Staff Correspondent: The government has taken up a project with World Bank loan support for the expatriate workers affected by Corona. A total of 30 welfare centers were opened in 29 districts of the country on July 30 under the Recovery and Advancement of Informal Sector (RAISE) project for workers who lost their jobs due to Corona.
The official journey of this project began with the opening of the welfare center, but before that the project money was lost. Allegations of irregularities and financial corruption have been made against the former director of this project under the Wage Earners Welfare Board of the Ministry of Expatriates and Foreign Employment.The investigation also found evidence of financial corruption. But he was only removed from the post of project director without taking any action.
According to the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Employment, on October 27, 2021, the Wage Earners Welfare Board and the World Bank signed a subsidy agreement for the reintegration project of repatriated workers due to Covid. Earlier, on July 28, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved this project in the Ecnec meeting. On January 20, 2022, the Subsidiary Grant Agreement of the Welfare Board was signed with the Finance Department.
The World Bank has given a loan of Tk 425 crore for this project. And the Bangladesh government has given Tk 2.3 million to this project.
The duration of this project is Tk 427 crore till June 2024. However, due to the late start of the project, the planning commission has proposed to extend its duration.
According to the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Employment, after reviewing the income-expenditure account for the seven months of the financial year 2022-23, it has been found that despite the fact that the project work has not started at the field level, Tk 1 crore 86 lakh 59 thousand has been spent in the project office. Average cost per month is Tk 26.65 lakh. The investigation officers of the ministry felt that this cost was too high before the project work started.
The planning division of the ministry issued a letter to the then project director on February 15 this year after reviewing the income and expenditure of seven months. The letter directed the Director General of the Welfare Board to closely monitor the physical progress of the project work and the cost statement.
Irregularities in 7 months’ expenditure
After reviewing the income and expenditure of the project for seven months, it is known that Tk 35.66 lakh has been spent on car rental in seven months. Tk 5 lakh 9 thousand was spent every month on the car. In addition, the consultancy cost in December and January is Tk 21 lakh 65 thousand 806. That is, Tk 10 lakh 82 thousand has been spent every month.
Tk 12.12 lakh has been spent on purchasing computer equipment such as printer toner and pen drive. Besides, Tk 10.76 lakh was spent in seven months to buy paper and pen for the project office. In other words, about one and a half lakh taka worth of paper and pens have been bought every month. Apart from this, Tk 2 lakh 51 thousand have been spent on internet, that is, Tk 36 thousand have been paid for the internet bill every month.
Penalties for Irregularities ‘Removed’
The former project director was removed due to evidence of various irregularities in the investigation. Abdul Wadud. According to the notification of the Ministry of Public Administration on April 24, he was transferred as Cantonment Executive Officer.
According to the notification, his job has been transferred to the Ministry of Defense after withdrawing from his current post and workplace. He joined there on April 27. Later, on October 3, the Ministry of Public Administration transferred him to the position of Director of the Information Commission under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. He joined the Information Commission on October 9 when the Ministry of Defense released him on October 8.
According to the investigation of the ministry, the evidence of money embezzlement through the appointment of money exchange office assistant, unethical work in the project office, irregularities in the purchase of health protection materials, irregularities in the entertainment bill, irregularities in the interior bill of the project office, purchase of furniture and fake bill vouchers has been found against him.
According to sources, former project director Abdul Wadud wrote a letter against the deputy director of the project to take action according to the government employee rules when he objected to the payment of the bill because he did not understand the irregularly purchased goods.
Additional expenditure Tk 20 lakh
The officials investigated and found out that even though the field work of the project has not started, the expenditure has been shown as Tk 4 lakh 87 thousand in the name of publicity. The bill was paid through a company called J&Z Enterprises, despite the obligation to purchase through invitation to quotation as per World Bank policy, which was not followed.
Apart from this, the car supplier company has been paid the rent according to kilometers through the contract. In 12 months, Tk 19.80 lakh has been given to the car supplier for fuel cost.
Tk 13 lakh paid for car
According to the investigation report, 200 liters of fuel is allotted for movement in Dhaka according to government calculations for a director general. According to that, Tk 3 lakh 12 thousand is due for the fuel cost of the project manager’s Harrier car in 12 months, but Tk 10.20 lakh has been withdrawn including tax. As such, Tk 7 lakh 8 thousand have been given to the supplier. On the other hand, in the last 12 months, Tk 960,000 has been paid to the supplier for the fuel of the microbus used for the staff. In this case also the bill was not paid as per the log book.
