Small theft of rice smacks of big corruption

Published: 00:05, Jul 20,2017 | Updated: 00:17, Jul 20,2017

 
 

FOOD inflation, especially shortage of rice, has been a concern since the beginning of this year given that the harvest of aus and aman was destroyed by the flash flood in the haor region. Flash floods and fungi attack have damaged almost 10 lakh tonnes of boro crop in Bangladesh’s north-east. Moreover, some unscrupulous millers and middlemen are hoarding rice to make windfall profits. Besides, rice stocks at public warehouses have fallen to 3.59 lakh tonnes, which is the lowest in six years, owing to less than targeted procurement in the past two seasons and increased distribution. Inevitably, rice prices have gone up by Tk 3–5 on a kilogram. In what follows, the government’s recent decision to import rice from Thailand, Vietnam and India to curb soaring local prices is a commendable move. The news of corruption involving official of the Central Storage Depot in the purchasing and storing process of imported rice is, however, worrying. The Rapid Action Battalion in the port city of Chittagong, as New Age reported on Tuesday, detained five people, including a food official, and seized 155 tonnes of rice stolen from a government warehouse. This is a small amount, but it speaks of the corruption in the government’s food storage and distribution.
The most recent incident is especially deplorable considering that the flood victims in different corners of the country are faced with food shortage and starvation. From the storing of food in government facilities to the food distribution through various social safety net programmes that include vulnerable group feeding, open market sale and emergency relief, there are recorded incidents of corruption in all. Stealing rice or other food supply from government storage creates opportunity of market manipulation, as is the case of stolen rice in Chittagong. The group involved in the theft detailed while they were shifting 3,096 sacks of rice from government storage to a private facilities with the intent to sell it for prices higher than the market price. This is a fundamental failure on part of the government as it should have been more vigilant when the news of market manipulation of rice price has been in the news since May. Even the food minister has acknowledged that certain quarters are hatching conspiracy to increase rice prices in the wake of crop losses in different regions because of flood and incessant rain. When the ill motive of the vested quarters was already in the know, it was only prudent that the government would take adequate measures to prevent any future occurrence of such incidents.
It is in this context that the government must ensure that the committee formed to investigate the reported theft of rice perform its duty with due diligence and ensure exemplary punishment of the people would be found guilty. The government has to be stringent when it comes to the management of basic food supply for its citizens. Otherwise, flood victims as well as public at large will have to bear the brunt of food inflation.

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