Taqsem sets up WASA admin to display his power, chairman alleges

Collage shows chairman of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) Golam Mostofa (L) and managing director Taqsem A Khan F)

The managing director of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Taqsem A Khan has turned the organisation into a den of irregularities, waste and corruption and runs the WASA in an autocratic style as if it is his personal property, WASA chairman Gholam Mostofa alleged.

Taqsem Khan has long been treating the WASA board with contempt and that has reached a height, the chairman alleged.

Gholam Mostofa, the chairman of Dhaka WASA board, made these allegations in a written complaint to the local government ministry on Wednesday, about Taqsem A Khan’s non-cooperation with the WASA board, his misconduct, and violation of the WASA Act 1996.

In the written complaint, the chairman said that internally Dhaka WASA was in a pitiful state. Anyone raising their voice against the managing director, was removed from their job. The MD sets aside millions of taka from the budget of Dhaka WASA in various ways and spends outside the budget allocation at will. MD Taqsem A Khan has set up the administration as per his will to display his power.

A feud between the Dhaka WASA MD and the organisation’s board came to the limelight recently. Speaking to Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity, several officials said that the board has recently intervened into several issues of the WASA administration recently. The MD has been angered over these interventions of the board chairman and is displeased with him. Allegations were sent to the ministry against the chairman to keep him under pressure. In turn, the chairman also filed complaints with the ministry against the MD. Such measures are unprecendented in the history of Dhaka WASA.

Dhaka WASA chairman Gholam Mostofa told Prothom Alo on Wednesday night, “MD Taqsem A Khan did not follow the directives of the board. The ministry can discuss the allegations with the other board members separately. Action must be taken after investigating these allegations.”

“Taqsem has violated WASA Act’

According to the WASA Act, the board of Dhaka WASA will hold meetings once in every two months at least. The 302nd board meeting was held on 15 March this year. The chairman called for the 303rd board meeting to be held on 16 April, but it was postposed at the request of the MD Taqsem A Khan. After that he went to Germany.

In the written complaint to the ministry, the WASA chairman alleged that Taqsem did not raise the issue of the board meeting anymore. It was necessary to hold the 303rd meeting of the board before 15 May to comply with the law, so the chairman called the board meeting on 17 May and MD Taqsem and the WASA secretary were instructed accordingly. Neither the MD nor the WASA secretary, however, arranged the meeting. They both have thus displayed contempt towards the board and violated the WASA Act.

WASA chairman alleged that Taqsem A Khan was not comfortable with the agenda of the 303rd board meeting and that is why he did not arrange the meeting. Agenda No. 7 of the meeting was a call for an explanation from the WASA administration about the MD violating the rules to appoint an audit firm. Agenda No. 8 was for an explanation on providing salary and allowance regularly to superintending engineer Alamgir Hasin Ahmed, who remains absent from office; presenting details on the agreement with US company DrinkWell on WASA’s water ATM booth. As the meeting minutes include such issues, the was unwilling to arrange the board meeting, the chairman alleged.

Prothom Alo could not reach MD Taqsem A Khan for comment. He did not answer his mobile phone on Wednesday evening.

‘WASA administration under the control of MD’

In the complaint to the ministry, WASA chairman Gholam Mostofa said Taqsem A Khan has set up the administration as per his will to display his power and keep the board under his control. He has no accountability. Despite legal compulsions to hold the board meeting, Taqsem A Khan while on vacation abroad, prevented the board meeting from being held, the chairman alleged.

Dhaka WASA has no secretariat and no officials of its own. There is no post for board secretary in its organogram. Previously, a government official was appointed as Dhaka WASA secretary on deputation. An engineer has been carrying out the responsibility of the WASA secretary for long as an additional duty.

The chairman alleged MD Taqsem A Khan has given lots of responsibilities to the WASA secretary, who works for neither the board chairman nor any board member. The WASA secretary was even not available when summoned. When the MD is not in office, the secretary is not in office either. It is imperative to appoint the WASA secretary on deputation once again.

Prothom Alo could not reach the WASA secretary Sharmin Haque Amir for comment. She did not answer her mobile phone on Wednesday evening.

‘Raising voice necessary to save WASA’

Dhaka WASA chairman Gholam Mostofa appeared in a television talk show recently where he raised several allegations against the agency’s MD Taqsem A Khan. Gholam Mostofa said the WASA is, in effect, non-functional. Taqsem A Khan does not allow meetings to be held in his absence.

Three organisations of WASA officials and employees sent a letter to the local government ministry on 11 May requesting urgent steps regarding the statement of the board chairman. According to Dhaka WASA sources, several people signing the letter are known as supporters of Taqsem A Khan. Several signed the letter under pressure.

The WASA chairman in his complaint said, “I spoke frankly on the existing scenario of WASA and what I said there was the truth. It is necessary to talk about this to save WASA. The MD created pressure on officials to form human chain against me and tried to forcefully have the chairman's resignation letter signed, but failed. Finally, he used various void associations with no legal standing to submit allegations to the ministry.”

Prothom Alo contacted Local Government Division secretary Muhammad Ibrahim and Water Supply Wing additional secretary Khairul Islam over mobile phone, but none of them responded.

‘Obstructing activities of committees’

There are four board committees to run Dhaka WASA smoothly. These are: committee on take decisions on the formulating the full-fledged budget of Dhaka WASA, committee to set ceiling on investment and procurement agreements with own funds as per WASA Act, committee to investigate misappropriation of funds of Dhaka WASA official-employee multipurpose cooperative association, and Dhaka WASA board audit committee.

The allegations made by the chairman stated Taqsem A Khan is obstructing the activities and cooperation among these committees and not allowing the committees to function. Had these committees worked properly, it would have been possible to prevent anomalies, waste and corruption at Dhaka WASA to a large extent.

“Board seems to have nothing to do"

The WASA chairman also raised several more allegations. He said there has been all sorts of turmoil over outsourcing at Dhaka WASA. The salary of outsourced staff was shown high than the actual. Yet the matter of outsourcing was not presented before the board despite repeated instructions.

MD Taqsem A Khan wants to raise water tariff unnecessarily. It would not be necessary to increase water tariff if the irregularities, pilferage and looting was reduced. The water production cost that the Dhaka WASA shows is also inaccurate. And Taqsem A Khan is not willing to discuss these issues with the board.

Groundwater levels are declining increasingly because of extracting water through deep tube-well. To prevent this, Dhaka WASA started to build a water treatment plant with foreign loans 15 years ago. Yet, WASA still supplies 75 per cent of its water from surface groundwater. In the meantime, the number of deep tub wells doubled. Once WASA starts a project, it does not end it easily and project costs skyrocket. The Padma (Jashaldia) Water Treatment Plant built with Tk 38 billion is being operated at the half of its capacity for three years.

Chairman Gholam Mostofa alleged Taqsem A Khan conceals various issues involving millions of taka in the budget of Dhaka WASA and spends the money other than the budget allocation. When the board asks for details, the MD reacts angrily. No official and employee open their mouths in fear of losing their jobs. No government organisation can run in such a manner. In spite of WASA plunging into a myriad of problems, Dhaka WASA board seems unable to do anything.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna