THE government food relief under its various social safety net programmes are not reaching the intended beneficiaries, reveals a recent review of the Food Friendly Programme that also says that at least 10 per cent of the programme beneficiaries are ineligible for the programme meant for the poor. In September 2016, the government took up this initiative targeting some five million poor families, selected through the local public representatives, from across the country to provide them with the opportunity to buy up to 30 kilogram of rice per month in a subsidised rate during the lean seasons. The Directorate General of Food conducted a review of the beneficiaries list for the Food Friendly Programme and found that about 75,000 tonnes of rice were stolen against five lakh fake ration cards annually. In Mymensigh and Chattagram divisions, nearly a sixth of the FFP beneficiaries were fake and a total of 5,01,715 FFP ration cards in all eight divisions have been cancelled recently. The government officials feared that the real situation of corruption and irregularities in relief distribution is much worse than what is revealed by the current review.
The government has initiated a review after controversy arose over the list manipulation during the COVID-19 relief distribution, when the government was compelled to hold its cash aid programme over allegation of corruption. The FFP programme, according to its implementation plan, requires regular review of the beneficiary list to ensure that the relief reaches its intended beneficiary. In 2017, a Centre for Policy Dialogue report said that ineligible families or ghost beneficiaries had been included in the list using political influence while those in need had to bribe the local authorities to be enlisted. Ration card holders also complained that they were often cheated out of their entitled 30 kilogram rice allocation. Local elected members and rice dealers intentionally hide information about the death or migration of any card holder to steal the rice allocated for the card-holder. Such corruption in relief distribution is not unique to FFP, but is common to other programmes — a CPD report in September revealed that 66 per cent of the beneficiaries of five other social safety net programmes are non-poor. The situation at hand underscores a failure in the monitoring of the programmes that cannot be resolved through momentary review, isolated effort or legal actions against some elected members.
The government, under the circumstances, must overhaul its monitoring system for all its social safety net programmes to ensure that locally powerful quarters do not misappropriate funds and relief items depriving the poor. The ministry of disaster management and relief, in collaboration with the ministry of local government, rural development and co-operatives, must lead the process. In so doing, it must take legal and administrative actions against the individuals involved in the irregularities. Concerned citizens must also raise their voice against government’s indifference towards misappropriation of public fund and rampant corruption in relief distribution.
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