Staff Correspondent: The project for developing an optical-fibre cable network to enable the fifth generation (5G) telecom services in the country has been delayed by months due to the malpractices of the recently suspended BTCL managing director, said sources.
The much-awaited 5G project had fallen into trouble since former BTCL managing director Asaduzzaman Chowdhury on 6 April denounced the technical evaluation committee’s report on tenders for setting up 5G infrastructure across the country.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved a project involving Tk10.59 billion in February 2022 to develop an optical-fibre network for the 5G services in the country. As part of the project, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited (BTCL) is implementing a Tk 4.63 billion project to set up a 5G infrastructure across the country.
Huawei International and Huawei Technologies (Bangladesh) jointly submitted the lowest bid of Tk3.26 billion, allowing BTCL to save Tk1.37 billion from the estimated cost, said sources.
The second lowest bidder was also a Chinese company – ZTE Corporation and its Bangladesh arm – who offered a price of Tk4.15 billion for the project.
Finnish company Nokia and local company Smart Technologies jointly offered a price of Tk5.79 billion, becoming the third lowest bidder for the project, said sources.
The Technical Evaluation Committee for the tender includes BTCL General Manager Aslam Hossain as joint secretaries member secretary, Mohammad Jahir Ryhan Shadi of Police Telecom, Shafiqur Rahman PD of Rooppur Power Plant Project, Prof Forkan Uddin of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), BTCL Project Director Monjir Ahmed, Telecom DIviosn Joint Secretary Rashida Ferdouse, as members and Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Managing Director Azam Ali its chair.
The committee submitted their report regarding the biddings on 6 April.
Former BTCL managing director Asaduzzaman Chowdhury did not respond within the stipulated two weeks of receiving the technical committee’s report and sought further clarification after 24 days of receiving it.
He made an illegal exercise over the project involving Tk4.63 billion, but as the head of the procuring entity he was permitted to approve project parts involving Tk150 million only.
Rejecting the technical committee’s evaluation, the former BTCL managing director also took the initiative to call for tenders again for the project on 1 June this year – around 55 days after the submission of the evaluation report.
During a pre-bid meeting chaired by the former telecom secretary Khalilur Rahman on 28 September 2022, all the vendors were present and none of them raised any objection about the directions of the project.
However, violating the project guidelines, ZTE Corporation on 25 April 2023 sent a letter directly to Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar, requesting him to review their opponent company’s proposals strictly.
That letter prompted Asaduzzaman Chowdhury to delay the tender awarding process and approach new bidding for it, a BTCL official told the Daily Sun on condition of anonymity.
Asaduzzaman Chowdhury was temporarily suspended by the Posts and Telecommunications Division on 7 November. The Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) and the telecom ministry found that he had been unlawfully disrupting the tender process, causing a delay of seven months in opening the bids.
The authorities opened the tender box on 8 November.
“It is proven that Mr Asaduzzaman Chowdhury followed malpractices to scrap the tender process illegally. Such practices mean ‘misconduct’ in accordance with the public servant act,” reads a letter signed by Telecom Secretary Abu Hena Morshed Jaman on 7 November.
The CPTU’s review, following a tender bidder’s complaint earlier this year, found that Asaduzzaman acted beyond his jurisdiction, and violated the BTCL board of directors’ directions, according to the suspension letter.
Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said the government will make decisions regarding the project based on the quality of equipment for network improvement.
“We will take decisions considering the country’s benefit. We cannot allow obsolete equipment for a national network infrastructure. BTCL has a managing director and project director, who will take decisions independently,” Mustafa Jabbar told Daily Sun.
The “Tender of Supply Installation, Testing and Commissioning of ASON-based DWDM Transmission System on Turn-key Basis” is the largest one under the infrastructure development for nationwide 5G readiness.
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