The government’s health department has been sharply criticised for trying to brush the scam aside as a “mistake” without investigating the matter
The government probe committee to investigate the supply of substandard masks being sold as N95 masks, is going to take another week.
A team of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is also looking into the issue independently. However, the progress of ACC's investigation also remains slow due to ongoing general shutdown.
"We were supposed to submit the report within three days. However, we asked to extend the duration till next Wednesday to complete the investigation. This is because such a critical issue takes time to investigate," said M Saidur Rahman, head of the three-member committee and additional secretary (development) of the Health Services Division.
"We are analysing every aspect of the issue and hope to uncover the truth," he said.
Allegations have been made that JMI Hospitals Requisite Manufacturing Limited supplied substandard masks to several state-run hospitals instead of N95 masks.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, parliament member of Dhaka 9 constituency and president of the management committee of Dhaka's Mugda General Hospital, in a letter to the Central Medical Store Depot (CMSD) under the Directorate General Health Services, said that substandard masks were supplied as N95 masks at Mugda Hospital.
The hospital authority found that although boxes labeled of 300 face masks were labelled "N95," they contained no such masks. Other hospitals also complained they did not receive quality personal protective equipment.
The government's health department has been sharply criticised by different quarters for trying to brush the scam aside as a "mistake" without investigating the matter.
Plus, the CMSD even threatened to sue news publishers for "wrongly" associating Health Minister Zahid Malik, his son and also Health Secretary Md Ashadul Islam, and Director General of the DGHS Abul Kalam Azad with the substandard mask scam in their reports.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina raised the issue of the irregularity in a video conference on April 20 and ordered a probe be launched to investigate it.
ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood told the Business Standard that they are keeping track of all the allegations.
"When the general holidays are over, we will go through all the allegations. Nobody will be spared if they are found guilty," he said.
"Last year we carried reports on the education and health sectors and submitted findings on their sources of corruption," he continued.
"The education ministry took the reports seriously and worked on the issues. However, I am sorry to say, I do not know what the health ministry did," he stated.
Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "The DGHS and JMI are trying to pass off the N95 scam as "human error." However, in such a crisis moment, it is impossible to consider such a mistake, involved with vital medical supply, as "human error."
"This needs proper investigation since the supplier and the receiver have been trying to cover up the incident since the beginning. It will also have to be investigated if the supplier and the receiver were jointly involved in the irregularity," he explained.
"I am worried as it could be just the tip of the iceberg. Many more such incidents are happening and will happen in the future. So the incident needs to be investigated immediately," he said.
"The ACC should enquire about the issue to bring the culprits, regardless of their name and position, to book," he concluded.