The poor families who received cash assistance of Tk2,500 each from the government as an Eid gift from the prime minister during last year's pandemic-led shutdown will get the same amount before Eid this time as well.
The finance ministry has directed district deputy commissioners to provide the poor, who are outside the list, with the cash aid from the bulk allocation.
In another move, the disaster management and relief ministry has announced that food assistance will be provided to 1.25 crore families in the ongoing lockdown from the beginning of next week.
The finance ministry has sent a proposal to the prime minister for her approval of cash support for 36 lakh listed poor families during the second phase of the lockdown. With the PM's approval, the money will be sent to the beneficiaries through mobile financial service providers before Eid-ul-Fitr. The government will spend Tk611 crore on the programme.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the Finance Division told The Business Standard that last year the government had taken a move to provide Tk2,500 each to 50 lakh poor families hit by the pandemic, but 36,25,268 households got the cash aid and the rest could not be given the cash assistance because of errors on the lists. The government has again decided to give cash assistance to these families before Eid-ul-Fitr.
"We have prepared a proposal and sent it to the prime minister for her approval. Following her approval, the aid will be disbursed to beneficiaries before Eid through bKash, Rocket, Nagad and SureCash like the last time," he added.
Not everyone who became jobless and poor during last year's shutdown is on the list. Many more poor families might fall into a new crisis in the ongoing second phase of the lockdown. Deputy commissioners (DCs) and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) have been instructed to make lists of such families and assist them, finance ministry officials have said.
There is a bulk allocation in the budget in favour of each district administration. An instruction has been given toward assisting newly-listed poor families from that bulk allocation. The government will also store information on the new beneficiaries along with the previous year's 36 lakh to bring them under the social safety net in the future, they added.
According to the finance ministry, the government allocated Tk1,258 crore to provide Tk2,500 each to 50 families during the shutdown last year. Of the money, Tk811 crore was sent to mobile banking accounts of 3625,268 people. But 402,136 people could not withdraw their money as they had inactive PINs. The amount of cash sent to them is Tk101.14 crore.
In a letter to the finance ministry in February, the Bangladesh Bank said the money sent to poor MFS customers with inactive PINs still remained in the balance sheets of MFS providers. The central bank had advised the government to take back the amount that had not been disbursed.
Officials at the finance ministry said a campaign was necessary to activate the PINs after opening accounts on behalf of the customers. But MFS providers did not do so. As a result, many beneficiaries did not know that their accounts had been opened and that the government had sent aid money to their accounts.
The companies did not run such campaigns in order to avoid costs, nor did the government run any campaign. As a result, the beneficiaries were deprived of the benefits. The officials said they will instruct them in this regard.
Nagad Managing Director Tanvir A Mishuk told TBS, "Customers did not set up PINs after the service providers opened the accounts. As a result, the PINs remain inactive. Nagad ran various campaigns, such as sending SMSs to make customers aware. Other providers did not opt for such campaigns in order to avoid the burden of increased costs. "
When contacted, Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, said the initiative to provide cash assistance to 36 lakh families in the old list is positive. But the instructions given to DCs and UNOs to help unemployed poor people who are out of this list will not be executed properly.
DCs and UNOs will not have information on which families in a slum are not getting food, or are in financial crisis because they do not go to the field. They may ask union parishad members, chairmen or municipal mayors and councillors to make lists of such families as before. The public representatives will then enlist their relatives, excluding the real poor, as happened last time, Ahsan pointed out.
The tendency of giving responsibility for everything to government officials is not logical. But that is what the government has been doing. Instead, the government could have given a hotline number to the unemployed poor to send an SMS, seeking help as in Malaysia and Pakistan, with information like where they used to work and when they became unemployed. Then, it will have been logical to assist them after scrutinising their information given through SMS, he added.
Food aid from next week
From next week, the government will start distribution of 10kg of rice, 1kg of pulses, one litre of soybean oil, 1kg of salt and 4kg of potatoes under the "humanitarian food aid" to each of 1.25 crore families, said State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Enamur Rahman.
"The strict lockdown has come into force from 14 April after last week's half-hearted lockdown. But so far, we have no reports on poor families facing a food crisis. We think they will need food aid towards the end of the ongoing one-week lockdown or if the lockdown gets extended for another week. So from next week we will start distributing food relief," he added.
The government has to spend Tk1,750 crore twice a month. Some Tk121 crore was given to DCs as General Relief (GR) to provide financial assistance to the destitute at the district level. Now, if there are families who face a food crisis, the district administration will provide them with food assistance from that money. DCs have been instructed accordingly. The local administration will buy food items at the field level and distribute them among the poor, he said.
Ahsan H Mansur said long-route transport workers have remained jobless since April 5. Many in the informal sector, including small roadside traders and construction workers, have been without work for almost two weeks. As a result, they need food aid right now.
Food aid at the district level will not be of much use. That is because in many districts, Covid-19 has no effect, and there is no need for a lockdown in the districts. In the divisional cities, including Dhaka, there are more Covid patients and the lockdown effect is more as well.
It now is important to distribute food in slums in divisional cities, including Dhaka, with the help of mayors, police and volunteers of a city corporation instead of through the district administration. And a list of transport workers needs to be prepared by collecting their information from the Road Transport Workers Federation to provide them with food and cash assistance, he added.
The assistance should reach the poor before there is a food crisis in their families. It is not right to send food to them when they have not had meals twice," he added.