Tk 400 cr unaccounted in health sector procurement

Equipment has been purchased for seven government hospitals, with no inspection or scrutiny whatsoever. The contractors did not even maintain the quality or type of equipment they were supposed to have provided. Despite all these discrepancies, the contractors has made off with more than the due payment.

This corruption carried out in just one financial year alone, 2013-14, came to light in the audit report of the comptroller and auditor general, and also through Prothom Alo investigations. Complaints have also been submitted in this connection to the anti-corruption commission (ACC).

In the 500-bed Mugda general hospital alone, tenders were submitted in the name of several companies to grab work worth Tk 300 crore (Tk 3 billion).

According to the audit report, ABM Abdul Hannan, director of the health directorate's hospital services wing, and directors of the concerned hospitals, are responsible for the irregularities in procurement for four of the seven hospitals which can't account for Tk 400 crore (Tk 4 billion) in purchases. ABM Abdul Hannan had been accused of irregularities in purchase back in the 2009-10 fiscal too. He had been with Rajshahi Medical College at the time.

Prothom Alo's investigations have revealed, the corruption was carried out in conjunction between the contractors and the government officers. This corruption infiltrated every step of the procurement process, from the bidding to the purchases, from supply to the billing. There was corruption even in the purchase of medicines and appointment of cleaners in these hospitals.

According to the audit report, there has been financial discrepancies in the 500-bed Mugda general hospital, Shaheed Suhrawardy medical college and hospital, the national orthopaedic hospital and rehabilitation centre (Pangu Hospital), Dinajpur medical college hospital, Sher-e-Bangla medical college hospital, Barisal, Kurmitola general hospital and Kishoreganj general hospital. The audit report states that ABM Abdul Hannan is directly responsible for the purchases made for Shaheed Suhrawardy medical college hospital, Sher-e-Bangla medical college hospital and the 250-bed hospital in Tangail. He is also involved in the purchase discrepancies at Mugda hospital, according to Prothom Alo investigations.

Abdul Hannan has denied any complicity in the matter, saying, "I have no direct involvement in purchases." He also said, "Audit objections are an on-going process. Objections arise and then are settled."

Mugda hospital tops the list of corruption: Bidding took place with the required number of companies and the lowest bidder was given the work. But under all this, there has been large scale corruption.

The auditing team discovered that all the companies participating in the bidding process, belonged to one person.

The security deposits were submitted in the name of the different companies. The Mugda general hospital officials and the contracting firm thus made purchases of Tk 300 crore (Tk 3 billion). The report recommends that action should be taken to identify the officials who have caused the government such a huge loss.

The companies which participated in the tenders for purchase of equipment, were Future Trade, GES and Trading, The Eye, Ardent System, Biotech International, Market Lab, Med Equip, and Informed Technologies.

Three of the companies qualified. there were two counters to submit the bids, one at Mugda hospital an the other at the health system management's line director's office. None of the bids were submitted at the hospital. The work finally was awarded to Future Trade, owned by the bidder who owned all the other companies too.

The proprietor of the supplier company is Nishat Farzana, wife of Motazzerul Islam Mithu, a known name on the health sector. He had a strong rapport with almost all officials in the health ministry and directorate. He could not be contacted for questioning, nor has he replied to any SMS.

Mohammed Mustafizur Rahman Miah, director of the 500-bed Mugda general hospital, said, "There has been no major irregularities in my hospital. I have replied to the audit report. I have also submitted papers to the anticorruption commission."

Suhrawardy hospital and the orthopaedic hospital (Pangu Hospital) have also procured equipment at high costs. Shaheed Suhrawardy medical college and hospital floated a tender for the purchase of 34 different equipment in 2013-14. They received one bid for each type of equipment. ASL and Imax Plus quoted prices for 15 of the same types of equipment. Both the firms belong to the same person. Suhrawardy hospital spent Tk 27 crore 66 lac 38 thousand 850 (Tk 276.64 million) on purchases.

Proprietor of ASL and Imax Plus, Aftab Ahmed, told Prothom Alo, "I make a profit but I don't sell equipment at exorbitant rates. And no one has any complaint about the equipment which I supply."

When asked about the matter, the hospital's director, AKM Mujibur Rahman, said, "Write whatever is written in the audit objection."

The firm Toufiqa Energy Limited supplied equipment within three days of receiving the work order from the national orthopaedic hospital and rehabilitation centre (Pangu Hospital). Questions have arisen as to how could the company provided the imported equipment so readily. There are allegations that Toufiqa was given the work deliberately. The audit report said, though 14 companies purchased the tender documents, the tender evaluation committee only qualified two, Toufiqa Energy Limited and Toufiqa Engineering, both of the same group of companies. The hospital director at the time, Mohammed Hamidul Huq Khandakar, denies that any corruption took place.

Lack of transparency in appointing cleaners: Tenders were floated for the appointment of cleaners through outsourcing for the 500-bed Kurmitola general hospital in September 2013. Though 11 firms purchased the tender documents, the hospital authorities disqualified them all. In January 2014 there was a re-tender. The hospital authorities signed an agreement with Trust Security and Logistics Services for the provision of cleaners for Tk 2 crore 37 lac 39 thousand 82 (Tk 23.74 million). The auditors examined the bids of the disqualified bidders and found that Gulf Security Services had met all the requirements and their bid was Tk 26 lac 57 thousand (Tk 2.66 million) less than that of Trust.

The hospital authorities added a new condition to the advertisement to ensure that the work would go to Trust. The condition was that the contractors would have to have experience of working in the cantonment.

AKM Nasiruddin was the hospital's director at the time. He told Prothom Alo, "The audit think that the other company fulfilled all requirements. We do not think so."

More complaints: In the case of supplying Lasik and Faco machines for Sher-e-Bangla Medical College in Barisal, the condition was that there has to be experience in supplying hi-tech and costly equipment. The two suppliers, Messrs SP and Messrs Ahsan Brothers, did not fufill those conditions. The audit report stated that these were unqualified firms.

The bills for equipment supplied to Dinajpur medical college were paid in Dhaka. This is a gross irregularity. The auditors also found evidence that medicine to be sent from Gopalganj to Kotalipara upazila health complex, was stolen.