Project aims at digital multimedia classrooms in Bangladesh
Project aims at digital multimedia classrooms in BangladeshFile photo

The project basically had two objectives. One was to equip classrooms with multimedia and the other was to train the teachers and officials to use the multimedia in conducting classes. The allocation was Tk 13.53 billion (Tk 1,353 crore). So far eight per cent of the project has been done, but it is rife with corruption. There have been investigations, but the accused officials remain firmly in their posts. Only the classrooms remain vacant.

The government had intended to set up multimedia classrooms at the secondary and higher secondary level in 31,340 institutions around the country. And 575,000 teachers were to be trained in running the hi-tech classrooms. But nothing has come about due to the corruption of the government officials in charge.

The project term was of four years and it was extended by another year. Six months have passed since then, but in these four and a half years, not a single multimedia classroom has been set up in any of the institutions under this project.

The secondary and higher education directorate is implementing this project, titled ‘ICT for Education in Secondary and Higher Secondary Level, Phase II ’. The extended term will end in June this year.

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The Directorate of Inspection and Audit (DIA) of the education ministry investigated the project’s corruption. It was said that so far around 150,000 teachers and officials had been trained under the project. According to the inquiry report, training has been carried out in 20 places around the country. Project director Md Abdus Sabur Khan has drawn around Tk 1.7 million (Tk 17 lakh) in honorarium for three months signing as ‘programme director,’ without even being present at any of the training programmes. Many others have similarly misappropriated government funds in this manner, in the name of training.

Investigations also revealed that even before the procurement process began, Tk 7.50 million (Tk 75 lakh) worth of training equipment was procured. And Tk 22.50 million (Tk 2 crore 25 lakh) was spent without any tender or purchase orders. Around another Tk 2.10 million (Tk 21 lakh) was spent in violations of the rules.

When asked why no multimedia classroom has been set up as yet even though the project term was nearing conclusion, sitting in his office, project director Abdus Sabur Khan told Prothom Alo that several initiatives had been taken but did not materialise due to various obstacles. When asked about his own irregularities, he said all expenditure had been done with approval and in keeping with the documents.

Nothing has moved in the project under its present director Abdus Sobhan. There has only been corruption and irregularities

This Tk 13.53 billion (Tk 1,353 crore) project began in July 2016. Around Tk 8.55 billion ( Tk 855 crore) was allocated for the procurement of multimedia classroom equipment. And Tk 4.31 billion (Tk 431 crore) was allocated for training purposes. The rest was for other miscellaneous expenses of the project.

Four types of equipment were to be purchased for the multimedia classrooms. These were laptops, multimedia projectors with screens, internet modems and speakers. Each set would have these four components. A total of 46,445 sets were to be procured. The project had proposal for a number of institutions to receive several sets.

Till Sunday, not a single institution received a single full set of equipment. Randomly, 13,574 modems had been sent out, but these cannot be used without laptops and the other equipment.

Before the present project director joined, work on the tender to purchase the multimedia equipment had been completed. But due to allegations of irregularities, the procurement was halted upon orders from a high level in the government. A legal case is also underway in this regard. The project director at the time was removed. Since then, nothing has moved in the project under its present director Abdus Sobhan. There has only been corruption and irregularities.

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Sources in the secondary and higher secondary directorate has said that other than DIA, an inquiry led by a director of the directorate has also revealed irregularities in the project. The Anti-Corruption Commission is also probing the allegations.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, secretary of the secondary and higher secondary division of the education ministry, Md Mahbub Hossain, said the rule was to take action against anyone involved in corruption and irregularities. Action would speedily be taken against those involved in corruption in the project. The process was underway.

A decision has been taken for the time being to remove Abdus Sabur Khan as project director, sources have revealed.

Corruption and irregularities in training

In February and March last year, three officials of DIA investigated the irregularities of this project. The probe was headed by deputy director Rehana Khatun. The committee recently submitted its report.

