Thursday, March 13, 2008

Swindler NGOs: Lax admin control, irregularities led to crisis

Swindler NGOs

Taking advantage of lax administration and irregularities at social welfare office, 30 fraud NGOs swindled about 10 lakh people out of around Tk 500 crore in eight northwestern districts.

Based in Natore, the NGOs stretched business web in the name of voluntary organisations for the poor quite openly over Rajshahi, Naogaon, Bogra, Pabna, Joypurhat, Kustia and Dinajpur since March last year.

Even after leading swindler Freedom Unnayan Sangstha (FUS) disappeared with Tk 250 crore, the Natore district administration gave other NGOs green light at a meeting on March 3, ignoring general participants' opinions for arresting some officials.

Following that meeting, two more NGOs having 3.5 lakh members -- Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha, with around Tk 100 crore, and Palli Jagoroni Unnayan Sangstha with Tk 70 crore -- vanished.

Two separate probes into NGO activities revealed a number of anomalies last year, but the district administration mysteriously delayed taking action against these NGOs.

The investigation report by Natore Sadar UNO Mahbub Shahin exposed seven irregularities including money collection without receipt, not depositing collection to banks, and not getting approved monthly income and expenditure.

Another report by Abdullah Al Mujahid, a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) official, mentioned 10 discrepancies. Intriguingly, the report had even alerted that the NGOs might get away ruining the ignorant investors.

The NGOs were enrolling members taking Tk 6,400 per person against an offer of weekly dividend of Tk 570 until the total stands at Tk 29,640 in 52 weeks, 4.6 times higher than investment.

Each member was given conditions of bringing two more members for getting the dividend.

The victims said besides the attractive offer, police escort for the NGO men and law enforcers' frequent visits to their offices gave them confidence to invest.

Contacted, Natore Deputy Commissioner SM Ehsan Kabir pinned the blame on the police and social welfare office.

"It's them who had kept mum (about the NGOs). We had sent them copies of the probe reports... We later informed higher authorities and the home ministry.

"The decision (of allowing other NGOs on March 3) was taken unanimously only after the NGO men promised they would not escape, while local UP chairmen took their responsibility and police assured of watching them," the DC said.

Natore Superintendent of Police (SP) Shah Golam Mahmud refuted the allegations saying, "The police had no complaints to chase the NGOs."

Social Welfare Directorate (SWD) in a departmental probe found irregularities and on Monday suspended five officials of Natore office -- deputy directors Mir Bux and Azimussan, registration officers Ismail Hossain and Anisur Rahman, and clerk Abdul Mannan.

Filing departmental cases against these officials is underway, said SWD Director General Dr Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury.

Due to registration flaws, many 'unskilled' people like Ishaq Mia, a class-five pass former night guard at a Dhaka garment factory, became key persons of the NGOs.

On the other hand, many NGOs were operated by changing names, head offices and beyond registered territory.

The victims demanded a judicial as no investigation into the whole scam has yet to take place.
 

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