These observations emerged during a virtual national dialogue on Thursday
Speakers at a webinar on Thursday underscored the need for developing an integrated and updated database for effective distribution of relief among the poor badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
They said there is a lack of aggregated national-level database which is required for effective distribution of various government supports provided to the poor and the vulnerable people.
These observations emerged at a national dialogue titled “Relief Supports to Cope with Covid-19: How Effective Were They?” held virtually.
The dialogue was organized by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Oxfam in Bangladesh in association with Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh.
In a keynote presentation, Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD, mentioned that higher allocation, both in terms of coverage and the amount of support provided to the affected population, is necessary for any emergency situation such as the ongoing pandemic.
Higher unemployment, income erosion, switching to new jobs with lower pay, and new dimensions of vulnerability such as the emergence of “new poor” during Covid type emergencies, should guide both targeting and allocation.
He further stated that a massive awareness campaign about the relief support hotlines should be launched at the earliest.
"Adequate preparations should be there to avoid delays in delivering transfers or benefits,” he said.
State Minister of Disaster Management and Relief Dr Md Enamur Rahman, speaking as the chief guest, said relief supports are being distributed and there are no complaints of people suffering from hunger.
He also stated that more emphasis will be given to making the relief distribution process more transparent.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief AB Tajul Islam, speaking as the special guest, commented that both service providers and recipients need to take a moral high ground so that it becomes possible to distribute the relief supports to the most deserving.
MP Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary, member of the Standing Committee on Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, recommended that the relief distribution be done based on the poverty scenario of each district.
Access to Information (A2I) Program Policy Advisor Anir Chowdhury, and Nagad Managing Director Tanvir A Mishuk delivered special comments at the dialogue.
Chowdhury highlighted the need for innovative ways to create awareness among the mass people about the relief programs.
Mishuk stated that use of technology to distribute the cash relief has helped to ensure better transparency.
Dhaka University Department of Development Studies Prof Dr M Abu Eusuf re-emphasized the importance of a national household database and recommended higher focus and coordination in this regard.
CPD’s Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, who is also the convenor of Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, chaired the session.
He pointed out that there is a lack of government and private initiatives to tackle the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To distribute the relief to the ones actually in need, mass awareness and transparency is a must,” he said.
Dr Bhattacharya also stated that community-based organizations (CBOs), NGOs, media should work together with the government agencies to ensure transparency, accountability, and monitoring in relief distribution.
Tanvir A Mishuk, managing director and co-founder of Nagad, the second-largest mobile financial services (MFS) and a financial service arm of Bangladesh Post Office said it seems that the government has shown considerable prudence for distributing the cash as relief assistance during the pandemic.
“With the decision being made in a very short time, the process has become transparent due to the involvement of MFS operators and no one has to go anywhere to get help, not even a penny of rickshaw fare has been spent.”
“We used to see the news of the theft of relief rice or other materials published in the newspapers. But this time there was no news of theft,” he said.
Echoing with Mishuk, Anir Chowdhury, policy advisor at Access to Information (A2I), said: "We have very important data in different companies and organizations. But there is no legal framework for using them yet. Work is underway to make them.”
CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun, and Oxfam Bangladesh Country Director Dr Dipankar Datta, shared their views at the dialogue.
This study focuses on three such major support programs.
These are: cash support of Tk2,500 each to five million households, food (rice) distribution, and cash support under Gratuitous Relief (GR).
Shirina Khanom, Sorwar Alam Mukul, Md Shohidul Islam, Md Sujaul Islam Suja, Jahanara Begum, Rakibul Hasan, Elias Kamal Babu, Hasanur Rahman Jhantu, Alamgir Kabir Mannu, Md Sirajul Islam and Amena Begam spoke on behalf of the CBOs of 13 districts.
They shared their experiences from the grassroots and stated that the beneficiary listing process is not always transparent and the relief supports must reach the people in need.