The Financial Express

Unhealthy and devastating norms  

| Updated: July 25, 2020 22:52:10

Unhealthy and devastating norms   

Gross irregularities in the health sector and public procurement that have surfaced lately must have pained many.

Initial shock over, most people, however, tend to accept those as normal happenings under the prevailing circumstances.

Some others, however, being a bit sensitive, are not ready to bear with both moral and material decadence to such an extreme level. They vent their anger in the air, asking a question rather aimlessly -- when will these self-attenuating acts end? There is, of course, none to answer this naïve question. Those who are supposed to offer an answer prefer to remain indifferent!

Take the issues that have emerged one by one in the health sector during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That mismanagement and corruption are rampant in the country's health sector are no secrets. Media reports on the failure on the part of the health ministry and directorate general of health services (DGHS) to monitor and supervise both public and private health facilities have been published with almost regular frequency. The same is true in the case of procurement of goods and services in public hospitals.

Since all attention is now focussed on the health sector, the anomalies, naturally, have given rise to public uproar.

The most-damaging of all irregularities has been the one concerning the sale of fake COVID-19 test certificates by a couple of health facilities. Some more might have also committed the same crime, but that remains a matter of investigation.

A number of countries have put a bar on the entry of Bangladesh nationals for carrying fake corona certificates. International media have published stories on the Regent and JKG scams prominently. To be honest, the country's image has been dented seriously in the outside world by these incidents.

It will not be, however, out of place to raise a few pertinent questions -- does the authority to probe and punish the wrongdoers end with the health ministry or the DGHS? What will happen if these entities fail to take the wrongdoers to the task or themselves get involved in irregularities?

Of course, there are other state organisations authorised to step in. The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) is now grilling many health officials. It could also do the same earlier.

Financial irregularities in public procurement or use of substandard goods in public sector construction work are more of an accepted norm. Only a few of the gross irregularities hit news headlines and many others escape the notice of all concerned.

The infamous 'balis kando' in which the financial irregularities in the procurement of goods for the Rooppur nuclear power plant did cross all limits remains an example. The incident had become the talk of the country. Similarly, the use of bamboo sticks instead of mild steel rod by a contractor in government project did also create waves some years back. But, the unearthing of these incidents could not deter a section of officials and contractors from being dishonest. Nor the appropriate authorities have been found adequately alert to stop the plunder of public money.

A project belonging to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) is a case in point. The project which was approved by the ECNEC (executive committee of the national economic council) in its last meeting apparently had provisions to procure several goods at abnormally high costs (Tk. 10,000 for purchasing a 'boti' -- a metal object used for cutting fish and vegetables)!

The cases of malpractice and malfeasance, many tend to believe, are rooted in poor governance and lack of transparency. Since this is topped-up by an attitude of resignation to an entrenched impunity culture, the people may have to live with those, it seems. 


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