A NUMBER of leaders and activists of the ruling Awami League misappropriating and stealing rice allocated for distribution among the poor during the on-going public holiday to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak is unacceptable. When there is a marked shortage of resources allocated for the poor and when the relief programme has unfortunately not been given the priority it should have been, such theft is an added blow on the poor, many of whom are already strained and in dire situation. The poor and the low-income people, mostly employed in the informal sectors, are reportedly looking for extensive relief programmes from the government to survive the crisis. While the government, along with many non-governmental organisations and individuals, has begun relief programmes, though in a limited scale, to stand by the poor, such theft of relief materials by a section of ruling party members reveals a deep malaise characterised by a naked, shameless and inhuman culture of making money by taking advantage of the situation. Reports of theft of rice allocated for relief programmes have made the headlines in the last few days even though the prime minister and Awami League president warned strict punitive actions against any kind of irregularities and misappropriation.
A large quantity of rice, five and half a tonne, earmarked for distribution among the ultra-poor under the government’s vulnerable group feeding programme was seized on Thursday from the house of a union Awami League leader at Raninagar, Naogaon. A ruling party leader from Satkhira was arrested with 42 sacks of rice on April 1, while another ruling party leader, along with a Jatiya Party leader, was arrested with 1,500 kilograms of rice in Sunamganj. On the same day, law enforcers arrested another ruling party activist in Jashore and seized 555 sacks of government rice. Two journalists were assaulted and injured on April 1 in Habiganj and Bhola reportedly for revealing irregularities by public representatives in the distribution of food aid. The list of theft and irregularities, though partial, shows the extent of the crime committed in a time which calls on each and everyone to be more humane. Misappropriation of government funds and relief materials by ruling party leaders and activists has unfortunately been a commonplace in the country; but such ill-practice in a time of great crisis reveals the bankruptcy and ethical failure of a section of the ruling party.
The government and the Awami League that presides over the government must, in such a state of things, be stringent in bringing the wrong-doers to book and ensure exemplary punishment to stop the recurrence of such theft. The government must also scale up its relief programmes and ensure that adequate support is given to the poor and the disadvantaged.
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