The recent outbreak of corona virus, a global health pandemic as termed by the World Health Organization in March 11, 2020 (World Health Organization, 12 April 2020) has left the entire world shook to its core due to the adverse and perilous effects. This global health emergency affected probably all aspects of everyday life of the people from all over the globe. Corona virus has and will continue to impact negatively all factors of daily lives of people such as commuting, working, trading, residing, conducting ordinary daily chores, and earning a livelihood. While highly developed countries such as the USA and some European countries are severely battling to combat this deadly epidemic with little success, developing countries on the other hand are thought to be the worst hit. As for that matter, Bangladesh being one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world with 25% of the mass population living below the poverty line falls within this situation of being one of the worst hit nations. According to a forecast analysis done by The World Bank, Bangladesh will suffer massive job losses and rising poverty combined with an increased gap in inequality that will bring down the GDP growth rate to bleak percentages, incurring losses that has the capacity to take the country back by three decades. This dire circumstance is indeed a very challenging and tough time for the government of The People’s Republic of Bangladesh in multifaceted ways. From maintaining regulatory authority to ensuring ethical considerations, along with taking care of a nation where a many people are deprived of basic necessities, the Bangladeshi government has to overcome several barricades and obstacles that are on a falling cascade to hit the country hard.
Apart from the adversities mentioned above, Bangladesh’s weak technological infrastructure and laid-back medical healthcare system will also work as a catalyst to further push the country’s economy towards a massive slump. The already existing corruption and putrescence within both the central and local governmental bodies are further aggravating the unfavourable situation. However, it should be noted that dishonesty does not exist only in the governmental bodies, but also among the general population of Bangladesh. From stealing relief funds and produce to higher absenteeism among government officials, Bangladesh is stuck in a calamitous loop. According to some local authorities and few reported cases among the urban citizens, there is an upsurge in stealing and theft within the eerie streets and pathways of Dhaka. Given the fact that above 90% of the workers in Bangladesh belong to the informal sector with no health insurance and rely on their daily wages for a living, this rise in larceny was bound to arrive at one point in time. As millions of rickshaw pullers, domestic helpers, road hawkers, factory workers, and day labourers are forced to sit idle in their homes without a constant source of income to pay rudimentary daily expenses, the country is allegedly and quickly going forth towards a humanitarian crisis with a public health dimension to it. This bleak circumstance is enough to bring majority of the population into food insecurity within the upcoming weeks (World Economic Forum, 6 April 2020).
The current scenario of Bangladesh can be described as such that the entire nation is heading towards a tailspin. With the outbreak of the deadly global pandemic corona virus, the whole country has come to a standstill resulting in the halt of trade and daily activities.
In mid-April 2020 amidst the peak of this global pandemic, various state run schemes had been activated to send trucks of rice, which is the staple food of Bangladesh as part of a relief program aimed towards helping the deprived and needy. However, shockingly the news of theft and larceny of these relief food meant for the poor surfaced shortly. According to local news, one such heist was conducted by local government officials and local leaders. Following this tragic incident, law officials have arrested several leaders and its subsidiary organizations, along with officials of the Union Council in various parts of the country for conducting irregularities and unfairness in the distribution of relief food among the poor. Furthermore, these groups of people proceeded to assault relief seekers and were negligible towards performing their duties.
While the ordinary working class people who have the luxury to work from home have been cooperating effectively to maintain discipline even during a countrywide lockdown, some government authorities are indeed taking unfair advantage of this situation by seeing this as a vacation. The increase in absenteeism during a situation when help is required most has also caused disruption in the distribution of relief funds.
Despite all these efforts done continuously geared towards tackling and battling the novel corona virus, there are still discrepancies between what is expected and what has been achieved so far. Once again, this can be attributed towards corruption and exploitation that is deeply rooted within the authoritative bodies in the political system of the country. The government raised a fund of BDT 400 crore to provide protective gear, clothing, and other necessary medical equipment to local hospitals to treat patients infected with COVID-19. However, rather than being met with the freedom to treat corona virus patients effectively, it was dissatisfaction that greeted the health workers. The poor quality equipment raised many questions regarding the authentic sourcing and distribution of such below standard equipment. It is anticipated that few corrupt government officials have embezzled money and used them to satisfy their personal interests in the name buying these medical supplies. Rather than aiding the healthcare workers, these useless supplies have put their life at risk. This is also causing an alarming level of panic and distress among the healthcare workers that is in turn adversely affecting their productivity and alacrity at work.
