Bangladesh

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COVID-19 scams keep surfacing 

Electronics trader pockets Tk 8.28cr without delivering goods  

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:43, Aug 28,2020 | Updated: 10:17, Aug 28,2020

 
 

An electronic equipment supplier that secured a deal to supply medical products, including KN95 masks and infrared thermometers, has misappropriated about Tk 8.28 crore without delivering the items.

SIM Corporations secured the deal worth Tk 9.20 crore for the medical supplies under the World Bank-funded COVID-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness project.

The WB-funded project under the Directorate General of Health Services has recently hit headlines over a number of procurement corruption scandals.

SIM Corporations made off with Tk 8.20 crore in two installments — Tk 2.76 crore on May 10 and Tk 5.52 crore on June 14 — before the technical committee of the project made the evaluation of the quoted goods.

Helal Uddin, head of the health ministry’s Health Services Division (planning), who looks after the WB-aided coronavirus project, told New Age that he was not involved in the evaluation of the procurement details.

‘The project director can talk about the details,’ he said.

Project director Kazi Shamim Hossain did not receive the repeated phone calls made by New Age.

The procurement agreement was signed on April 18 when the project director was Iqbal Kabir, who was later removed from the project after corruption surfaced in a number of shady deals.

He also could not be reached by phone.

The Rapid Action Battalion, who uncovered the corruption, filed a case with the Kafrul police station over the dubious deal involving SIM Corporations on Thursday.

The battalion said that it found in its investigation that SIM Corporations was trying to supply substandard medical supplies.

In earlier incidents, automobile parts supplier Jadid Automobiles, who secured a contract for supplying personal protective equipment and KN95 masks worth Tk 32 crore to the project, escaped after pocketing the initial payment of Tk 9 crore.

That firm too did not supply any PPE.

Corruption was unearthed in two other similar procurement deals under the project.

Acting on a tip-off that some medical supplies were stored without approval from the DGHS, the RAB said that it found the substandard KN95 masks at a house in

Mohakhali DOHS and that those were imported by SIM Corporations for supplying under the deal.

The house was rented by then project director Iqbal Kabir himself, the RAB found out.

The project’s monitoring and evaluation consultant Abdur Rahim confirmed the information, saying that the substandard masks were seized in presence of him.

The RAB accused Sami Al Islam, Ishtiaq Rahman and Mostafa Monwar Mim in the case – all involved in SIM Corporations, stating that they were in hiding.

None of the accused could be reached for comment. Their phone sets were found switched off.

The incident follows a series of scams that have recently hit the healthcare system, including the COVID-19 emergency project.

In one of the shady deals, SRH Design and Fashion reportedly cashed in Tk 16 crore by supplying substandard PPE and KN95  masks.

In another such deal, about Tk 5 crore was spent on a mobile app related to COVID-19, while such an app costs about Tk 5-10 lakh.

After COVID-19 has broken out, the country’s healthcare system was suffering from shortage of necessary medical supplies.

The COVID-19 emergency project was launched with a Tk 1,127-crore fund, mostly provided by the World Bank, for quick supplies of necessary medical products.

But procurement contracts were dished out amid the pandemic in gross violation of procurement rules, officials said.

Transparency International Bangladesh in a study in June also said that corruption in purchases of medical supplies and lack of transparency in procurement processes were going on amid the COVID-19 crisis.

‘The coronavirus calamity is being used as an opportunity to make quick bucks through corruption,’ said TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman.

A number of corruption incidents have been exposed in the country’s healthcare system related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including supply of fake N95 masks to doctors and forged COVID-19 test certificate business by Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care.

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