Discrepancy to take up Tk 9b project

File photo

Although the Department of Social Services is not being able to provide proper services at the government shelters for the homeless people, it seems to be quite keen to construct new buildings for six government shelters.  They are now ‘lobbying’ to get the approval for the project to build new buildings in some six government shelters worth Tk 9.07 billion.

The Department of Social Services even resorted to ‘discrepancies’ to take up the project. They have divided the work of the project into 81 packages so that it doesn’t need the approval from the cabinet committee on public purchase and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for this project.

Usually the projects of constructing government buildings are implemented by the Department of Public Works. However, the Department of Social Services wants a private agency to implement the project, which has raised questions.

The project now awaits the approval of the planning commission. According to sources in the commission, despite the lobbying, some of the officials of the commission seem to be reluctant about approving the proposal this way.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former director general of the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) Fazlul Karim said creating separate packages for the same types of work indicates that there must be some dubious intentions behind this. The strategy has been taken up to benefit some specific people. They should discard this plan.

A project worth Tk 9.07 billion

The effort to keep the homeless and vagrants under government supervision to rehabilitate them in the society through training and other ways is not anything now. A new law was legislated titled The Vagrancy Act in 1943 for this. Later, the government introduced a new law - The Vagrants and Shelterless Persons Act 2011.

There are a total of six government shelters – two in Gazipur and one each in Narayanganj, Manikganj, Mymensingh and Dhaka. Four of these shelters were constructed in 1977 and the remaining two were built in 1961. However, the buildings of these shelters are worn out.

A proposal to reconstruct the existing six government shelters was sent to the Planning Commission for the first time in June last year. The project has been under process since then.

Analysing the Development Project Proposal (DPP) of the Department of Social Warfare, it has been found that the project has been divided into 81 packages despite the works in every package being similar. The estimated costs of these packages vary from Tk 100 million to Tk 200 million in most cases. The highest cost for a package is estimated at Tk 580 million.

According to the documents, the projector director has been made the ‘purchase approval authority’ in some 74 packages. The Social Warfare Ministry has been made the purchase approval authority in the remaining seven packages.

According to the Delegation of Financial Power of the finance ministry, any proposal of purchasing products worth more than Tk 1 billion for construction works must be sent to the cabinet committee on public purchase for approval. The finance minister is the president of this committee with 13 more ministers and state ministers and nine secretaries in the committee.

The concerned government officials say the duties of the cabinet committee for public purchase include ensuring transparency in public purchase, preventing irregularities and nepotism and ensuring accountability. Sources in the planning commission say the project has been divided into 81 purchase packages to avoid the cabinet committee on public purchase.

According to the section 17 of the Public Procurement Rules (PPR), "A purchaser shall not generally divide any part of a project or programme into multiple packages of inferior value in order to avoid the obligation to approve a specific procurement procedure or superior official when formulating its procurement plan."

However, there is some scope in the procurement rules to divide the project into several packages considering the geological situation. However, dividing the project into 81 packages for some six government shelters in a total of five areas is not rational at all.

Analysing the documents, the cost of purchasing furniture was estimated at almost Tk 30 million for the government shelter in Kashimpur of Gazipur, almost Tk 45 million in Mymensingh, almost Tk 40 million million in Narayanganj, around Tk 20 million for each of the government shelters in Manikganj and Mirpur in the capital.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity an executive engineer of the Public Works Department said purchase of furniture could be done together.

In the similar way separate packages have been created for purchasing beddings, sports equipment and machineries, construction of power substations, temporary shades and academic blocks.

Asked about the reasons behind adopting such a strategy, Department of Social Services director general Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said he would launch an inquiry regarding this and would take necessary actions in case it really happened.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top official of the social services directorate told Prothom Alo that the project was taken up before the 12th parliamentary elections. The decision to give the work to a private organisation instead of the public works department was taken to ensure business for some specific contractors.

The social services directorate has taken up projects in small packages in the past too. There are questions regarding these projects, which were taken up in the name of training up backward people avoiding the approval from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC).

Prothom Alo investigated six such training projects and found evidence of different sorts of irregularities, including embezzlement. Besides, the projects were given to organisations owned by the persons close to the influential persons of the government.

Several officials of the social services directorate say it’s true that the government shelters need new buildings. But the project for this must be transparent.

No service at the shelters

According to the figures of the Directorate of Social Services, there are a total of 1,900 seats in the six government shelters in the country. Some 909 residents live there, which means the number of occupants is lower than the number of seats. Besides, there is a huge shortage of manpower at these shelters.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, social services directorate director general Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said he knows about the crisis of manpower. Therefore, they are stressing on appointing new people as well as taking up new projects. However, we must keep it in mind that the process of recruiting people in the revenue sector is quite long. A proposal to recruit people in some 458 posts is under process.

According to the website of the Department of Social Services, “Ensuring maintenance, security, sustenance, education, vocational and skill development training of the vagrants and correction and development of their mentality through counselling, providing employment opportunities to rehabilitate them in  the society to achieve self-reliance are the main targets of the agency.”

Visiting the government shelter in the capital’s Mirpur-1 area on 5 February, a four-year-old child was seen being fed by another child aged nine. There was no caregiver on the scene. One of them was speech impaired.

It was later learnt that the four-year-old infant got lost after he came to visit Mirpur with parents on 3 February. Police tried to find the parents of the child. Later, the police brought the child to the government shelter in Mirpur. Later, the child was shifted to the Chhotomoni Nibas in the capital’s Azimpur.  

On 5 February, some 30 people of different ages were seen having a meal together on the third floor of the shelter in Mirpur. There was no caregiver as well. There were injury marks from being beaten up on the body of one of them. He has not been treated. Although there are 10 posts of security guards to look after these people, there is no security guard at the government shelter there. There are no programmes on training and counselling at all.

There are 200 seats in the government shelter in Mirpur. However, the number of occupants is 56 at the moment. According to the documents of the government shelter, there are a total of 30 approved posts in that centre and 18 of them are still vacant. Therefore, service is not available at the government shelter in the capital’s Mirpur.

Deputy assistant director of the shelter Mohammad Saiful Islam told Prothom Alo, “We often have to shift the residents to other places as there is no caregiver. We have appealed for the appointment of at least 10 caregivers here. There has been no response so far. Not only here, most of the posts at government shelters are still vacant.”

A design for distributing illegal money

Many of the government buildings have been kept idle after their construction due to lack of manpower and other issues. For instance, some 15 buildings were constructed for the Institute of Health Technology (IHT) in some 14 districts. However, they have been kept unused due to the lack of manpower.

People concerned say constructions of buildings are profitable for the government officials. There are scopes of commission business in case of subsequent public purchase. It’s also profitable for the contractor. Therefore, the officials are more interested in constructing buildings. Not only that, they are even trying to take up the project through discrepancy.

Speaking in this regard, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo, “It’s clear that the influential persons in collusion with other influential persons are trying to design a project to embezzle money. The corrupt are adopting new policies.”

He further said, “The government has declared zero tolerance against corruption. The concerned authorities should thoroughly investigate this project taken up by the Department of Social Services.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu