April 27, 2010

BANGLADESH: Seniors complain of waiting days for old age allowance

. DHAKA, Bangladesh / The Daily Star / Front Page / April 27, 2010 Doing a slow burn Seniors complain of waiting days for old age allowance Elderly persons from Kamrangirchar in the capital waiting on the premises of Sonali Bank's Lalbagh branch yesterday to receive old-age allowances. Photo:Shawkat Jamil By Shahnaz Parveen Maqbul Hossain is 64 but looks 10 years older. Suffering from prostate cancer, he was standing in the crowd outside the Lalbagh branch of Sonali Bank on a recent noon, competing with scores of other senior citizens trying to push their way inside. “They treat us like beggars,” said Maqbul sputtering paan juice and leaning on his cane. “No one tells us when our names will be called. They do not give us any information either. “We stand at the bank entrance for the whole day starting early morning and go back empty-handed.” Maqbul is just one in the army of 22. 5 lakh elderly people that descend every three months on their local bank to collect 900 taka in their old age allowance, a government programme that started in 1997. They complained bitterly about waiting long hours for their names to be called. Sometimes the waiting period at the bank lasts up to four or five days. The government says that it is trying to fix the problem as the number of eligible continues to increase. This financial year the government is paying Tk. 810 crore as old age allowance. “Work is currently in progress to introduce friendly, easier and fast distribution system,” said Enamul Haque Mostafa Shahid Moni, the minister for social welfare. “There is a plan to deliver the allowance directly to the house of the recipient instead of troubling the ailing senior citizens to come to the bank”, he said, adding that a computerised database system will also be introduced to keep records of the participants. For many though the government's current plan does not bring a ready solution to their misery. Even the bank officials say it is a mess. “No matter how hard we try, we cannot restore order among the crowd coming for the allowance”, said Deepak Kumar Das, Manager, Lalbagh Branch of Sonali Bank. “We have tried to introduce separate days for different areas but they all come on the same day” At Das's branch yesterday many elderly citizens were standing on the street. Many of them were either walking with support from someone or being carried by relatives like babies. One woman was so confused that she was crying on the stairs. Some of them were simply tired of waiting. “I have been coming to the bank for the last four days in a row”, said Mosammat Momtaj, a 70-year-old hunchbacked woman in her threadbare sari. The Kamrangir Char resident said she skipped her work as a maid to stand in line to get the allowance. “I even spent my own money for food while I am waiting”, she said. “I know that the meagre amount will only last a few days. But it is better than having nothing” Recipients also complained that becoming eligible through the selection process is another ordeal. Beneficiaries are selected by a Boishko Bhata committee consisting of local ward commissioner, chairman and local social welfare officers in each Ward and Union Parishad. Some senior citizens complained that the committee members sometimes prefer their relatives for the eligibility list, often excluding the real needy ones. “It took me many visits to the ward commissioner's office to qualify for the allowance”, said Tajul Islam from Tejkuni para waiting at the Tejgaon Sonali Bank branch. “Sometimes a little bribe helps.” [rc] © thedailystar.net, 1991-2008.