Around Tk101 crore sent as prime minister's Eid gift to four lakh accounts of pandemic-hit poor families last year is returning to the government exchequer as the beneficiaries did not collect the money.
These beneficiaries could not collect the cash aid as the personal identification numbers (PINs) of their mobile financial service (MFS) accounts were not activated.
The government will now get back the amount, which is lying with four mobile financial service providers – bKash, Rocket, Sure Cash and Nagad.
Officials of the Bangladesh Bank and the finance ministry said that the MFS accounts were opened against the mobile numbers of the beneficiaries who had no accounts. Then the money was sent to these accounts.
The four lakh such beneficiaries had earlier been enrolled under the "Provide Cash Assistance to 50 lakh Families Affected by Coronation in Mujib Year".
As of January 20, Tk811 crore had been sent to 32 lakh MFS accounts, of which 4,02,168 accounts have inactive PIN status.
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 and 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 to avoid costs, nor did the government run any campaigns. As a result, the beneficiaries got deprived of the benefits, the officials added.
Nagad Managing Director Tanvir A Mishuk told The Business Standard, "Customers did not set up PINs after the service providers opened the accounts. As a result, the PINs remain inactive. Nagad has run 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."
Despite various weaknesses, such as the inclusion of government employees and non-poor families on the list of beneficiaries, 32 lakh poor families were finally able to receive the Eid gift of the prime minister.
On February 25, the Bangladesh Bank sent a letter to the Finance Division asking what the process of getting back Tk101 crore from the four mobile financial service providers would be.
The letter noted that accounts with inactivated PINs could not be treated as full-fledged MFS accounts, leaving government disbursements long overdue.
As there is no list of the poor in the country, the Prime Minister's Office took the initiative to give Tk2,500 to each of 50 lakh poor families before Eid-ul-Fitr by making a quick list through local people's representatives and the local administration.
The prime minister announced the aid for the poor who had become unemployed during the 66-day general holiday beginning on March 26 last year.
The prime minister's intention was for the money to go to the poor before Eid-ul-Fitr in May last year.
But due to the failure to prepare a list of beneficiaries, the prime minister inaugurated the programme on May 14.
Finance ministry officials said Tk1,257 crore was released as cash assistance for 50 lakh poor families.
Of this, a total of Tk811 crore was distributed to 32 lakh families till September.
The finance ministry took back the rest of the money after all kinds of economic activities resumed in September.
If Tk101 crore is returned from the money earmarked for distribution, the total expenditure will be Tk710 crore.
Ahsan H Mansoor, executive director of Policy Research Institute, said local administrations and public representatives always embezzled money from such programmes.
"This time too they tried to embezzle money by giving themselves numbers in the names of different people or by enlisting relatives. They could not succeed due to the alertness of the government. However, due to their failure, about half of the poor families have been deprived of assistance," he said.