Coronavirus testing has come to a level now. But, our treatment system has collapsed. What can we do?
Coronavirus test centresare found only in the capital. Transporting blood samples to the capital is a lengthy process and has some bureaucratic bottlenecks. We have to establish more testingcentres in the six major administrative zones and then expand them to the 64 districts. Similarly, we have to emphasize on establishing Coronavirustestingunits in the districts. We have to reorganize our health budget, accordingly, not making everything Dhaka-centric. Chain hospitals could be given these tasks. But, as we do not have this structure, some temporary measures can be taken where community clinics, private hospitals, all available doctors and all other material and human resources could be deployed on an emergency basis. Voluntary work of the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) physicians and other physicians has been praised. We need an active central health manager who will keep updates of all the happenings and supervise them.
What can be done with the allocations given to the apparel sector so that workers' jobs could be secured and their wages, as well?
The system of paying wages to workers via Bkash accounts is acceptable. Banks should collect a register of the workers from factory owners for this. If any employee does not get his or her wage, a complaint could be made to his/her manager or the respective bank. Why should the workers take to the streets to get their wages? The government should probably collect lists of the workers from each of the factories from the BGMEA, containing the salary sheet of the last 3 months along with the respective banking details. This should be done immediately. Trade unions should also be provided with this database. A factory owner should inform the government or the respective bank how much he needs to clear unpaid wages. Accordingly, the government should allocate working capital and wages through the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)in favour of that factory owner, who will, in turn, send the payment directly to the workers’ bank accounts. If any owner hesitates or delays to pay, the government can step in and pay the worker. Once the situation turns normal, the factory owner could reimburse the money to the government. The entire process will be transparent, less hassle and lower chances of virus infection. Giving immediate protection and providing safety-nets to the poor, the government stands the chance of becoming more popular.
The BGMEA should be responsible for ensuring that the factory owners pay back the money given as loan with a subsidized interest. Successful owners could help the troubled ones helping them earn money, distributing (work) orders, paying their workers and ensuring loan refunds.A peer monitoring system that microcredit finance organisations use, could be utilised.An interest rate of 4.5% seems reasonable. Respective banks should adjust their credit with factory owners, on a case by case basis, where both parties are discrete about the process.
The job security of the workers will depend on how the factories function and will depend on the certainty of orders and willingness of the owners to keep their factories operational. But how many factories will be closed and the number of workers who will be furloughed, could be monitored on the basis of prior projection (guess). Some of them could be re-employed with alternative arrangements under micro, small and medium enterprises. They could be self-employed or even be hired for jointly taken initiatives.
For this to materialise, the government can open training centres and organise entrepreneur funds, while banks can provide loans at very low interest rates for new cooperative society or individual projects through Bkash accounts and repayment can be settled accordingly. The authorities then could contact the unemployed and discuss the matter with them. However, as long as the workers do not find employment or come under any initiative, they should be entitled to social safety-net and grants, and receive their dues as per the labour laws of the country.
3. What can be done to ensure relief or income distribution in the villages to make sure that all are covered by a safety-net?
With details obtained from the mobile numbers of the rural poor, a digital register should be made, and cash transferred gradually to the town and villages under the safety-net fund programme. A target could be projected on how many villages and people could be covered in one go. A plan on how and when the register will be done and complete and who will supervise it should be made. This will, however be an ongoing part of a long term process and could be realised on a government to person (G2P) basis.
4. What can we do for farm production and produce preservation?
An e-communication system could be established among consumers, suppliers and producers. Various consumer association, cooperatives, chain stores, vendors, sellers and buyers’ cooperatives, importers, TCB and OMS should be brought under that network whereby they could fulfill their responsibilities under their respective supply chains. This should be supervised by the commerce ministry and intervene if necessary, through indirect means. Special attention should be given to the supplies of some daily essentials--- such as, rice, pulses, salt, edible oil, vegetables, fish, meat and milk--- and supply chain protection.
5. What can be done for the poor of the cities?
Various programmes can be implemented for the poor, including, registering their names, issuing ration cards, ensuring open market supplies (OMS), transferring cash, ensuring a safe workplace, a check on their health conditions, building houses, providing education to their children, etc.
6. Together with the government what can the rich do and how can the society be involved in this endeavour?
This is a charitable cause, but priority should be given to running for self-employment and employing other people. For this, the government has taken initiatives for easy loans for their working capital, in order that they could function.
7. How to stop plundering of relief materials?
To accomplish this, we need to ensure accountability and transparency at all levels. A beneficiary accountability is necessary. Like the regular health bulletins, the government should let the entire nation know what their plan was, what has been done so far and what will be done in future in the socio-economic sectors?
8. My general observations
A. We don't need to be afraid of the Coronavirus and spread fear among the people. Such virus contaminations had taken place in the past and will take place in the future, too. A vaccine will be invented, the virus will mutate and such virus attacks may occur may be after 10 or 15 years. So we should not feel weak thinking about an imaginary crisis. We should not wait for someone to come and help us; we should determine our own course and progress accordingly.
B. This virus is affecting everyone irrespective of class. To resolve this crisis, we need to be united, with some exceptions. However, the poor need special initiativesas the magnitude of the devastation is comparatively intense for them. As part of that initiative, we need some extra sympathy for them. We need, during and post coronavirus period, an environment friendly, egalitarian and inclusive economic growth.
C. Priority on expansionary monetary and tax policies be incorporated in future budgets along withprogrammes that will address disasters.
D. We need a planned and coordinated effort. The private and public sectors, the Civil Society and government administration, national unity and international powers, science and humanities, equality and growth, transparency and accountability, the party in power and the opposition--- all should work supplementing each other.
M. M. Akash, Economist and Professor at Department of Economics, University of Dhaka