The report stated from the start of the project in the 2017-18 fiscal till now, only about eight per cent of the work has progressed. In the 2018-19 financial year, training was given to 144,154 persons. No training was given in the outgoing financial year. The training was carried out in the government’s various teachers training colleges, higher secondary teachers training institutes and madrasah teacher training institutes of the country.

The project director and all involved must certainly be punished. It must also been seen whether there were others involved behind the scenes in the corruption in procurement and other areas. They too must be punished
Nazrul Islam, former education secretary

The inquiry committee observed that project director Abdus Sobhan took Tk 1,500 as honorarium for each of the 447 batches of the Basic Teachers Training (BTT). This totalled Tk 670,500. And he took a total of Tk 10,11,000 (Tk 10 lakh 11 thousand), that is, Tk 1,500 for each of the 674 batches of institution heads or assistant heads. The committee said that he drew a total of Tk 16,81,500 (Tk 16 lakh 81 thousand 500) with various signatures as ‘programme director’ for various training courses in 10 training centres. He even took honorarium as chief guest and special guest at various training courses. The committee said this money should be returned to the government treasury.

Inquiries further revealed that the heads of the training institutions also took unauthorised financial benefits. For example, Md Sujauddowla, who had been the acting principal of the Pabna Teachers Training College at the time, was the chief coordinator of 30 training courses. He drew honorarium in three different roles -- chief guest or special guest, chief coordinator and master trainer -- at the same time in six different courses. An assistant director was shown to be the special guest at the training graduation event, though he wasn’t even there nor did he draw any honorarium himself.

As venue charges, 20 government training institutions were paid Tk 1,88,16,000 (Tk 1 crore 88 lakh 16 thousand). The inquiry committee said that even if it was mentioned in the project proposal, these were government institutions and not entitled to these funds. This was a misuse of government funds.

After scrutinising various documents of various dates, the inquiry committee found that equipment worth Tk 74,38,395 was procured before the procurement process and work orders were issued just to show the procurement process on paper. And Tk 2,25,02,000 (Tk 2 crore 25 lakh 2 thousand) was spent with no tender or procurement process.

Commenting on these irregularities, former professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Kaikobad, said government funds were being wasted in the name of the project. And there is no need for direct training of so many people either. A few teachers from the educational institutions could be made master trainers. They would train the other teachers. Training can even be provided through apps now.

Sources said that there has been a lack of transparency in the project accounts too. While approval was given for the allocation of Tk 142,04,53,500 (Tk 142 crore 4 lakh 53 thousand 500) for the various training institutions and district education officers, the actual allocation has been Tk 141,96,79,600 ( Tk 141 crore 96 lakh 79 thousand 600). But the expenditure statement of the education ministry’s chief accounts and finance officer shows the internal expenditure as Tk 96,28,19,000 (Tk 96 crore 28 lakh 19 thousand). That means, Tk 45,68,60,600 (Tk 45 crore 68 lakh 60 thousand 600) less has been actually spent than allocation. And the monthly progress report of the project (till June 2019) shows expenditure for the same purpose to be Tk 96,29,83,000 (Tk 96 crore 29 lakh 83 thousand). Here too, Tk 164,000 more than actually expenditure has been shown.

Concerning various cash purchases, the inquiry committee said project directors can spend up till Tk 3 million (Tk 30 lakh) annually without tender. But here the project officials have spent Tk 38,27,660 (Tk 38 lakh 27 thousand 660) on the purchase of note books and pads, pens, bags and printing of manuals. The project directors can spend up to Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh annually) on inexpensive items and services. But Tk 22,75,655 (Tk 22 lakh 75 thousand 655) was spent for this purpose.

Former education secretary Nazrul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said what has been done in this project is unfortunate. The project director and all involved must certainly be punished. It must also been seen whether there were others involved behind the scenes in the corruption in procurement and other areas. They too must be punished.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir