BBS set to conduct costly population census 2021

Irregularities in appointing consultants, crores to be spent on data processing, printing

HM Murtuza | Published: 00:20, Sep 19,2020


The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has planned to spend 211 times the amount spent on data processing in the 2011 population census on the same task for the forthcoming population census.

The amount to be spent on stationery procurement this time is 10 times the amount spent in the 2011 event.

In the 2021 census, the BBS is set to spend 75 times the amount spent on map procurement.

The project cost of the 2021 census was set at Tk 1,761.79 crore, up by 643 per cent, or Tk 1,524.79 crore, from the Tk 237 crore spent for the 2011 census.

Such an abnormal spending decision in the Population and Housing Census 2021 Project at a time when the government has been asking all the authorities to avoid unnecessary spending for any project implementation, raised concerns among experts.

Asked about the irregularities and abnormality, planning minister MA Mannan said that the allegations were very serious and the issues would be scrutinised properly.

As per the development project proposal of the 2021 census, the BBS has estimated Tk 268 crore to be spent on data entry and processing while the cost was a mere Tk 1.02 crore during the 2011 census.

Use of the BBS’s own computer wing in the 2011 census was a major reason behind such reasonable spending.

While for the 2021 census, BBS has planned to hire a data processing firm at the cost of Tk 160 crore to analyse and process the data without engaging its own wing for the task.

Besides, the BBS has hired a firm to appoint 650 data entry operators at the cost of Tk 108 crore for five years even though 10 intelligent character readers would be procured for data input.

An ICR is capable of processing up to 10,000 questionnaires in one hour, requiring no additional data entry operator for the procedure.

BBS officials said that during 2011 census and 2018 agricultural census, no data entity operators were recruited for data input.

Apart from appointing a data processing firm, data entry operators and ICR machines, the project contained three posts for data processing-related consultants.

A data computing and ICR consultant would be appointed for four years at the cost of Tk 4 lakh per month, taking the total amount paid to the appointee to Tk 1.92 crore.

Two more consultants would be appointed for data processing for three years on a Tk 4 lakh monthly fee for each, taking the total spending for the consultants to Tk 2.52 crore.

For the 2021 census, per questionnaire data entry and processing cost was estimated at Tk 67, up by 211 times the amount of Tk 0.32 spent for this purpose in the 2011 census.

Former BBS director Abu Mohammad Saidur Rahman was critical of such high spending, he said, ‘The estimated expenses for the population census are abnormally high and unbelievable considering the amount spent in the immediate population census and agriculture census.’

‘What makes them estimate the cost of technology at such a high rate in the population census 2021 while technology has gradually become cheaper over the years, argued Saidur, also former project director of economic census 2003 and agriculture census 2007.

‘It is beyond my understanding, why would there be a requirement for appointing such a large number of human resources when there are ICRs for data entry,’ asked Saidur.

‘If three consultants were appointed and 10 ICRs were procured, the rest of the data processing task can easily be done by using the computer wing of the BBS based on the instructions of the consultants and there was no sense in wasting Tk 160 crore in public money by appointing a data processing firm and another Tk 108 crore on data entry operators,’ he pointed out.

Apart from the data entry-related expenses, an expensive car worth Tk 2.7 crore would be procured for this census along while another Tk 27.1 crore were set aside for satellite maps.

The estimated spending for the map in the census 2021 is 181 time higher than the Tk 15 lakh spent for the same purpose in the agricultural census 2018.

Even though the required map is available at the office of the BBS, the allocation of Tk 27.1 crore was nothing but a waste of public money at a difficult time like the coronavirus pandemic, BBS officials said.

The motive behind setting an abnormal spending plan and the individuals involved behind framing such an ambitious project came into question when irregularities surfaced in the appointment of national census consultant for the project at the very beginning.

For the post of National Census Consultant, a former government official was appointed even though the person has an educational background in zoology and joined the civil service as an admin cadre.

Following a complaint lodged by one of the applicants for the post of national census consultant, the central procurement technical unit of the planning ministry declared the appointment illegal on August 25 this year.

Besides, another complaint was already lodged with the central procurement technical unit over the selection of a firm for hiring 650 data-entry operators at the cost of Tk 108 crore.

Asked about the irregularities and inconsistency in the project, BBS secretary Muhammad Yamin Chowdhury told New Age on Thursday last week, ‘A writ petition was filed regarding the cancellation of the appointment of the national census consultant and it would be resolved in due legal course.’

‘Legal action would follow if any irregularities take place on any level,’ he Yamin who also added, ‘The project was approved by a competent authority following adequate scrutiny, said.

 ‘Whether there was any requirement for appointing data entry operators or the data processing firm was also decided by the authority and there was no scope for any argument now,’ the BBS secretary said.

The overestimation also involves a list of costly supplies.

The estimated cost of a set of A4-size questionnaire including binding was set at Tk 8.37 in the census 2020 whereas the cost for a similar set was one-tenth of the current amount in the 2018 agricultural census.

‘While the BBS has its own printing facility, why do they need to outsource the printing of the questionnaire set to vendors,’ asked Saidur Rahman.

‘Price of a questionnaire set was estimated at Tk 8 for the project, causing the cost to shoot up to around 4.55 crore, when a piece of a branded offset A4-size paper can be purchased from a retail shop at less than Tk 0.6,’ he argued.

A comparison between the two projects shows that the total cost of the questionnaire printing was estimated at Tk 40 crore, 847 per cent or Tk 35.78 crore higher than the cost of the 2018 agri census when only Tk 4.22 crore was spent for this purpose.

Under the project, the BBS would use special pen and each of pen would cost Tk 100 while the cost was Tk 20 in the previous census.

In the DPP of the census, an allocation of Tk 540 crore was set aside for making a list of the households while the same entity has been working on preparing household list under another project at the cost of Tk 720 crore.

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