Nearly Tk5m has been paid from the prime minister’s relief fund to cover the cost of DNA tests to confirm the identities of 321 bodies from the Rana Plaza disaster. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) recently issued a cheque for the amount to a government laboratory.
However, the state-run DNA lab did not send any request to the PMO regarding the expenses. Rather, they wrote a letter to the district commissioner (DC) of Dhaka to know who would bear the cost for the DNA tests.
The DC’s office also said they had written to the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) seeking financial assistance for the tests, but not to PMO.
But the BGMEA did not respond to the request, nor did it pay a single paisa for the analysis of 900 DNA samples from 321 unidentified victims and their relatives.
The sources claimed that some BGMEA officials tactfully collected the letter from the DNA lab authorities and forwarded it to the PM’s office, apparently to avoid making the payment from its account.
Sharif Akteruzzaman, head of the National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory, told that the BGMEA paid Tk600,000 to test 120 DNA samples after the Tazreen Garments fire incident. But this time, the lab did not receive any money from the apex body.
Sharif said the lab, located at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), has completed testing and matching about 80% of the DNA samples from the Rana Plaza victims.
But final identification cannot be done before installation of a specialized software in the laboratory.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence has agreed to provide Bangladesh with the Combined DNA Index System (Codis) free of cost to identify the bodies of Rana Plaza victims.
FBI experts would visit Dhaka in September to install the software at the national DNA lab. They will also give necessary training for running the system properly.
Before installing the software, the lab has to set up a compatible server, new computers and hardware on its own, at an estimated cost of Tk2m.
Lab officials, however, could not say for sure how long it would take to complete the identifications. Normally, seven to eight days is needed to prepare a DNA profile from blood, while it takes longer from bones.
To match the DNA from a large number of unidentified bodies could take years, they added.
The officials attributed the lack of skilled personnel, and most importantly, the absence of a Mass Fatality Identification
System (MFIS) software as reasons for the delay. A laboratory official said the DNA lab had sent a proposal to the finance ministry for allocation of funds to buy the MFIS software, but the ministry rejected it [Dhaka Tribune].