THE detailed project proposal on the Chittagong Medical University that was sent to the Planning Commission and was duly rejected because of what the health ministry seeks to term ‘mistakes’ and the university authorities term ‘oversight’ created a furore. The furore, which took place much after the commission had rejected the proposal in early September, is reported to have stemmed from the pricing of articles and apparatus for the university. The health ministry proposal, involving about Tk 28 billion, set Tk 27,720 for the price of a pillow and Tk 28,000 for its cover while the products are sold for prices in the range of Tk 300–1,000 on the market. It set Tk 84,000 for the price of a disposable surgical cap and mask which are sold for Tk 100–200; it also set Tk 35,000 for the price of a piece of sterile hand glove which sells for Tk 20–50 and Tk 56,000 for a 5ml test tube which sells for Tk 15–30. Yet, the health ministry, which seeks to say that its officials have failed to detect the abnormally high prices of inexpensive articles, has found this to be ‘normal in planning stages’ and has found ‘no scope for corruption.’
While the university vice-chancellor says that he has failed to check the prices of all the articles in the proposal, which was prepared by a contracting organisation, the health ministry says that proposal, prepared by an organisation following due process, was as examined by the university authorities and the medical education wing of the ministry before its submission to the commission. But the ministry official involved in the examination failed to detect the high prices proposed for some items. But viewed in the context of earlier such incidents, it appears that the Planning Commission, rightly, stood in the way before the move for corruption could come to fruition. In an incident reported in May, the authorities building blocks of flats under the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project bought pillows for Tk 5,957 each and carried them up to upper floors for Tk 760 each; an electric stove was bought for Tk 7,747 and carried up for Tk 6,650; and an electric kettle was bought for Tk 5,313 and carried up for Tk 2,945. Similar corruption was earlier reported in the purchase of books and medical equipment at two public medical colleges in August and September. The Anti-Corruption Commission, as Transparency International, Bangladesh is reported to have said in the middle of September, appears not to have made any visible progress in looking into the allegations of such financial corruption in public procurement process.
The explanations that both the authorities have given in defence of the issue at hand appear to be overly naive and a case of raising a shield against the ‘probable connivance of a section of government officials’ who have prepared the proposal. The incident at hand also constitutes a gross deficit in compliance and an absence of internal control and checks and balances in project planning, design and approval. Although the health ministry seeks to say that steps would be taken against anyone in the university and the medical education wing if the negligence is found to be intentional, action against the people responsible appears imperative in whether the negligence being intentional or not. The Anti-Corruption Commission should also take up the issue, and other such preceding issues, seriously.
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