Bribes for old-age allowance: Hold those responsible accountable

Findings of the survey done by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on old-age allowance are worrying. Each beneficiary has to pay an average bribe of Tk 2,653 to get their hands on an old-age-allowance card.

They receive Tk 500 in monthly allowance. It’s not difficult to guess how many months’ allowance is spent, if they have to pay Tk 2,653 in bribes.

The survey showed that a beneficiary had to pay a bribe of minimum Tk 500 to maximum Tk 6,000 to get an old-age or widow-allowance card at the local level.

And these bribes were taken by local union parishad members and government officials.

The CPD-run survey took opinions from 486 old-age and widow-allowance beneficiaries of 29 upazilas of the country. There were 108 senior citizens, 200 widows and 178 parents of primary school students among them.

Highlighting the survey results, economist Khondaker Golam Moazzem said that many people who are eligible for the allowances aren’t receiving them. Then again, many who don’t need the allowance are collecting it regularly.

Data has showed that as many as 3.3 million (33 lakh) senior citizens and 2.5 million (25 lakh) widows, despite being eligible, aren’t receiving the allowances.

On the other hand, about 30 per cent senior citizens and 33 per cent widows are receiving regular allowances even after being ineligible for them.

For this, Tk 15 billion (1,500 crore) is being spent on them annually. With this amount of money, 1.5 million (15 lakh) senior citizens and widows can be brought under the allowance coverage.

Most of the government allowances are disbursed through Mobile Financial Services (MFS) now. But the survey found that 37 per cent of the old-age-allowance recipients do not have an MFS account, while it is 28 per cent among the widows.

Apart from this, the survey has also revealed that 5 to 30 per cent of primary school students do not receive stipends for various reasons.

This means, irregularities and corruption has sunken it’s claws into each one of the social security programmes.

Director of social security programme at the department of social services Md Moktar Hossain has also admitted having weaknesses in case of selecting beneficiaries.

But there are almost no precedent of taking action against the public representatives and government officials who snatch the rights of the poor away.

When the elections of local government agencies were free of party-influence, there used to be some balance of power there. So, there used to be at least some transparency and accountability in making the list of poor men and women.  

When the director general of the social services department already knows that there is a fault in the making of the list, then it is indeed their responsibility to remove it as well.

As per the policy, if anyone ineligible for the allowance is enlisted, their names have to be omitted.

Finance division sources say that old-age-allowance is now given to 5.71 million (57.1 lakh) men and women. The number of beneficiaries will be increased by 100,000 in the next budget.

The government has thought of increasing the old-age allowance from Tk 500 to Tk 600 and the widow allowance from Tk 500 to Tk 550 in the next fiscal year. It’s an excellent idea.

At the same time, legal actions have to be taken against those snatching the rights of actually poor and destitute people in the name of preparing lists of senior citizens and widows.

Maximum transparency and accountability is required in the implementation of social security programmes.