When finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal announced a 16.74 per cent increase in the social security sector in the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year last June, the countrymen felt relieved. In the current fiscal, the amount allocated for this sector is Tk 955.74 billion. In the last fiscal year, it was Tk 818.65 billion.
While this is still less than the fund required, it was hoped that the programme would play a key role in reducing the burden on the marginalised people.
But two and a half months into the financial year, the data that researchers have released on the status of social security programmes and the news that we see in the media are very worrying. Under the social security programme, allowances are given to the destitute, the elderly and the widows. Apart from Kabikha and Kabita, there is a program to sell rice at Tk 10 per kg in the rural areas. Besides, a one-time financial assistance programme was initiated that aimed to give 5 million families Tk 2,500 each.
There had been big scale irregularities in the financial assistance programme, which was revealed by multiple reports of Prothom Alo. Among the 5 million people listed in the first phase, 34,000 were identified as ineligible to get relief. In the second phase, the list of 3.6 million people was finalised after verification and selection. The remaining 1.6 million were left out of the list due to irregularities, corruption and technical errors. It was not possible to add any new needy or deserving people.
Meanwhile, at a virtual dialogue organised by the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Oxfam in Bangladesh and the Citizens' Committee for the Implementation of SDGs, various irregularities and anomalies in the social security programme were pointed out. According to the speakers, the allocation for social security programmes was increased but it was still less than required. On the other hand, what is allocated does not reach the people who should get it.
The research report presented at the event found that 19-20 per cent of the people who got funds under this social security project were not poor, meaning one fifth of the funds are going to people who do not need it. AB Mirza Azizul Islam, a former adviser to the caretaker government, told Prothom Alo that the main problem with the social security programme is that those who need help do not get it due to corruption in the distribution process.
It's good that the volume of the social security programme has increased. But what is point of a bigger programme if the people who should get help do not have access to the funds? Government policymakers usually look down on any private research. However, AB Tajul Islam, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on disaster management, said the government and stakeholders would be benefited from this research. But there is no evidence that our executive branch takes the words of the parliament and the MPs very seriously.
It is necessary to build a central database to make the social security programme successful. In that case, local public representatives or government officials will not be able to make a fictitious list. The implementation process of the programmes taken for the marginalised people should be transparent and free from corruption.