The government project monitoring agency’s findings in the six municipalities are indicative of how such irregularities in small works lead to massive misuse of public money in a Tk1,000 crore project
The construction of two kilometres of a 7.7-kilometre linking road of Gazipur Bangabandhu Safari Park has been completed under a development project.
However, these two kilometres have been linked to a project that had not been part of the original scheme of the 7.7km road project.
The cost involved in the construction of each kilometre of the linking road has been estimated at Tk65 lakh.
It therefore follows that the inclusion of the already built road in the project of the forest department has created the scope for the embezzlement of over Tk1.30 crore.
This is but one instance of the misuse of public funds on the part of the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) in minor works of construction, repair and widening of roads, drains and culverts across the country.
The LGED has so far implemented the all important Urban Infrastructure Development Project (second phase) involving Tk1,258.82 crore in 266 municipalities. Of the amount, Tk1,227.21 crore was spent till December last year.
For its part, the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) at the planning ministry inspected works in six municipalities.
Not maintaining instructions mentioned in original designs, not returning the saved money to the government fund, embezzlement of allotted amounts by mayors, shoddy quality of work, approval of projects without any design, and building of roads and footpaths according to the mayors' whims are the irregularities the IMED found in its study of the road and drainage works in municipalities.
Officials associated with the government's project monitoring agency said their findings in the six municipalities are indicative of how such irregularities in small works lead to massive misuse of public money in a development project involving over Tk1,000 crore.
The project, which began in January 2011, was envisaged to end within three and a half years. But, shockingly, it took eight years to be completed, causing an additional drain on the state of Tk76 crore.
Apart from the municipality project, the IMED also inspected works under two more projects, one in Gazipur Safari Park and the other in three hill districts.
The department completed its inspection reports by September.
Gazipur Safari Park
The forest department undertook a project of Tk5.50 crore for widening the 7.7 km Gazipur Safari Park link road.
Of the 7.7 km road, 2.44 km had already been constructed under another project of the LGED.
Therefore, the forest department now does not need to construct that portion of the link road. But as the LGED has not informed the forest department about the portion of the road already completed, the ongoing project of the department continues to include the construction of the entire length of the link road under its plan.
The apprehension is thus that the scope for a misappropriation of Tk1.30 crore has been created by the LGED. An estimated Tk65 lakh will be spent on the construction of a kilometre of the road in question.
At present, work on the construction of 5.26 km of the link road is going on.
Jahidul Kabir, director of the link road widening project, told The Business Standard that though the project is under the authority of the forest department, the LGED has been doing the work on it.
"It has already built more than two kilometres of the road under another project, but the LGED did not inform us about the matter," he said.
"That is why under the original terms of the project, the length of the road was not reduced," he said.
According to Kabir, the project will be revised again and corrective measures will be taken. That will prevent any chances of corruption creeping in, he said.
Corruption in Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project
The IMED, in its observations, came across a number of irregularities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project (CHTRDP), Phase-2, in the LGED part of it. The project is being implemented in Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban.
The IMED team visited an upazila and a union in Rangamati in February and discovered a 6,010-metre road and a 115-metre culvert having been built. As per the project proposal, however, a 6,500-metre long road and a 175-metre culvert were supposed to be constructed.
In the proposal design, the width of the upazila road was 24 feet – 18 feet for the main road and 6 feet for the shoulder. But the IMED inspection found varying widths at different points.
The width of the main road was found to be 12.79 feet at a point and 12.46 feet at another.
But that was not all. The team noted that the width was 12.13 feet and 13.50 feet at other points.
The length of the Betbunia Chairy Bazar- Shantir Hat-Baro Aulia road had been earmarked at 4,680 metres as per the proposal, but it was found to be 315.50 feet less.
Though 315.50 feet of the road were missing, the documents related to the completed work showed that the LGED had paid the construction firm the bill for the full length of the road mentioned in the proposal.
Besides, the width of this road was found below to be 12 feet.
Irregularities in building infrastructures in municipalities
A total of Tk4.57 crore was given to Haragachh municipality in Rangpur for building roads, drains, culverts and bridges. Though after the completion of the project, Tk6 lakh remained unused, it was not paid back to the public exchequer. Allegations are there that the mayor kept the money with him.
Besides, the IMED team noted that though a seven-km road was supposed to be built, 56 metres were missing. The quality of the road construction is very poor.
A total of Tk2.69 crore was given to the authorities of Domar municipality in Nilphamari to build five kilometres of road and 500 metres of drains. But, the authorities paid the construction firm Tk2.68 crore.
Hakimpur municipality in Dinajpur signed a Tk48.88 lakh agreement with a construction company for the construction of an 852-metre road. But it paid the firm Tk47.68 lakh.
Besides, the authorities of the municipality constructed an 8.24 km road though it was supposed to build 10km. The municipality was given an allocation of around Tk5 crore for the project.
Similar anomalies were noticed in Badarganj municipality of Rangpur. The authorities of the municipality constructed 3.248km where they had been given funds for building a 3.8km road.
Besides, the drain constructed from the upazila health complex to the river is open and has no cover.
In Syedpur municipality, Tk2.89 crore was given to develop 6.64 km roads, but the authorities of the municipality constructed 6.675 km roads.
The IMED officials found that 40 millimeters of carpeting were done only on1.7 km of roads while the rest of the roads were given a 25 millimetre carpeting.
In Parbatipur municipality, many infrastructure developmental works were done which had not been mentioned in the approved project proposal. The mayor, it has been alleged, made arbitrary decisions about the work.
The project was revised 11 months before the deadline fixed by the LGED just to include the work in the Development Project Proposal (DPP).
However, the quality of the work is very poor, according to the IMED report.
Expressing his opinion to The Business Standard, Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, "It does not matter whether the amounts involved are big or small, corruption is corruption, and must be treated as a punishable offence irrespective of the identity and status of the individual."
"If the allegations are true, it implies that abuse of power has been made into a norm compromising the public interest at the expense of public funds," he stated.
He believes the only way in which corruption can be rolled back is through a proper enforcement of the Prime Minister's repeated pronouncements of zero tolerance against corruption and ensuring the accountability of those involved.
"Like any other crime, if corruption continues to be unaccounted for and the perpetrators are facilitated by impunity, it will only flourish further."