INFLATED costs in public procurement, having already been effected, proposed or put on hold, appear to have woven a regular pattern of corruption, or intended corruption, in the year 2019. The issue has surfaced at intervals throughout the year and has not ceased to make the headlines. The first such incident of the year was reported in May, in which 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. An investigation report that the housing and public works ministry submitted to the court in July unearthed massive corruption in the procurement of the pillows, electric stoves and kettles and other household articles for the furnishing of flats for Russian experts — Tk 1.14 billion was spent on the furnishing of 966 flats where the actual cost was only Tk 772.2 million.
The latest such incident, still under review, is the proposal for the purchase of 164 tables and chairs at the cost of Tk 2.3 million under a project of Subhadhya Canal in Keraniganj that involves Tk 12.9 billion in all for the duration of three years — with each table coming to cost Tk 50,000 and each chair Tk 15,000 while officials say that table should not cost more than Tk 20,000 and a chair Tk 5,000. A member secretary of the agriculture, water resources and rural institutions wing of the Planning Commission says that the ministries and divisions used to spend the money given in block allocation on such purchase, often misusing the funds, as this way, they could avoid showing the cost of articles. The Planning Commission has now made mandatory the provision to show estimated costs of the materials planned for purchase under block allocation after the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant purchase scandal. But a series of such incidents have meanwhile taken place. Newer are of the incidents of the purchase proposals of the Dhaka South City Corporation and the Chattogram City Corporation. The Dhaka South City Corporation in October proposed to buy 44,598 light-emitting diode bulbs for Tk 2.89 billion, with each bulb coming to cost on an average at Tk 64,801, which, along with other issues, is said to have pushed the project cost to Tk 17.19 billion from the original Tk 12.02 billion. Under a similar project, the Chattogram City Corporation proposed to install 20,600 LED bulb fittings for Tk 904 million, with each unit coming to cost Tk 43,887 on an average, under an Indian supplier’s credit. The average cost of an LED lamppost of Tk 104,110, as proposed, is about 40 per cent higher than the estimated cost of Tk 64,801. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation in January 2018 was planning to buy 30,000 LED bulbs and lampposts for Rs 800 million, which is much lower than the unit cost that the Chattogram City Corporation estimated.
In what has followed, the government must stop such corruption or intended corruption by way of inflating costs in public procurement. It is all about public money squandered, or waiting to be squandered, away and it is all about the government’s failure to live up to people’s trust that the government would safeguard their hard-earned money.
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