PEOPLE in poverty rely heavily on the food assistance programmes of the government. When the prices of everyday kitchen items are soaring high, the open market sales programme brought some relief to the poor and low-income households. However, the implementation of OMS initiative, particularly the distribution of subsidised food items is rigged with corruption. Shockingly, food officers, members of law enforcement and traders are involved in such illegal activities. According to a case filed with the Tejgaon Industrial Police, as reported in New Age on Thursday, 215 tonnes of food items were stolen from the Central Storage Depot. Teams of Rapid Action Battalion seized rice and flour meant for open market sales after the goods were sold to wholesale suppliers and retailers allegedly by some CSD officials, dealers and unscrupulous traders in Dhaka. Stealing of subsidised food items has become a common occurrence across the country. Earlier in June, police seized 1,500 kilograms of rice meant for free distribution under the vulnerable group feeding programme and arrested four persons while they were taking the rice to sell in open market in Magura and Barisal. Therefore, it will not be mistaken to suggest that the government is knowingly allowing the corruption to continue.
In addition to stealing, other irregularities exist in the operation open market sales programme. During the month of Ramadan this year, its operation was disrupted in Dhaka as the dealers went on a strike demanding 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 at the time 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 increases their daily operation cost to the extent that it is not commercially viable venture for them. The programme is also often abruptly discontinued due to short supply of rice. The regular customers also complained that the number of OMS centre is too low to meet the local demands. It is time that the government reviewed its monitoring strategy for the OMS programme.
The open market sales programme was introduced to ensure supply of rice to low income people at a subsidised rate. It was also an intervention on part of the government to stablise the rice market. However, the allegation corruption and frequent strike defeats the very purpose of the programme. Clearly, a vested quarter including food officer, police, and politically influential traders are stealing food stock allocated for people in economic distress with impunity. These occasional drives and sporadic legal actions against some officials and individuals will not bring any change in the corrupt system.
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