Govt must stop theft in food assistance programme

Published at 12:05am on June 19, 2018

IT IS commendable that the government in its budget proposal have decided to bring more people in poverty under the purview of social safety net programmes. But implementations of these programmes, especially distribution of subsidised food items, are riddled with corruption. The police on Thursday, as New Age on reported Friday, seized 1,500 kilograms of rice meant for free distribution to people under the vulnerable group feeding programme and arrested four while they were taking the rice for sale on the market in Magura and Barisal. On June 12, in a series of photograph that New Age published showed how sacks of rice allocated for open market sales programme were taken to retail market in Jurain in the capital. During flash flood in haor areas in 2017, corruption by ruling party men and their relatives appointed OMS dealers and irregularities in the enlistment for VGF and cash distribution programme have reportedly caused food assistance initiatives to be less effective in alleviating the misery of victims in Sunamganj. There are widespread allegations that vested quarters, involving food officials, police personnel and dealers are stealing food stock allocated for people in economic distress and selling it for higher profit on the retail market. Shockingly, the authorities concerned have yet to take any effective steps to contain corruption in social safety net programmes.
It is noteworthy that perpetrators involved in stealing food grains allocated for VGF programme in Magura and Barisal were arrested, but behind-the-scenes actors remained untouched. Even more worrying is that after each incident of such theft, local administrations forms inquiry committees and the police open investigations, but reports of the investigations are never made public. With an eye on the forthcoming national elections, the incumbents, instead of addressing the issue of gross irregularities, is using the food assistance programme as a means to expand their vote bank. The national budget proposal suggests the same as it plans to bring more people under its social safety net programmes, but the incumbents do not intend to increase the allowance per person. The number of beneficiaries who get allowances and food through social safety net programmes will go up by about 10 lakh in 2018-19 to take the tally to 96 lakh. Therefore, economists have rightly observed that the number of beneficiaries for food assistant initiatives increased, but the government has expanded the reach without evaluating the effectiveness.
A vested quarter involving food officials, police personnel and politically influential quarters are stealing food stock allocated for people in economic distress with impunity. It is not enough, under the circumstances, for the government to increase budget allocation for social safety net programmes without addressing the rampant corruption; a successful implementation requires an effective monitoring to prevent theft. Conscientious section of society must raise its voice against the corruption and protest at the politically motivated use of the poor people’s cause to boost the vote bank.