• Wednesday, Nov 25, 2020
  • Last Update : 10:02 pm

Govt struggles to rein in aid thieves

  • Published at 12:16 am October 21st, 2020
Sacks of rice stolen by public representatives later recovered by polic
In this photo: Sacks of rice stolen by public representatives later recovered by police Dhaka Tribune

Of the 108 public representatives suspended for such offences, 28 resume office taking advantage of the legal limbo

At least 28 grassroots-level public representatives are back on duty, shortly after being suspended for misappropriating aid meant for the poor and jobless during the coronavirus pandemic.

From April to July this year, 37 union parishad (UP) chairmen and 71 UP members were suspended on allegations of misappropriation of government aid, rice of the Food Friendly Program and the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) program, as well as for failure to carry out emergency duties.

Many of them moved the High Court challenging the suspension order, seeking a stay on the decision, and 28 of them — 20 UP chairmen, eight members — have already received the court’s nod for the stay order. More suspended representatives are thinking of moving for legal remedy.

ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SUSPENDED REPRESENTATIVES:

Ø  Misappropriating money of Vulnerable Group Feeding scheme (VGF) meant for jobless fishermen

Ø  Stealing rice of Food Friendly Program

Ø  Storing Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) rice after misappropriating with fake signatures

Ø  Misappropriating cash aid through mobile banking program with distorted list

Ø  Beating up distressed people

According to sources at the Local Government Division (LGD), one of them received a stay order four days into the suspension, and two others got it within seven days.

Ministry insiders said once the offenders manage to get a stay order on their suspension from the court, the government cannot do anything.

“It is even possible that they [the suspended representatives] may try to finish their tenure before the final verdict comes after a long legal battle,” a high official of the government said, requesting anonymity.

Local government experts said there were allegations that when the suspended public representative filed writs against their suspension order, the lawyers employed by the government failed to present strong evidence against them before the court.

Local government expert Prof Dr Tofail Ahmed told Dhaka Tribune that when the government fails to produce enough evidence against them in court, it is evident that the suspended representatives will get the order in their favour.

“If enough evidence is not gathered, proper investigations are not conducted, the suspension becomes nothing but drama,” added Tofail, an executive member of Shujan central committee.

Another major issue in this regard is the lack of coordinated and updated data on the writs filed by the offenders at the attorney general’s office, according to sources.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin admitted that his office did not have consolidated data of writ petitions filed by the suspended local public representatives so far.

When contacted, Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Jesmin Sultana Samsad said not every petition’s copy that goes to the attorney general’s office ends up in the court, adding that it is because of mismanagement in the handling of the files.

"In many cases, the copy of a motion [petition] is sent to the attorney general’s office but arrives at the court late. Also, the office has some mismanagement issues, as the staffers who handle all the copies of the motions are not well trained. It is not possible for a legal officer to handle such a huge pressure of cases and ensure management strictly,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

Stand against stay orders not strong enough

When asked about opposing the stay orders, DAG Jesmin said they had strongly opposed the stay orders on the suspension of the accused public representatives.

“The government is embarrassed by such irregularities by local government representatives. There is no reason why we would not oppose the stay order,” she told Dhaka Tribune. “We present our argument before the court in every case. But then the decision rests upon the court.”

DAG Bipul Bagmar echoed the same statement.

However, Supreme Court lawyer and rights worker Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said there is more than one state lawyer at every bench of the High Court, who supposedly have the information of all of the petitions filed by the suspended representatives.

They should have stood strong while representing the state at the court, he opined.

What will the government do now?

Attorney General Amin told Dhaka Tribune that they would file appeals against the stay orders.

“But the LGD needs to contact us first. They are to decide against whom we need to file an appeal,” he said.

When contacted, Local Government and Rural Development (LGRD) Minister Md Tajul Islam said they would appeal against each of the High Court orders.

“We have asked the state lawyers to take steps. Collection of related proof and documents against them is also underway,” he added.

Under the Local Government Act, 2009, the Election Commission can take actions against those local government representatives who did not discharge their duties properly or got involved in crimes of moral decay, said Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua

The allegations

After the global pandemic hit Bangladesh in March, the government decided to put the country in lockdown, leading to an economic fallout for the poor and lower-middle-income people.

The government then announced a number of aid programs to provide food and monetary assistance at the grassroots level.

However, several incidents of misappropriation of money and rice by the local representatives and ruling party leaders were reported, which put the government in an embarrassing position.

The government then started taking legal and administrative actions. Many of the local government representatives were suspended and sued. Of them, a UP chairman and a member were sacked permanently, and two were pardoned.

The government is now waiting for concerned district administrations’ opinion about explanations provided by 76 suspended representatives about the allegations.

Imdadur Rahman Tutul, chairman of Gojnaipur union parishad in Nabiganj upazila, Habiganj, misappropriated rice under the Food Friendly Program by preparing a faulty list of vulnerable families with the help of a local dealer.

On the list, names of dead people were included and some names were duplicated. He was suspended and eventually got a stay order on the suspension from the court.

Tutul told Dhaka Tribune that the list was actually prepared in 2016. The irregularities were caught when it went through scrutiny.

“Local administration and political opponents were involved in the process. I did not make the list alone,” he claimed.

Badsha Faysal, chairman of Alipura union parishad in Dashmina, Patuakhali, was suspended for misappropriating VGD rice with fake signatures after collecting VGD cards from the locals.

He distributed a little portion of the allocated rice without informing his colleagues and the local administration.

He was suspended on June 24 and resumed office on July 28 upon court order.  

However, Faysal termed the accusations as a plain conspiracy when Dhaka Tribune contacted him.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said: “The ministry action to suspend some of them [the public representatives] is part of the process in situations like this, but nothing substantive in terms of any real deterrent value against such practices. This only gives them a little breather to eventually strike back.

“The perpetrators should be at least politically and morally ostracized in addition to being subjected to accountability in the due process,” he added

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