Officials concerned hope the process for disbursement of cash assistance can be started before Ramadan
The jobless poor will have to wait till Ramadan to get financial assistance under the Tk760 crore cash incentive package announced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
To disburse the incentive, the government needs to prepare a list of poor people who have been affected by the ongoing nationwide shutdown put in force to stem Covid-19.
The list of the affected poor will be prepared by Union Parishad chairmen and members at the union level, and by ward councillors at the municipality and city corporation levels.
The cash assistance will be deposited directly to bank accounts or mobile financial services (MFS) accounts of the listed beneficiaries by the deputy commissioners' offices concerned.
The deputy commissioners, however, have said they are yet to get an instruction from the government in this regard.
Officials of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, the Ministry of Social Welfare, and the Ministry of Finance said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) would issue guidelines for preparing the list of day labourers, rickshaw and van pullers, motor workers, construction workers, and all other informal sector workers who have become jobless due to the shutdown and distributing the incentive among them.
The PMO was responsible for managing the fund as well, they said, adding that officials of the PMO were working to determine when the incentive will be disbursed and how much money will be given to each beneficiary.
Pointing out that the government needs some extra time for distributing cash incentives among the poor as it does not have any list of the affected people, they, however, expressed hope that the incentive distribution process will start before Ramadan.
An official of the finance ministry outlined how the incentive will be distributed among the beneficiaries.
He said the designated public representatives, while making the list of the affected people, will collect their bank accounts or MFS accounts. Financial assistance will be allocated to a deputy commissioner according to the particular district's list of beneficiaries and then the deputy commissioner's office concerned will deposit the cash incentive to the bank accounts or MFS accounts of the listed beneficiaries.
Asked if there is any probability of partisanship and nepotism in distributing the incentive by making the list with the help of people's representatives, the finance ministry official said even if some misappropriations take place there is no alternative than to accepting this.
It will take five-six months to make a flawless list, he claimed, adding that in that case the poor will not be able to survive.
The public representatives know well who live in slums, or who pull rickshaws or vans, or who work as day labourers in their areas.
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Mohammad Enamur Rahman told The Business Standard his ministry has nothing to do with the implementation of the incentive package announced for the poor because the PMO is responsible for the task.
State Minister for Social Welfare Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru pointed out that people's representatives at the union parishad and ward levels will make a list of affected poor across the country and that the incentive will be disbursed among the listed beneficiaries by deputy commissioners.
Talking to The Business Standard on Thursday, Mahmudul Hasan, assistant commissioner and executive magistrate at Tangail Deputy Commissioner's Office said they did not receive any instructions from the government in this regard as yet.
If they get any instructions, they will work accordingly, he added.
Procrastination in NHD project
The Statistics and Informatics Division of the government in 2013 started working to prepare lists of rich and poor people based on information from every household in the country. The aim of the project was to build a database on the rich and the poor by conducting a national household database (NHD) survey.
The Tk328 crore project aimed at collecting information about 3.5 crore households in the country was initially scheduled to complete by 2017 but the authorities concerned are yet to execute it.
In the meantime, the project tenure has been extended twice. The latest deadline for completing the project is 2021 and the project cost has been extended to Tk727 crore.
An ICR firm was appointed at the cost of Tk112 crore in 2016 for printing questionnaires, and collecting and processing information under the project but it also failed to complete the task in the stipulated time frame. What is more, a bill was tabled before the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase in February last seeking a Tk13crore cost enhancement but the proposal was rejected.
Director General of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Tajul Islam claimed they have completed collecting and processing information under the NHD project but that the work on building the main database is yet to complete.
An US firm appointed by the World Bank, the financier of the project, is working on this, he said, adding this database will not be able to play any role in choosing beneficiaries for the prime minister-announced financial assistance project or other social safety net programmes.
He went on to say building a database incorporating information of all people of the country is a very big task, but the time that was given for completing it was too short. Therefore, the tenure of the project has been extended.
Economist Dr Binayak Sen acknowledged that preparing a national database on the poor is a time-consuming task. But in view of the prevailing situation in which many of the poor are deprived of any government incentive programme if the list is prepared by local political leaders or people's representatives, he suggested completing works on building the national database hurriedly and using it for this purpose.
Former lead economist of the World Bank in Dhaka Dr Zahid Hussain said it is really unfortunate that the government does not have a database on its poor citizens.
He believes the NHD project could not be implemented timely because of interventions from various institutions and a lack of coordination in completing the task.
He pointed out that the Election Commission has information about all the people of the country. Bangladesh Computer Council has the national data centre.
These institutions have done some work. But the NHD project has been delayed as these works lacked coordination.