Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar Tuesday said the novel coronavirus outbreak has proved that the government seriously lacks a proper database of beneficiaries of aid.
"There is no doubt that the social safety measures must be digitised and the Covid-19 pandemic proves it once again. We seriously lack a database as the government is not getting accurate information while distributing cash assistances."
"Numerous flaws in information about the 50 lakh families who [each] will receive government-announced Tk2,500 cash assistance have been found. Many of them not only pose fake mobile numbers but also there are issues about their National Identity (NID) card numbers," Jabbar told a virtual meeting jointly held by Policy Research Institute (PRI) and daily Prothom Alo.
The minister said they were technically verifying the data and scrutinising the NID numbers.
"But the existing database does not guarantee cent percent accuracy of the relief operation if informationabout416 people among 420appearsto be wrong. If the listing itself is flawed, this cannot be fixed through verification," he added.
PRI Executive Director Dr Ahsan H Mansur said,200-300 names have been registered with a single mobile number for the list to get the government-announced cash allowances. In other cases, many people mismatch with their NID information. There are so many technical glitches.
"The new listing should go through field-level verification. If required, the lists can be put on display at schools and mosques so that people can challenge and correct it. Even then, there should be a provision for people not on the list to claim their cash from the government," said Dr Mansur.
He opined that self-selection could be a method. "People who need assistance will reach the government numbers and the government then will verify the person's identity," said the PRI executive director.
PRI Director (research) Dr MA Razzaque presented the keynote paper at the virtual meeting.
According to the keynote paper, people's earnings in both rural and urban areas dropped by 80 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is no larger household-level information to assess the virus impact more closely.
According to the last household survey, the number of the population below the poverty line jumps to 40-45 percent from 20percent if the average income drops only 20 percent. Therefore, new 10-15 million families need social safety coverage.
Dr MA Razzaque said that it is challenging to determine who will get the government assistance.
"According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics' household survey, 71 percent of the poor remain out of the social safety programmes while 47 percent affluent people are illegally taking benefits from the programmes," he said.
Executive Director of Brac Asif Saleh, bKash Managing Director Kamal Quadir, Dutch-Bangla Bank Managing Director Abul Kashem Mohammad Shirin, Unnayan Shamannay Distinguished Fellow Sakhawat Ali and Prothom Alo Associate Editor Abdul Qayyum took part in the discussion.