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Bangladesh - October 5, 2023

Development projects are looting factories

Zarif Mahmud: Elections are around the corner and this is the last financial year under the current government. And a long-standing tradition in this country is that in the last year of the government’s tenure, clever opportunists break the rules and try to grab various privileges from the state.
And under that effort there are many things such as enacting various laws and regulations, sanctioning and waiving debts, granting financial benefits, obtaining work orders for construction and supply work, promotion and posting, traveling abroad, accepting and revising development projects, etc. And about this, some details of the charismatic cases that are happening one after another are being published almost every day in different media especially in newspapers.
However, these published details are only a small part of the full activity in this regard. The complete list is so long that it is not possible to compile it within the scope of such an article-it requires a separate bibliography.
There has been a hierarchy in taking such facilities in the past, as mentioned above. But this year it seems to be surpassing all records, especially in terms of taking up and revising development projects. Realizing the importance of the matter and the seriousness of the related inaction, an attempt has been made to shed some light on it.
However, it does not seem that any of the concerned approving authorities, undertaking institutions, concerned donor agencies or the policy makers of the state will refrain from taking the said action. But despite that, I think it is necessary to bring up the issue from the urge to protect conscience and morality.
The way in which development projects are being taken up in various irrational sectors and in arbitrary numbers without any kind of selection and judgment in order to catch the last-minute opportunity, it can be called nothing but looting. In most cases these projects are being undertaken without any feasibility study. In most cases these projects have nothing to do with the larger public interest; Rather, their main goal is to achieve individual and group benefits.
As no acceptable criteria are being followed in estimating the cost of various organs under their purview, their potential outcomes are also not verified. Even projects are being taken up which are causing harm to the country and the people. There are also several non-essential projects that are basically nothing more than commission sharing from construction work in the name of ostentatious development.
It is pertinent to note that in recent times, under various institutions, such huge buildings have been built in different parts of the country, even in remote areas, which are confusing to the eyes. But when it is known that most of those buildings have been lying unused for a long time, the chest actually becomes heavy with pain. Without verifying any need, under the cover of promotion of development, the country is not being developed by using the taxes paid by the people or loans brought in their name from abroad for the sharing of commission trade!
The Planning Commission is now having to struggle to deal with the arbitrariness of development projects. There is no need at all as innumerable such projects are gathering there almost every day for approval. There are countless projects coming up with cost estimates so inflated that even a contractor’s broad smile should freeze for a moment.
Allegations of inclusion of fake, fabricated, unreasonable and unnecessary expenditure sectors under both new and revised schemes are being raised. From the latest information published in the newspaper, it appears that this type of scam is going on in various donor-related projects including the World Bank. Of course, this kind of blatant opacity and immorality has been going on in donor-related projects since the time of Corona. Donor organizations are completely silent in this regard despite the fact that the newspapers and magazines have published enough information. But what is rotting on them? Do their headquarters have no control over the different country offices of the organizations?
The news published in the daily Jugantor on September 1, ‘Salary Tk 5 lakh only if you pass MA’. The news under the headline shows that Tk 1,028 of a project titled ‘Early Childhood Development Capacity Enhancement of Participating Union Parishad’ of the Local Government Department submitted to the Planning Commission for approval. Out of the estimated expenditure of Tk 95 crores, only Tk 950.15 crores have been earmarked for consultancy and non-essential manpower, which is 90 per cent of the total project cost.
Under the scheme, the monthly salary of Senior Project Management Specialist, Senior Grant Management Specialist and Senior Audit Specialist has been fixed at Tk 5 lakh. But the educational qualification is just a simple MA pass-no specialized knowledge and experience required. When asked about the reaction of the Hon’ble Planning Minister, he said that it is a terrible proposal.
Last September 15 news, under the science education expansion project of Tk 2500 crore, only Tk 20 crore has been kept for laboratories, the rest is for construction of buildings.
How did the project planning office, the recommending ministry, the approving commission and the last stage ECNEC (Executive Committee of the National Economic Council) feel that building construction means development of science education? A mutual agreement on the sharing of benefits and power (a ‘social contract’, in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s words) appears to be development to all concerned, but the powerless but conscious common people of this country understand that it has nothing to do with science education-let alone the development of science education. This is just the sharing of commissions at various levels, from contractors to politicians, bureaucrats to junior clerks on the construction cost money.
However, such terrible commission sharing under the development project started earlier and it is in that continuity that this horror has taken the form of such open looting today. And one of the documented evaluations of these innumerable robberies is the report prepared by the State Institution Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) on the power sector a few days ago, where the capacity charge system of this sector was mentioned as a looter model.
But it is unfortunate that despite the fact that the assessment is objective and is a direct part of the statutory responsibility assigned to IMED, due to this assessment, the concerned secretary and officer have to face immediate punishment. If the concerned institutions and individuals have to face the opposite danger instead of being praised while carrying out their statutory duties for the sake of maintaining order in the implementation of development projects, then the looting in this sector will gradually increase and it will turn into a wild loot in the election year – it is natural.
Besides, in the name of taking up and implementing various development projects, the work of project is now growing at an alarming pace under the ‘combined effort’. And the presence of such efforts has been publicly confirmed by the Minister of Planning a long time ago by stating that there is a tide of corruption in the country with development projects and organized corruption is taking place under them (Vanik Barta, 13 January 2021).
In such a situation, if we want to protect development projects from looting, it is first necessary to be stricter in approving projects from the policy-making stage, where the Planning Minister himself is also responsible. It was called ‘terrible’, but all the terrible projects were approved again, then all those funny truths and actual behavior became contradictory! On the other hand, those who send these terrible projects from various ministries, offices and organizations to the Planning Commission, don’t they have any responsibility and accountability?
If there is, then how come these projects full of inconsistency and opacity to the Planning Commission or Ecnec? So, does this not prove that the corruption and opacity of the ministries around these projects continues unhindered? And from this lack of hindrance, does it not also appear that the policy makers who take decisions on behalf of the state are very consciously tolerating these corruptions, opacity and looting for special purposes? But does the constitution of this country give anyone the right to indulge corruption in the state initiative, spread it everywhere and eat the resources of the state and the people in this way?

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