Alleged corruption of a union parishad (UP) chairman has deprived several thousand cyclone affected families in Satkhira’s Ashashuni upazila.
More than 30,000 people of 17 villages under Pratapnagar union in the upazila were some of the worst victims of super cyclone Amphan that ravaged the area on May 20 this year.
When such devastation prompted the government to pour in relief materials in the region, Pratapnagar UP Chairman Zakir Hossain took the opportunity to fill his pocket.
Many inhabitants of those village alleged that UP Chairman Zakir has misappropriated food relief, Prime Minister’s (PM’s) cash aid for the destitute families. They also accused him of extortion and bribery.
They, however, requested anonymity while talking to this correspondent in fear of reprisal from the chairman’s henchmen.
A resident of Kurikahuniya village said, “I along with hundreds of other villagers volunteered to repair an important embankment twice and worked for 13 days. Each working day we were supposed to get 10 kilograms of rice for our labour, but we got only six to seven kilograms of rice.”
On the other hand, a number of inhabitants of Shuvadrakati and Nakla villages did not even get a single kilogram of rice.
A villager of Shuvadrakati said, “We witnessed how the chairmen and his men embezzled the relief rice and sold them to wholesalers. When we realized that we would not get any food aid, we stopped repairing the embankment. Many of the villagers left the village and moved to slums in Khulna for food and shelter.”
According to the ministry of Local Government, Rural Development (LGRD) and Cooperatives, Satkhira alone received at least 2,800 tonnes of rice, 500 bundles of corrugated iron sheet and Taka 1, 80, 00000 as cash aid.
As the worst affected area, Pratapnagar union received a sizeable portion of this relief, but many villagers alleged that most of them haven’t seen any sign of these aids yet.
Moreover, evidence indicates that Chairman Zakir also misappropriated PM’s cash aid of Tk 2,500 to destitute families.
A list of 7,685 families was prepared by the chairman and the cash aid was distributed according to the list. However, it has been found that serial number 149, 164, 188, 191, 200, 202, 221, 224 and 229 were members of same family. Ibrahim Gazi, head of that family, is a known as a henchman of Chairman Zakir.
Shahanara Khatun, female member of ward no-3, received cash aid on behalf of her husband Amirul (Serial no-140) and son Shahjalal (Serial no-175), despite the fact that they are one of the wealthiest families of the union.
“This is only one example of misappropriation. In every relief distribution, Zakir has done this sort of corruption,” Abdus Samad, a member of local Awami League (AL), said.
“He takes five to ten percent for issuing all sorts of allowances such as elderly allowance, and VGD (Vulnerable Group Development) allowance. He also takes Tk 500 to Tk 1,000 per household for providing electricity connection,” Samad added.
When contacted, Chairman Zakir vehemently denied the allegations. “These are all propaganda of BNP-Jamaat activists,” claimed Zakir.
When asked about the list of cash aid recipients and allegations made by his men, Zakir said, “Many local AL activists are also conspiring against me due to political rivalry. If they think these allegations are true, tell them to prove these before the court.”
Ashashuni Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Mir Alif Reza said, “The lists of aid recipients are prepared by the local representatives. We only ensure that the aids are distributed accordingly. I don’t know whether there were any irregularities in those lists.”
Satkhira Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mostafa Kamal said, “We received allegations of corruptions against Zakir. We are investigating the matter and before completion of the investigation I cannot comment on this issue.”
LGRD Minister Md Tajul Islam said, “We have received allegations of misappropriating government aids by several local representatives. We have already sacked some of them and investigations against some of them are in progress. If allegations are proved, we shall take necessary action against them as well.”