beneficiaries Tk40-50 more during the purchases.
Of the beneficiaries, 33% found substandard products – pulses, sugar and edible oil – in their packets.
Iftekharuzzaman called for taking measures to stop political consideration and interference of locally influential persons if there is such an initiative in the future.
TIB noted that of the 38.5 lakh families who received the cash assistance, 8.5 lakh families such as transport workers and professionals who became jobless in lockdowns were excluded at the beginning.
However, no such instruction was found in the notification related to the family card programme. It is not known on what consideration and process these families were excluded and whether they were left out after their economic status was verified, it added.