Disaster relief: Prevent stealing, resume OMS

Women stand in a queue to receive relief supplies provided by local community amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 1 April.Reuters

All on a sudden the open market sale (OMS) of rice was stopped, which was a shock to the mass people. This was not a prudent decision, no matter which was the cause - breach of discipline or failure to stop stealing of the rice. The poor along with those who fell in a crisis during this emergency have been suffering for this.

There are many who lost their jobs, but they don’t want to be considered as poor in the society. They do not want relief but they want to buy goods at a lower price. The policymakers must take into account that the decision has risked the food security of this section of the society.

It is a matter of concern that during such a crisis, the policymaking level failed to handle such sensitive issues. It was evident in a number of sectors.

The food secretary had said that there were crowds at the OMS which risked spread of coronavirus. The public says OMS was in demand and it is crucial. It is the ministry’s duty to discipline crowds at OMS. It has been hinted that the OMS will resume. But why the programme has to be closed in order to bring discipline?

The government has undertaken an initiative to introduce a list of people who lost their jobs due to the shut down, but this does not justify postponement of OMS. Though such lists are important for introducing ration in future. A proper list without any irregularities is crucial. As this list requires time, OMS must be resumed without delay. Administrative measures could be undertaken to bring discipline at OMS.

The prime minister has repeatedly been declaring zero tolerance regarding irregularities in relief and OMS activities, but news of corruption and misappropriation are pouring in from across the country. Some steps are being taken against the rice thieves through mobile courts, but this is not enough. Exemplary trials must be carried out by setting up judicial magistrates to control the rice thieves. It seems that the petty fines imposed by the mobile courts are not enough to control them. If the ruling Awami League undertakes strict measures against its members allegedly involved in the crime, it could help build stronger social resistance.

The experts stress introducing changes in overall management in light of the relief and OMS rice distribution works across the country. They emphasise forming a national taskforce to monitor the relief and OMS activities. They must supervise to the end that any particular ministry cannot take any such decision separately and on its own.

Under the taskforce, a permanent institutional management for relief distribution can be formed, including armed and other forces as well as members of the parliament. Because, further irregularities are being apprehended regarding relief goods distribution.