The importance of having a database of every citizen of Bangladesh, including workers, has been proven once again. In May this year, when the country's industrial sector came to a halt due to the coronavirus outbreak, the workers lost their jobs. The European Union (EU) and the German government came forward to help the workers of Bangladesh. They announced assistance 113 million euros, equivalent to Tk 11.35 billion, to help unemployed workers.
The primary responsibility to compile the list of workers lies with the concerned factories. Later it is up to the owners' association of the concerned sector to check and sort the list.
The four associations in the export-oriented industry are Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knit Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh (LFMEAB) and Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leathergoods and Footwear Exporters' Association (BFLLFEA).
But only after six months, on 8 October, did the finance division of the finance ministry finalise the policy. According to the policy, only workers of export-oriented factories will get this facility. Each worker will receive Tk 3,000 per month, a total of Tk 9,000. For those workers who have become unemployed, even if this assistance was not enough, it could provide temporary relief. But this is not possible without a list. The finance division claims that this has been done in consultation with all concerned bodies. But trade unions say they have no representatives in the committee.
According to a labour leader, the workers of the organisations which do not export goods directly, but through other organisations, are also entitled to this assistance.
According to a Prothom Alo report, the factory owners and associations are not very interested in preparing the list of workers. Some have complained that it is not possible to draw up a list in accordance with the policy. Associations do not have that ability while there are many industries outside the associations. It would be very unfortunate if the money was returned because the authorities failed to prepare the lists.
The special assistance programme taken by the government during the pandemic also failed due to lack of database. This assistance was supposed to be given to 5 million families. Even after making the list twice, 1.5 million families have been deprived
Even after the Rana Plaza collapse in 2014, a number of foreign companies helped Bangladeshi workers. The list was made on the initiative of BGMEA. BGMEA has a database. Other associations should also create their own database. Is the task of making a list so difficult?
Experts have emphasised the importance of on having a database of every citizen. That would reduce the need to rely on local people's representatives to distribute government relief items or implement social programmes. Any irregularity can be easily challenged.
The special assistance programme taken by the government during the pandemic also failed due to lack of database. This assistance was supposed to be given to 5 million families. Even after making the list twice, 1.5 million families have been deprived. Instead of relying on local people's representatives, the government should immediately create a national database so that every citizen has all the information including income and expenditure. Since every citizen has a national identity card, it is not a difficult task.
The concerned authorities should immediately draw up a list of unemployed workers and make arrangements to release the money donated by the EU and the German government. If the money is returned due to lack of a list, they will get wrong message. Our incompetence as a nation will also be displayed.