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Freestyle rice import to encourage corruption

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A report carried by The New Nation on Saturday said rice price is still growing high in the market and selling at record high level despite huge import last year in public and private channels as the market remained hostage to dishonest merchant syndicates. Another report in the Friday's issue mentioned that government has taken initiatives to import rice by local traders and later to buy from them to boost the food grain stock. The local traders will import rice from India, Thailand, Pakistan and Vietnam.

According to the reports, rice imports hit two-decade high as private importers rushed to import more to make higher profits. Side by side, the government has decided to import 20 lakh tonnes of food grains, 15 lakh tonnes of rice and five lakh tonnes of wheat till July 2018 in the current fiscal year; which is 11 lakh tonnes more than the government's earlier projected food import volume.

There is a clear indication in both reports that country's food grain stock is 'riskily' insufficient. Though the government has made deals with several rice exporting countries, including Myanmar, it is still battling to increase its reserves. Actually, the government has failed to maintain reasonable buffer stock to keep the market stable.

World's fourth-biggest rice producer Bangladesh was hit hard by floods and fungal attacks last year which punched the domestic output and pushed up rice prices. Since then, the government has been desperately trying to replenish its depleted stock through imports. In line with its policy, the government in June last year reduced the import duty on rice from 28 percent to 10 percent. To make the import easier, Bangladesh Bank had also instructed the banks to allow private traders to import rice without any deposit against Letters of Credit or LC margin. The efforts, however, did not work. The rice price in the local market has not yet fallen where coarse and fine cut rice price is still fluctuating from Tk 50 to Tk 70.

The parliament was told recently that there was no possibility of major shortfall of food grain production despite floods. In reality, the condition of haor people is still very miserable as most of them had lost everything. We still have not forgotten what had happened with the ultra poor's rice of Tk 10 per kg. A major quantity of the rice had swallowed by ruling party men and sold in the black markets. Besides, the role of Food Ministry is questionable for bringing rotten and inconsumable wheat in exchange of millions of taka from different countries.

So, we fear, the freestyle rice import by the local traders would encourage and spread the corruption. Some of them also could be interested in stockpiling bypassing the government for pocketing extra money. We think, it needs high caution and proper monitoring to keep the rice market out of syndicate's grip. 

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