The step the government took to provide daily essentials to 10 million families through TCB (Trading Corporation Bangladesh) family card at a curtailed price was extremely necessary and laudable. If we consider each family consists of five members on average, at least 50 million people were supposed to be directly benefitted from the step. But allegations of irregularities, mismanagement, nepotism and corruption were reported since the inception of the programme in March-April this year.

The findings of a recent study by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), conducted on TCB family card are very worrying. Some 1,047 beneficiaries from 35 districts participated in the study. We could consider this as a representative study. The family cards were given to 6.1 million (61 lakh) new beneficiaries along with 3.85 million (38 lakh 50 thousand) families, who were provided with Tk 2,500 during the days of Covid-19 by the government.

It would be very disconcerting if, as the TIB research finds, 39 per cent of families from the previous list have been slashed.

Every TCB family card holder gets three-four products from chickpea, pulses, onion and oil twice a month. Though the price of these products in the market is Tk 1570, the government sells to the card holders at Tk 460 and Tk 560 respectively. The government subsidises Tk 550 in each card. But there are some card holders who are unable to buy products due to lack of money. There are some people who are not interested to buy all the products. Whatever statistics the government presents to the nation about per capita income, this suggests the critical situation of poverty in the country.

TIB study also found around 13.7 per cent of beneficiaries fall victim of corruption and irregularities while buying products with family card. In some cases, the dealers take bribe between Tk 50 and 200. Providing less in weight and rotten or below-standard quality products, waiting four hours in queue – such allegations are normal. Besides, many people do not have the capacity to pay the fare to go to or return from the spot of sale.

Public representatives are mainly responsible for distribution of family cards. Ninety per cent of those representatives are from the ruling Awami League. It would be extremely unwarranted if the cards are distributed among their relatives and relatively well-off families instead of actual poor people. Then, where is transparency and accountability?

Whenever reports of corruption and irregularities in any of the government’s service are published in media, the policymakers talk loudly and try to find conspiracy in those. We hope they won’t repeat that about this feeding programme to save lives of poor people.

The recommendation the TIB made about taking local people’s opinion on the lists through meeting at wards should be implemented. Take step so that every poor and marginal family could get the products at a low price. If necessary the number of cards has to be increased.

Everyone including the dealers related to this programme must be brought under accountability.