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The project director himself uses one of the four vehicles. His wife and other family members use another one while friends and relatives of other officials of the project allegedly use another two vehicles though only the director is entitled to this transport facility.

Speaking to Porthom Alo, Shahinul Islam said, “I will keep two vehicles and send the remaining two to the transport pool. The vehicles are being used for government work at the agriculture ministry although those belong to the project. That’s why fuel cost comes from the project.”

According to the DAE sources, Shahinul Islam brought the two vehicles to the transport pool after talking to Prothom Alo on 24 August. Before that, the DAE sent a letter on 4 August and instructed the officials concerned to attach the project vehicles with the government’s transport pool. However, three additional secretaries haven’t returned their vehicles as yet.

Director general of DAE Md Asadullah said they took initiative to bring back two vehicles of the project. He, however, didn’t comment on the matter of recalling the vehicles from the ministry’s three officials.

Who use the vehicles?

Sources said the project director of the 'Safe Horticultural Crops Production and Post Harvest Technology Transfer Project' himself uses one of the vehicles (Dhaka-Tha 13-1330) procured at a cost of Tk 4.3 (43 lakh).

His family uses another vehicle (Dhaka-Gha 13-6357) of the project. They have been using the vehicle less during coronavirus pandemic. Speaking to Prothom Alo, Delwar Hossain, driver of this vehicle, told Prothom Alo the project director had sometimes sent the transport to his Mohammadpur house before the pandemic. The vehicle now remains parked at the DEA most of the time because of the Covid situation. Sometimes it is used for project work as well as family purposes, he added.

DAE officials, however, said nor matter who uses the project's transport facilities, the vehicle must be kept parked at the department. The director's family mainly use the vehicle and it remains parked at the DAE for the remaining time.

The project also has a microbus (Dhaka-Sha 53-8583) which is used by other officials of the project. Friends and relatives of the project director use a vehicle (Dhaka-Gha 14-1817). The DEA took it back on 26 August.

Additional secretary (fertiliser management and materials wing) of the agriculture ministry Md Mahbubul Islam uses a vehicle (Dhaka-Gha 13-6659) procured under the project. It was learned the project director himself had given the vehicle to the secretary. Its driver Babul Mia told Prothom Alo over phone “Sir uses the car to go to the office in the morning and return home in the afternoon.”

A government official of a rank above deputy secretary is entitled to an interest-free car loan of up to Tk 3 million (30 lakh) and a Tk 50,000 a month for car maintenance, fuel and driver’s salary. So why does he use a vehicle of a project? In reply, additional secretary Md Mahbubul Islam told Prohom Alo he sometimes used the vehicle. He, however, hasn’t being using it for several days, he added.

Two additional secretaries of the agriculture ministry, Md Abdur Rouf and Md Hasanuzzaman Kallol, allegedly use the two vehicles of the projects. Sources said the DEA gave them the vehicles for use.

Hasanuzzaman Kallol is in-charge of the ministry’s extension wing under which the DEA runs. That means he uses a vehicle of a project that is under his office. Abdur Rouf is in-charge of the ministry’s planning wing, which formulates the project plans.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Hasanuzzaman Kallol said he has to go outside Dhaka as he supervises the extension work. Since the vehicle purchased on government loan is small, it is not fit for long journeys. “The DAE gives me the vehicle to go outside Dhaka for official purposes. I have no idea to which project the vehicle belongs,” he added.

According to the DEA sources, Hasanuzzaman Kallol uses the vehicle regularly. In fact, many other officials use vehicles from the agency’s projects.

Additional secretary Abdur Rouf told Prothom Alo his family uses the vehicle procured on government loan. He has to pay monthly instalments against the car loan. The DAE has given him a vehicle to go and come from office but he doesn’t know from which project.

However, officials at the public administration said the government gives the interest-free loan and an allowance of Tk 50,000 a month so that the vehicle is used for officials duties and not for anyone else.

It has become the norm

It has been a long-standing norm to purchase expensive vehicles at the project's expense. Vehicles purchased under a project are to be returned to the government’s transport pool once the project ends. However, people concerned said vehicles are purchased unnecessarily in the name of the project and these vehicles are provided to the officials involved in project approval and supervision to appease them.

Besides, officials purchase vehicles with government loan and monthly allowance and then allegedly give those to their families for use. Then they use the project vehicles for themselves. Once an official is posted to a project, he starts looking to the concerned agencies for transport.

In a bid to prevent misuse of transport facilities, the public administration ministry sent letters to the ministries and the departments on 1 November 2018, 3 November 2019 and 8 March 2020. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) also a letter to the cabinet division on 23 September last year.

The last letter of the public administration ministry states some officials don’t use vehicles procured under the interest-free loan facility, but instead use transport belonging to the directorates and the agencies under the ministries and the divisions as well as the development projects, violating the rules. Some officials also use the official vehicles for personal family use and withdraw Tk 50,000 for maintenance, incurring financial loss of the government.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo government project funds come from taxpayers' money. But many people involved in the projects take unethical advantage of this. This has become a norm. Such corruption and irregularities won’t stop unless those involved in such are brought to book, he added.

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

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