Poor and low-income people line up to buy subsidized food from a truck in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka during the Covid-19 shutdown on April 8. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
Dozens of local leaders of the ruling Awami League and local government officials have been arrested in Bangladesh for alleged corruption and theft of food items meant for the poor during the Covid-19 shutdown.
In the past two weeks, law enforcers have arrested 29 people, mostly leaders of the Awami League and its associate organizations, and officials of the Union Council, a local government body, in various parts of Bangladesh.
They have been accused of stealing 4,167 sacks full of rice, the staple food in Bangladesh, weighing over 200 tonnes, the Daily Star reported.
The rice was from various state-run schemes aimed at helping poor and low-income people hit hard by the loss of work and income during the shutdown, which runs until April 25.
The corruption and theft of food have triggered an angry public and social media backlash.
Those who snatch food from the poor during such a crisis are terrorists, said Father Anthony Sen, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dinajpur Diocese.
“In various areas, including Thakurgaon district where I am based, poor people have blocked the road demanding food aid and subsidized food items. It is people’s right to get food in the time of such a grave crisis, but some extremely corrupt politicians and officials are trying to exploit the situation for their own interests,” Father Sen told UCA News.
Corruption at the top level trickles down to lower levels, which is very common in the country, the priest noted.
“The government must take stern action against those involved in corruption and theft of food, and ensure that all needy people get necessary help,” Father Sen added.
Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, expressed dismay over the rice theft.
“In the time of a national crisis, it is expected that good virtues of people, such as sympathy, solidarity and public welfare, should be in play, but frustratingly we have seen a display of inhuman vices too. We are lost for words to condemn the perpetrators,” he told UCA News.
There should be no compromise in prosecuting those involved in abuse of power and unethical practices while holding powerful positions, he said.
Dr. Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, admitted there had been irregularities in food relief and food subsidy programs.
“It is disappointing that despite directives from the prime minister [Sheikh Hasina], some unscrupulous people have been involved in irregularities. Top government officials have been directed to monitor the situation seriously and take actions,” Rahman told journalists in Dhaka on April 12.
Bangladesh has recorded 621 positive Covid-19 cases and 34 deaths, according to official data.
About 25 percent of the Muslim-majority nation’s population of 160 million are below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Bangladesh was ranked the most corrupt country in the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International consecutively from 2001 to 2005. It is currently ranked the 14th most corrupt country.