A lot of damage could have been avoided if the corruption existing within the health ministry could be downcast. This corruption is proving to be deadlier than the virus itself as it is repeatedly causing barricades towards achieving the goal of attaining a corona-free nation.
It is clearly mentioned in the outline provided by World Health Organization (WHO) that among the most important things a state must ensure for their healthcare workers are good supply of necessary information and required equipment. Albeit the supreme authorities such as the Prime Minister trying to exercise maximum efforts in order to maintain these standards, it is a disappointment that corruption looming within the nooks and crannies of the country’s political climate did not fail to deliver even during a distressful situation as such. The political climate alone is vastly and deliberately exacerbating the current situation, whereas other factors such as insufficient healthcare infrastructure and lack of research are uncontrollable for now. Such dangerous levels of corruption is creating an additional setback amid a global crisis that the country is least deserving of.
Corona virus by itself is a deadly pandemic that the entire globe is desperately trying to get rid of. However, a deadlier problem that has persisted in Bangladesh for a very long time is corruption and swindling. In a time of dire crisis and distress, the nation as a whole, especially the ultra-poor who are void of rudimentary necessities to sustain their livelihoods are expectant of receiving aid and relief from the people holding the most powerful political positions in the country. While many authoritative bodies are exercising maximum efforts in order to deliver and meet these expectations, another group of authoritative bodies are doing the exact opposite. This ill-practice during a time of grave crisis shows that bankruptcy and ethical failure are active participants within the sections of the ruling party. The government should scale up its efforts to spot the exact causes and people behind such inhumane practices and defy them with exemplary and punitive punishments. This unnecessary debauchery is just another addition to the already existing problems amid this epidemic. It is a time when the entire population of Bangladesh need to unite and work as one force overcoming their limitations, rather than working against each other.
Currently, Bangladesh holds the 14th rank in the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, which means it is the 14th most corrupt country in the world as of now. Although this can be seen as somewhat progressive given the fact that during the start of this century, the country held the topmost position for a lengthy period of five years, there is still a long way to conquer. Completely halting such heinous crimes is a far off thought for now but at least they can be brought under some control. In order to realign the governmental activities with expected morality and ethics, stern action must be taken against the perpetrators of such acridness. Giving directives for taking actions will not suffice but rather responsible bodies must also close check whether these actions are being implemented.
People living below the poverty line in Bangladesh are more worried about dying out of hunger rather than dying in the hands of this deadly virus. Thus, the nationals of the country have sufficient right to ask for help amidst this uncertain circumstance and the central government is also aiding the process as much as possible given the state of the country. However, corruption and embezzlement is embedded within the local governmental bodies and these corrupt minds must be deprived of their basic rights and freedom as a citizen. A jail term will not suffice because they will continue to do so repeatedly once bailed. No stone should be left unturned in prosecuting those holding powerful positions being involved in abuse of power and unethical practices.
The state apparatus such as the media, religious bodies, law enforcers, and the general public have given sufficient effort in order to expose these inhuman people in front of the nation. It is expected that the political representatives of the country perform their duties with utmost responsibility, accountability, morality, and transparency rather than tarnishing the image of the country in front of the global population. According to sources, policymakers have urged all concerned departments to take stern action against allegations against misappropriating and stealing of relief aid and that mobile courts have already punished people looting these goods. Although the government has assured the local population that prompt and stern action has been taken against such wicked people, the people of Bangladesh are eager to see the effectiveness of these measures.
A distribution system has to be developed with no scope or loophole for corruption. The directions and derivatives given must be delivered vigilantly throughout all the authoritarian bodies including local, union, and even grassroots level so that they are effectively adhered to. Furthermore, a sectorial approach can be taken towards achieving an anti-corruption state where anti-corruption experts will work together with the public health experts and reach constructive and effective decisions. Lastly, the channels of distribution must be dissected carefully in order to trace the exact root of the problem and discrepancies. To achieve this, the regulatory, authoritative, and legislative bodies must work in congruency.
The author is studying Public Administration at School of Post Graduates, Jenderal Soedirman University, Indonesia