Talking to the officials, it is known that Tk 30 thousand per month has been paid for microbus fuel through the project manager. As such, Tk 3 lakh 60 thousand have been spent on micro fuel in 12 months. In this case, an additional amount of Tk 6 lakh has been given to the supplier. Overall, a total of Tk 13 lakh 8 thousand has been paid to the vehicle supplier for the fuel of the two vehicles.
According to ministry sources, the car rental contract was canceled from June 1 this year as these irregularities were detected after the new project director MushraratZebeen joined on April 1.
Recruitment of office assistants
It is alleged that Akash Hossain was appointed as project office assistant in exchange of around Tk 250,000. This money is collected through Sajid working as an office assistant in the ministry. When Akash was later dropped from office support, he demanded a refund. Abdul Wadud talked to Akash several times on the phone and promised to return the money. But when the money was not returned, when I complained to the Air Ministry, an employee named Sajid assured me that the money would be returned. Later, after many arguments, Sajid paid Tk 1 lakh 70 thousand in cash. Bank check in the name of own account to pay the remaining amount. But Akash told the investigating officers that it was not possible to withdraw the money as there was no money in the account.
Irregularities in appointment of specialists
Irregularities were also found in the recruitment application of Procurement Specialist and Senior Financial Management Specialist in the investigation of the Ministry. On investigation, it is seen that the application mentions an honorarium of Tk 4 lakh including monthly tax. But without reducing the remuneration in the negotiation, the former project director paid the VAT money from the project and made a contract with a total remuneration of 4 lakh rupees including tax-VAT.
Also, in the Senior Financial Management Specialist (SFMS) job application, the applicant claims a salary of Tk 3 lakh per month. There is no mention of tax-VAT in the application. But in the negotiation, a contract was made through the former project manager for a total of Tk 4 lakh 80 thousand including tax-VAT.
Speaking to the officials of the Ministry, it is known that the project and the contract between it were canceled from September 1 as the World Bank report mentioned re-evaluation of SFMS efficiency and then verbal instructions from the World Bank. The irregularity in the contract with them is clear.
Officials also said that after objections to the World Bank report, verbal requests and voluntary cancellation of the contract by the procurement specialist were found on most of the purchases, his contract was canceled on August 1.
Irregularities in project bank account
A special account was opened for the project at the Moghbazar branch of Janata Bank during the time of the former project director. As such, against the deposited amount, only Tk 9 lakhs of interest is deposited in seven months. But according to the instructions of the finance department and Janata Bank head office, interest of Tk 60.48 lakh was supposed to be received. The deputy director of the project raised a written objection in this regard. Later, as the matter was not resolved, a letter was sent to Janata Bank’s head office asking for a detailed explanation, and Tk 98 lakh was collected as interest till June this year.
Demand explanation of financial irregularities from the former project manager
Former project director Md. Wadud Hossainsought an explanation of the financial and administrative irregularities in this project under the Wage Earners Welfare Board. On July 13, Director General of the Welfare Board Hamidur Rahman in a letter asked for his statement within 10 working days. It is mentioned in the letter that the computer materials were purchased in the RAISE project by breaking the approved process of the World Bank, the materials were purchased for the project without the approval of the World Bank. In addition, procurement activities were completed and billed without following public procurement rules with internet connection institutions. The same has been done for the interior work of the project office and procurement of health protection materials.
3 project managers in 2 years
Three project managers have joined so far after the deal was signed in 2021. After the release of Abdul Wadud, Wage Earners Welfare Board Director and Joint Secretary MusharratZebeen joined in his place. After joining on April 1, the Ministry of Public Administration transferred him to Bangladesh Economic Zone (BEZA) on September 4. Therefore, he was released from the Wage Earners Welfare Board on September 20. Sourendra Nath Saha joined as the new project director in his place on October 19.
When asked why so many reshuffles in the project director position in such a short period of time, the senior secretary of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Foreign Employment said. Ahmed MuniruchSalehin told that maybe the number of experienced officers has decreased than before. That’s why maybe a good project manager… whoever is coming in now hopefully stays.
When asked if any action has been taken regarding the irregularities, he said that it is under investigation. We can take swift action against it. We have zero tolerance against corruption in this project or any project of the Ministry. We will take appropriate action, whoever it may be.
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