Covid, corruption and connection
Bangladesh isn't exactly a role model in the management of the corona crisis but it is throwing up excellent examples on how to fake test results and make money. The criminals are all linked to one powerful group or another.
Meanwhile, the government has refused to give permission to a test kit developed by the health outfit Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK) as there was concern about its accuracy. Many think that GK’s founder Dr. Zafarullah Chowdhury’s political leaning towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the opposition political party, had a role in the decision.
While GK has been going through the formal and official route, other smarter players have simply been more down to earth and creative. They collected samples, didn't test them, but issued certificates as they felt like and collected the money. The result is a huge scam that has shown that the general structure of corona testing and certification is at an absurdly low level. The result was immediate and international as it made big news in Italy. Bangladeshis on a flight were turned back from there. It is no longer a local level crime.
The fake testing industry and Regent hospital
Two cases have made headlines. While one is that of a scamster who also had connections with the health authorities, the other case is that of a member of the ruling party itself. This has not embarrassed the ruling party as they are made of sterner stuff. But it shows that in Bangladesh, connections can take you almost anywhere.
The person in question is Shahed, owner of the Regent group of companies which in turn owned a hospital where Covid patients were supposed to be treated free and the bill was to be paid by the Government's Health Department. They were also supposed to test and certify Covid patients positive or negative.
A few small problems were involved in this matter. One, the hospital was uncertified and without a license, hence not legally established. So why did the government issue the contract is a big question. A picture of Shahed with the Health minister signing the contract had been published several months back.In fact, the hospital was running illegally and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the law enforcers with armed services personnel as members, and the police said that the hospital had been raided before. It had a sordid reputation in the neighborhood as well. So why was such a hospital granted such a sensitive task to handle?
The Directorate officials have said that the hospital had agreed to serve Covid patients free and not many were ready to do this at that point. The officials had "no option" but to grant them permission. They had however said that it was given subject to the condition they renewed their license. But that was not done.
But another media source said that the hospital was selected despite reservations due to "pressure from above". Since it isn't confirmed, it does seem that regular process was not followed. Knowing the way Bangladesh operates and how Regent continued to function, both probably played a role.
What Regent did, was to bill patients for services when it was for free, and bill the government when they had already been paid by the patients. More seriously they took samples for testing, didn't test them and then gave fake reports. Corona testing has grown as a major cottage industry in Bangladesh and people are getting used to it.
Ruling party link
People would really not have bothered had it not been for the fact that Shahed was also an up and coming leader of the ruling party. The reason of this quick recognition was also the fact that he was on most TV chat shows basically representing the interest of the ruling party. So, his face was very recognizable and social media had fun running rude and naughty Covid memes.
RAB has said that his obsession was to take pictures with biggies but most now on are with Awami League leaders including its General Secretary and ministers. His pictures with Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders also surfaced but RAB said he used such pictures to fool people. But that he was a member of the Awami League International Affairs Committee made the connection accusation legitimate.
Awami League leaders said that he was a member of the previous committee but couldn't properly explain how he managed to attend all the meetings if he was not a member. Names were taken of his patrons but it really didn't matter.
The final bit of news that he has 32 criminal cases against him, had been arrested several times, was cozy with many shady deals etc was expected. Nothing really surprises as sleaze is part of politics in Bangladesh.