• Sunday, Sep 20, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:46 pm

Govt halts OMS rice initiative following corruption, mass gatherings

  • Published at 01:01 pm April 13th, 2020
OMS rice sale_Azimpur_Mehedi Hasan_April 2, 2020
People queue up in front of a Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) truck in Azimpur, Dhaka to buy rice at low price on Thursday, April 2, 2020 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Probe committee formed to identify those involved in the misappropriation of rice and the accompanying corruption

The government has been forced to suspend the open market sale (OMS) initiative, due to corruption and mass gatherings at sales centres. Under the OMS scheme, coarse rice (boro) was sold to low-income households at just Tk10 per kg.  

The Food Ministry decided to suspend the OMS program and issued an order to deputy commissioners in this regard, yesterday.  

“We have decided to postpone the special OMS of rice at Tk10 until further notice, as those who need the facility are not benefitting from it due to irregularities and corruption,” said Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum, secretary of the Food Ministry.

“It is unfortunate that public representatives or officials are involved in corruption and irregularities even amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” she told Dhaka Tribune.   

A probe committee has been formed to identify those involved in the misappropriation of rice and the accompanying corruption. The committee will be headed by Food Ministry Additional Secretary Mujibur Rahman.

The Food Ministry has also asked the Directorate of Food to submit a detailed report on cases of corruption regarding OMS, said a ministry official.

The government has already suspended three elected representatives — a Union Council chairman and two members — for their alleged involvement in irregularities with the distribution of relief materials, including the OMS of rice to the poor and people in distress due to the coronavirus outbreak.  The district administration and police have filed several reports with the ministries concerned.  

Another reason the OMS initiative was suspended was because district level food officers, the administration, and elected representatives, were finding it difficult to maintain social distancing measures during distribution.

“We had marked out an area with lines so people could maintain a 1m gap from one another, but the markers were not followed,” said a district level food official, asking to remain anonymous.

“We were afraid such a gathering of people was risky in the coronavirus pandemic, so we recommended an alternate way for distribution,” he added.

The government began the OMS initiative in cities across 64 districts on April 5. The facility was available on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The general holiday from March 26 has taken away work from a lot of people who are dependent on their daily income, such as day labourers, rickshaw and van pullers, transport workers, restaurant staff, hawkers, tea stall owners and others. These people were eligible for the OMS facility,” Directorate of Food Director General Sarwar Mahmud told Dhaka Tribune.

“However, maintaining social distancing during distribution of OMS products was a big challenge in many areas due to a lack of manpower. We are looking at alternative systems now,” he said.

 “We are planning to fix a hotline number for those who need special OMS rice. Then our volunteers will deliver rice to their doorsteps, as we do not have a complete list of distressed people yet,” he added.

The Ministry of Food formed a guideline for OMS rice distribution, but it was not followed properly.

According to the guideline, the rice would be sold after lists of people in need are made with the help of local representatives, such as councillors. 

The guideline says an individual from a family will be able to buy a maximum of 5kg rice per a week after showing his or her National Identity Card (NID). A representative from the district administration or the local government institution, such as a councillor of the City Corporation or municipality, would supervise the sales. 

The guideline also says a sales centre would be allowed to sell two tons of rice in district towns, and three tons of rice in city corporation areas every day. However, in many cases, public representatives hoarded the rice in warehouses instead of selling it under the OMS program. 

Distributors were supposed to submit sales reports with signatures of supervisors to OMS committees every day. 

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