Whatever govt does tends to come at a high price, mostly

Published at 12:00am on May 20, 2019

WHATEVER the government or its agencies do mostly tends to come, it seems, at a high price. The latest case in example is the cases of costs associated with the furnishing of 966 flats in blocks reaching up to 16 and 20 storeys constructed mainly for Russian engineers involved in the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project and project officials. A media report on the purchase of household articles for the flats, which immediately caught public attention and started doing the rounds on the social networking site Facebook, showed that pillows that were bought cost Tk 5,957 each and was carried up to the upper floors each at the cost of Tk 760; an electric stove was bought for Tk 7,747 and was carried up for Tk 6,650; an electric kettle cost Tk 5,313 which was carried up for Tk 2,945; a room cleaner cost Tk 12,018 which was carried up for Tk 6,650; an electric iron cost Tk 4,154 which was carried up for Tk 2,945; a television set cost Tk 86,970 which was carried up for Tk 7,698; and a refrigerator cost Tk 94,250 which was carried up for Tk 12,521. The Public Works Department is reported to have purchased the household articles. But all, including the public works and housing minister and the executive director of the Transparency International, Bangladesh, believe that the costs, of both the articles and the carrying, are abnormal.
The government has already instituted an investigation of the ‘abnormally’ high prices and, as the relevant minister said, the committee is to submit the report in seven working days. But the government is reported to have approved in January 2018 Tk 1.46 billion in cost for the widening of a kilometre of road in the capital city, which some in the Planning Commission then viewed to be much higher than the average expenditure of other similar projects in the city. The World Bank is reported to have found the cost for a kilometre of highway in Bangladesh to be the world’s highest. The World Bank, on the basis of the cost in 2005–2007, said that the construction of a kilometre of road in Bangladesh costs $2.5 million to $11.9 million while it costs $35,900–$45,600 in India, $63,100 in Nepal, $59,500 in Thailand, $40,700 in Bulgaria, $55,200 in Brazil, $60,800 in the Philippines, $73,000 in Nigeria and $85,400 in Vietnam. The cost for a kilometre of a flyover in Dhaka came to stand at Tk 1.86 billion while the figure is, generally, Tk 1 billion in India and Tk 700 million in Pakistan. All these ‘abnormally’ high prices reek of corruption, in one way or the other.
As for costs associated with the Rooppur project, it is only after media reports that the authorities instituted an investigation, which shows that a systemic safeguard against corruption is largely absent. While the government investigation is going on, the Anti-Corruption Commission should institute an investigation on its own as government inquires into financial irregularities are mostly reported to have been mere bureaucratic exercises.