The COVID-19 situation has given the people an idea of the level of corruption in the health sector. The corruption in the health sector to such an alarming extent has been hidden for so long. However, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had warned the health and family welfare ministry about the graft before the pandemic.
Of the 19 cases filed by the ACC on corruption in the health sector, nine were filed before the coronavirus outbreak in the country. The remaining 10 were filed between February and August. Understandably, an impact of the public outcry has brought a momentum to these lawsuits. But the concern is that those accused by the ACC are mainly middle-to-lower-level officials.
It is natural that without the blessings of big officials and politically influential people, it is not possible to embezzle this amount of money. Irregularities like buying a football for Tk 5,000 or a set of screens for Tk 3.7 million is impossible for the junior officials. Contractors cannot release these bills without the approval of high officials. Therefore, not being able to show the involvement of any of the high officials in any of the 19 cases is failure or incompetence.
The lack of competence and qualifications of the involved officers has to be overcome. Apart from this, the attitude of turning a blind eye to the big fishes should change
Those who hold political positions or have connections as well as the concerned officials, are beneficiaries of the scam. Surprisingly, the list of accused in 19 cases mainly includes contractors and officials and employees of the concerned organisations. But it is common sense that the bigger the amount of money involved, the higher the official is involved.
According to the government procurement law, the process will be overseen by responsible and senior officials. So the top level officials are aware of the documents even if it is prepared by the low level officers. It is not logical that the ACC will look at the 'lower level' and not the 'upper level' while preparing the charge sheet. Therefore, the ACC demands to check the transparency and appropriateness of the investigation process.
The lack of competence and qualifications of the involved officers has to be overcome. Apart from this, the attitude of turning a blind eye to the big fishes should change. And what about the steps after the progress made by ACC. What about those responsible then? What have they done?
The nation has not seen any rapid action against the scams that came out during pandemic. The process is stuck in the cycle of arrest and bail. The people await to move on or simply become habituated with these scams.
The question of how the Directorate General of Health Services entered into an agreement with the unlicensed Regent Hospital is the most burning question in the corruption case. We saw the owner of Regent get life sentence in a speedy trial in an illegal arms case. The tradition of suppressing corruption cases prevailed in pandemic. Two directors of the DGHS project riddled with corruption, funded by the World Bank and ADB, have applied for a job transfer. As directors, these two cannot avoid their involvement in corruption. Transfer is being considered as a way of impunity. This tradition cannot go on.
On the other hand, the health minister is responsible for ignoring the ACC's recommendations before coronavirus outbreak. The parliamentary standing committee on the health and family welfare ministry will also have to take responsibility for this.
ACC indicated another serious matter that top officials remained out of those 19 cases as it found no evidence of direct involvement of those officials. The parliamentary committee should intervene in these matters.