THE open market sales programme of the government is noteworthy but its operation is riddled with corruption and irregularities. For their daily supply of rice and flour, people in poverty rely on the programme. Because of frequent strikes of OMS dealers and illegal sales of OMS products on the retail market, intended beneficiaries often cannot enjoy the benefits. A series photographs that New Age published on Wednesday shows how sacks of rice allocated for this programme are taken to retail market at Jurain in Dhaka. The photographs depict a disturbing reality in which the illegal unloading, distribution and sales of OMS rice take place in day light with no action on part of the authorities concerned. The photographs are a proof of the allegation that OMS dealers only sell less than a third of the daily allocation of subsidised food items to intended beneficiaries. There are allegations that vested quarters, involving food officials, police and dealers, steal OMS products and sell them for higher profit. It was, therefore, expected that the government would put in place effective monitoring to ensure that the programme could make its intended impact.
In May, OMS outlets in Dhaka were closed as the dealers went on strike, demanding an increase in the commission they get from sales. The dealers on strike alleged that they needed to bribe food officials to get the daily allocation. In addition, they also had to pay the police to allow them to operate by the raods. These under-the-table expenses increase their daily operation cost to the extent that it is not commercially viable for them. More often than expected, the government abruptly suspends the programme because of inadequate supply. During the flash flood of 2017, many flood victims in Sunamganj complained that they were unable to secure their food grain as the government allocation was not adequate against the demand. It is not enough for the government to initiate a programme; successful implementation requires proper planning, including assessment of local demand, to ensure adequate supply, devising an effective monitoring to prevent the theft of OMS products and routine review of the commission of the dealers against their sales so that they can make their outlets commercially viable. More importantly, they should take action against the vested quarters abusing the system by selling OMS stock on the retail market, defeating the purpose of the programme.
For systematic implementation of social safety initiatives such as open market sales programmes, the government must allocate sufficient resources in the national budget. Sadly, that has not been the case in Bangladesh. In the proposed budget for 2019 financial year, the allocation for social safety net constituted 6.4 per cent, which was 6.7 per cent in the past year. The decline in allocation shows that social safety is not the government’s policy priority.
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