NATIONAL flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited has failed to earn a reputation; corruption has plagued its operation often interrupting its regular service to different destinations. Since its emergence in 1972, it has largely remained a losing concern, except for few years when it managed to make marginal profit. The civil aviation and tourism state minister informed the parliament on Sunday that Biman incurred a Tk 200 crore loss in 2017-2018. The minister also told the parliament that they have plans to introduce service in new routes and add new air craft to bring in more customers. The Anti Corruption Commission however thinks otherwise. In an enquiry report of the Commission, as reported in New Age on March 3, it has revealed that Biman high-ups, including some of its board members, have been misappropriating huge money through irregularities in procurement and leasing of planes, maintenance and overhauling, ground service and more. In 2017, acknowledging the problem, the previous state minister said, Biman is suffering from accountability crisis, yet he did not intervene to put an end to the double-dealings. In other words, the inaction on part of the government amounts to harboring corruption.
The probe report of ACC identified at least three major ways that corruption is undergoing in the operation of Biman. In case of purchase and lease of aircraft, some intermediary firms work as liaison between the service providers and the Biman high-ups. These companies make officials fix the specification of aircraft procurement in a way so that only the preferred companies got the work. They show estimated price several times the actual price. As a result, low-quality equipment is bought at two to three times higher the rate. According to the report, Biman lost several thousand crores of taka as a result of the influence of these intermediary companies. In case of maintenance and overhaul, officials and board members award the work to their preferred organisations and ‘loot’ hundreds of crores of taka. When it comes to tender invites, it is released at such a time when good companies do not have any stock of aircraft. As a result, Biman had to take lease of low-quality aircraft at higher rates from the companies preferred by the vested quarters. Internal as well as government audit teams raised numerous objections about the matter, but the objections remained unsettled every year. Therefore, civil society organisations against corruption are not wrong when they are saying, it is the government’s intentional inaction, that it has remained inactive with the full knowledge of corruption.
In the past years, Biman steadily squeezed out of the market as it lost a lot of business to other airlines, primarily because of the quality of service others have been offering. Merely adding aircrafts to the fleet and earmarking new routes, as suggested by the state minister in the parliament, would not help its image or earnings unless the ground and on-board services are improved. More importantly, systemic graft that has become almost synonymous with Biman is sincerely tackled.
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