Affiliate bodies cite lockdown and crisis of funds as obstacles
With the nation going through a testing time as coronavirus cases continue to spike and the death toll hitting 50, the volunteer wings of the major political parties have seemingly disappeared.
Civil society representatives have come down hard on the affiliate bodies, saying they exist “in name only” as Bangladesh faces one of its greatest crises in its history.
Despite widespread reports of people, especially low-income groups, scrambling for aid in different parts of the country, these organisations are hardly doing anything other than taking some sporadic initiatives.
Shockingly, the ruling party-affiliated Awami Swechchhasebak League is also not an exception as it is apparently doing nothing despite the situation worsening.
The performance of the volunteer organizations of the rest of the key parties — the BNP, Jatiya Party as well as the Left parties— has also been frustrating.
All of them cited the lockdown as well as crisis of funds being key obstacles to initiating aid efforts.
However, key leaders of the organisations have distributed aid in their home districts on their personal initiatives.
Nirmal Ranjan Guha, president of Awami Swechchhasebak League, said the organisation did not have an extensive program to help stem the spread of the virus.
Not having a full central committee since the third national council of the platform in November last year was a major reason for the absence of a coordinated effort to this end, he said.
“We have not even formed a committee over the Covid-19 pandemic as yet,” the Swechchhasebak League said.
“But some of our leaders are distributing relief on their own initiatives in their respective home districts. For instance, I am doing so in my birthplace Munshiganj,” Nirmal said.
The organization’s General Secretary Afzalur Rahman Babu claimed the organisation had opened 30 hotline numbers, from which telemedicine services were being provided to those in need.
Interestingly, he could not even mention a single number when asked by the newspaper.
Saiful Islam Firoz, Swechchhasebak Dal joint general secretary, said the party did not allocate separate funds to the wing for voluntary activities, which restricts it from working on many issues.
“We have not been able to get any funds from the party yet. So we collected funds from our well-wishers and for the first time we distributed food to 200 people on Sunday,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
He said the food material provided to each person included five kilograms of rice and a kilogram of lentils, which was distributed at two locations of Dhaka Metropolitan Area --- Mirpur and Paltan.
“In line with the directive of the party’s Acting Chairperson Tarique Rahman, we will continue our initiative for working class people in different districts and upazilas across Bangladesh to help them cope with the Covid-19 crisis,” he said, adding that the initiative would continue for a month.
He said that the target was to provide assistance to 100 families per week in Dhaka. However, the lack of financial support from the central unit was hindering the progress of the initiative, he pointed out.
Jatiya Swechasebak Party, the affiliate of Jatiya Party, is yet to be seen taking any visible nationwide measures amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Without going into any specifics over its efforts during the outbreak, its President Leakoat Hossain Khoka said the organisation was trying to help people as best it could.
Khoka, the lawmaker from Narayanganj-3, claimed he was personally providing aid to the poor in his constituency, alongside the government-allocated relief.
Ganosamhati Andolan chief coordinator Zonayed Saki said his organisation was distributing aid and raising awareness in some 15 districts on a small scale.
“With the shutdown underway, things have turned difficult for us. We can now only reach a small number of people due to the strict enforcement of social distancing across the country,” he said.
Saki, who is a leading figure in the Left Democratic Alliance, a coalition of eight left parties, told Dhaka Tribune that there was no coordination even among the allies over aid efforts.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ehsanul Mahbub Zubair said in line with the top leadership’s instructions the party had conducted awareness-building measures in different parts of the country.
“We are also giving cash and food assistance as well as soaps to the low income population and it will continue for a month,” he said, adding that the party’s social welfare wing was conducting the activities.
The assistance, designed for different durations --- two days, weekly and monthly --- is given to 400 families per week in Dhaka, claimed the member of the Jamaat’s central executive committee.
“We have also introduced three food booths - two in Chittagong and one in Bogra - on Sunday where affluent people can donate their food and we distribute the food to low income people. Every day, we are collecting food for 100 people,” he said.
Jana Akangkhar Bangladesh, a platform of expelled and reformist Jamaat leaders, which recently started relief distribution on a limited scale, is also seemingly doing nothing.
The platform’s coordinator Mojibur Rahman Monju said it had engaged only 200 volunteers across the country.
Civil society representatives slammed the political parties’ volunteer fronts for their role at such a crucial time for the country.
According to Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan)
Secretary Prof Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, these bodies are focused on their own interest, rather than thinking of the people.
“They get involved in politics to make a quick buck or amass illegal wealth or to avail special benefits,” he said.
Many of them also take advantage of their political identity by roaming around freely despite committing crimes, he said.
“They may speak of public welfare, but do not believe in that,” he observed, claiming that the volunteer organisations exist in “name only”.
Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: “These organizations are supposed to be proactive in a crisis like this, by raising awareness, distributing relief and providing other forms of support, especially to the neediest and most affected sections of society.”
If they have not done that, there may be several reasons, like their own safety considerations, lack of preparedness with proper safety equipment, lack of organizational decisions and motivation, he opined.
The latest Brac survey suggests that extreme poverty has risen by 60% than before, while 14% low-income families do not have any food at home since the government enforced a general holiday from March 26.