IN THE month of Ramdan, when prices of essential kitchen items are soaring high, people in poverty relied on the open market sales programme, particularly for their daily supply of rice and flour. However, the programme, as reported in New Age on Monday, is disrupted in Dhaka as the dealers went on a strike in demand of an increase in the commission they get from the sales. The dealers have been seeking a review of the existing commission rate since the government resumed its sales programme in March to keep prices of staple affordable for poor amid growing market prices. The dealers in strike alleged that they need to bribe the food officer to get the daily allocation of food item. In addition, they also have to pay the local police for allowing them to operate on the street. These under-the-table expenses increase their daily operation cost to the extent that it is not commercially viable venture for them. In this context, the dealers are asking the government to increase their sales commission to Tk 5 from Tk 1.50 on per kg sale of rice. Considering that the dealers abstained from work once before in March on similar grounds, the concerned ministry should have already resolved the issues way ahead of the Ramadan.
While the dealers blamed the corrupt food officer and police, there are reports that the OMS dealers are only selling less than a third of their daily allocation of subsidised food items to the intended beneficiaries. They sell the rest to the black market for higher profit. Aside from the problem of corruption, the programme is often abruptly discontinued due to short supply of rice. The regular customers also complained that the number of OMS centre in the country is too low to meet the local demands. The programme was introduced to ensure supply of rice to low income people at a subsidised rate. In the context, when unscrupulous traders frequently hoard rice stock to destablise the market for profiteering interest, it was also considered a measure on part of the government to regulate the rice market. From the way irregularities and corruption are plaguing the implementation of this programme since its inception; it is explicit that it has failed to serve its intended purpose.
The government, under the circumstances, must immediately act on the recommendation that it made to increase the commission of the OMS dealers. More importantly, it must judiciously investigate the allegation of bribery against the government food officers and police officers. It is morally reprehensible that food officials, who are the custodians of rice and wheat stock, are themselves disrupting the smooth implementation of this programme.
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