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Proper use of subsidy can only benefit the poor

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19th-May-2017       
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THE government's plan to increase food subsidy as well as subsidy to agricultural sector is surely a good move in the post flood situation when the farmers need low cost inputs to grow crops and the poor need free relief to low cost food until new harvest arrives home. So a rise in food subsidy by around 32 percent to Tk 3,721 crore in the revised budget of the outgoing fiscal and Tk 4,000 crore for fiscal 2017-18 is a timely step. Agricultural subsidy from Tk 6,000 crore in revised budget of this year to Tk 9,000 crore in next year's budget is equally sensible.

But the question is whether we have the honest people and the right kind of distribution  mechanism to reach the benefits to the target groups without being misused in the pipeline. The Haor people are starving when rice price is rising in local market but dishonest dealers and powerful local leaders are in the trial to grab much of the resources to their own benefits. Reports galore about black-marketing of relief goods and low cost rice from highly subsidized government budget. Dealers and party men were held at many places throughout the country when the government introduced selling rice at Tk 10 per Kg last year for the poor. But there is no indication that they were jailed or punished.

So the people are yet confused whether the additional allocations to increase food subsidy and supplying low cost agricultural inputs will really reach the people at the grass roots or people in the distribution channel will become its major beneficiaries.  Unless we can ensure the supply reaching the target groups, increased budget allocation for the poor would only cut tax-payers' pocket to add to the pocket of the middlemen. The poor will continue to suffer. But more subsidized food through open market sales, if it can be ensured will help the poor. 

We must say enhanced monitoring is important at all levels to protect the fund and put it to the use of the real beneficiaries. The Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme is one worst example of corruption and misuse of relief and cash for the poor. Local party men make lists of their relatives and loyalists while people having suspected loyalty are left out of the list. Such politicization totally defeats the very purpose of food and agricultural subsidies irrespective of any additional allocation. This is not unknown to the government and local officials but the practice continues unabated.

In our view assistance to the poor must be delivered in kind and not in cash which is easy to grab. The subsidized distribution of food and agricultural inputs should be strictly held under watch and those misusing it must be severely punished.    

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