The recent incident of forgery involving COVID-19 tests at Regent Hospital in Dhaka is a classic example of the profit-making mindset of some of the hybrid Awami League (AL) leaders. Over the past one or two years, Shahed, who is the chairman of Regent Hospital, was found to be very active in talk shows of different TV channels. He used to articulate himself as one of the new think tanks of the present AL government and pretended to be a committed member of the party. The main intention of this type of hybrid AL supporters is to make money using their connections with people close to power.
Different media sources have exhumed the fact that Shahed had multiple identities. Often he introduced himself as a retired army officer,also portrayed himself as an ex-cadet and having army familybackground in other cases. He even introduced himself as the former Assistant Private Secretary (APS) to the Prime Minister in many places. Somewhere he pretended to be the secretary of the government and a person witha strong relationship with different intelligence units of the government. Changing identities, he established strong relationships with leaders of the ruling party, senior administrative officials and prominent government personalities within a very short time. The media also revealedthat he presented variousnames in different places. These names include Shahed Karim (according to national identity card), Major Iftekhar Karim and even Lt Colonel Muhammad Shaheed. This indicates that he is a prodigious fraud capable ofexploiting numerous individuals and organizations to make money.Following the publication of a report about the horrific forgery of Regent Hospital with COVID-19 tests through RAB operation, several other instances about his forgeries havealso been aired. There were 32 cases against him on separate charges. He was even in jail for a case filed against him at Dhanmondi police station for stealing TK. 500 crore from customers through opening a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Company. It burns my heart seeing people like Shahed managing to establish relationships with leaders of the political party thatledthe war of liberation under the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu. Does it mean that the political strength of the party has weakened over the years? Otherwise, people like Shahed could not have indulged in different types of corruption with the support of government officials and political leaders. This is happening at a time when the top AL leadershipisconsistently expressing commitment to punishing the hybrid political supporters and infiltrators in the party. Of course, I do not believe that the strength of the party has become weakened. This kind of incidentistaking place because of the patronage of some of the party leaders who are also making money keeping association with these hybrid types.
The enormity of the crime committed by Shahed’s Regent Hospital is very severe, as they committed forgery at a time when the government under the leadership of our Prime Minister along with the countrymen are suffering from the worstever public health-related crisisand economic fallout. By providing fakereports to suspected COVID-19 patientswithout undertaking the examinations, they committed a crime against humanity. Different media sourcesalso reported that at least five to six thousand patients received either positive or negative reports from them without their samples being examined. Among them,if 20 per cent of COVID-19 patients were given negative reportsthey might have already infected several thousand people by now.
Therefore, along with forgerycharges, the law enforcement agencies should frame charges against him for intentionally contaminating several hundred thousand people with COVID-19. He has also committed a crime by breaching thetrustof the government. As far as media reports confirm, he signed a contract with the health ministry to provide services to COVID-19 patients at no cost. But, in practice, he used to take full payment from each COVID-19 patient treated at the hospital. At the same time, he submitted a bill worth around TK 2 crore to the Health Directorate for services to COVID-19 patents in his hospital. This level of fraud ishighly punishable at any time, but during present pandemic it is akin to treason.
Shahed's case is not the only onethe hybrid ruling party members have perpetrated. Rather, we have also learned about several others, some of whom are party portfolio holders,who committed forgery while supplying N-95 masks,which is an essential materials that can save doctors from COVID-19 contamination. The law enforcing agencies are also looking for them. We arehearing about other incidents of forgery by organisations that have close relationship with ruling party leaders and people at the ministry.
The present AL government deserves appreciation for initiating the process of providing punishment to the wrongdoers within their party. Unfortunately, the intensity is not as strong as it should be. There are many instances in which the ruling party leaders and supporters have been involved in different forms of corruption during the pandemic. If the government is committed to punishing them, more action must be taken against all the transgressors who are found guilty of misappropriation of any kind. Along with the transgressors, their godfathers would also have to be brought under punishment. There are several complaints against top officials of the health directorate, as well as health ministry during this pandemic. These people have granted excessive advantages to many whose main intention is to make money at the cost of government image and life of ordinary citizens. Therefore, these people are equally responsible for creatingscopefor misappropriation of fundsby the wrongdoers.
We all know that our Prime Minister has been working tirelessly to support people during this pandemic. Like the governments of various countries, the government of Bangladesh is facing dual challenges. These include problems related to public health and economic fallout. Therefore, it is becoming difficult for the government to find strategies to deal with both the challenges, as the situation of COVID-19 infection has taken a devastating shape in the country despite the efforts of the government to stop the spread of infection. In such a situation, if hybrid politicians abuse the situation to make money with the support of political leaders and high officials, they should also be punished.This is the test for the government, repeatedly stating about zero-tolerance against corruption. Any corruption during this pandemic is a crime against humanity, as the entire nation along with the government of Bangladesh has been passing anxioustime to overcome the COVID-19 trauma. Thus, the government should take bold decisions to prosecute not only hybrid leaders like Shahed, but also those who committed the crime of abusing their power solely for the sake of money. If the government can prosecute them, the majority of our people will extend passionate support to the Prime Minister and AL at all times for successfully handling the worst ever crisis of the century.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.