WASA MD keeps afloat amid sea of corruption

WASA MD keeps afloat amid sea of corruption

Monsoons come and go, things change, times change, but there is no change in the service of Dhaka WASA (Water Supply and Sewerage Authority). In the dry season there is water shortage and during the rains, the city is waterlogged. Drains overflow with sewage and waste. And amid all this, the managing director of WASA says that things will look up. In 10 long years, things have not looked up and his term in office does not end either.

Controversy abounds over the appointment of this MD and his remaining in this post for five consecutive terms. Others whom he has appointed in WASA also remain firmly entrenched in their respective posts. Corruption allegations have gone as far as to the anti-corruption commission (ACC), but to no avail. The other officials in WASA are too scared of the MD to speak out. WASA had been established to serve the people, but it is now under sole control of the MD.

WASA was founded in 1963 and would run in accordance to a certain ordinance. In 1996 the WASA Act came into effect. According to this act, the managing director or MD is the organisation’s chef executive officer. Though there is a chairman of the board, he has no singular authority other than to call meetings.

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MD’s controversial appointment

According to the Dhaka WASA act, the MD is appointment upon approval of the government, following recommendation or proposal of the board. Taqsem A Khan was appointed through this procedure in 2009. There are allegations that the WASA board resorted to unprecedented manipulations for this appointment. The local government ministry even cautioned the board in this regard when the matter came to light.

In 2009 WASA has advertised for the post of MD, calling for experience in water supply and sewerage, or at least 20 years at a senior level in administration and management. The CV submitted by Taqsem A Khan at the time mentioned no experience in water supply and sewerage. It is alleged that since the Taqsem was a good friend of the chairman, he was given the highest score in the oral exam.

Taqsem A Khan’s fifth term in office ends on 14 October and it is learnt that a move is on for his sixth appointment to the same post. The matter may be discussed at the next board meeting.

After the end of his first term as WASA MD, the 198th meeting of the board proposed that his term be extended for another three years. However, the local government minister at the time, Syed Ashraful Islam, extended his term by just one year. The WASA board took another decision to the effect that the appointment process would be held up until the local government minister returned to the country. But the MD’s term was extended by another two years before the minister returned. The matter was discussed at the next WASA board meeting and it was said that the appointment had not been made in keeping with the law. The board was put into an embarrassing situation.

For the fourth time the board sent a proposal to the ministry, calling for Taqsem A Khan’s term as MD to be extended yet again for three years. The concerned minister at the time, Khandokar Mosharraf Hossain, sent a proposal to the prime minister’s office for a two-year extension.

Tables turned and, in August 2017, it was the ministry that directed the board to extend the MD’s term for the fifth time by another three years. The board acquiesced to the ministry’s directives and he was appointed for yet another three years.

However, the chairman of the board at the time, Habibur Rahman, has denied receiving any such directives. He told Prothom Alo that the MD had not been appointed at the recommendation of his board, but by the previous board.

On Monday Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) issued a statement about the appointment of this MD. It said that the law should be properly followed and transparency ensured in the appointment at the top WASA post.

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Taqsem A Khan, who has remained as MD for the longest time in WASA’s history, replied in writing to Prothom Alo’s query about his reaction to the TIB statement. He said that the WASA board appointed the MD with the approval of the government (ministry for head of government) and that is why he did not want to make any comment on the matter. But the WASA board could issue a reply if they received the TIB statement.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said, TIB would have no objection if the appointment was made even 10 times, as long as it was in was done legitimately. But Taqsem A Khan’s appointment was controversial. His reappointments were also made in violation of the regulations.

Taqsem A Khan’s fifth term in office ends on 14 October and it is learnt that a move is on for his sixth appointment to the same post. The matter may be discussed at the next board meeting. The WASA chairman, MA Rashid Sarker, is unwell with coronavirus and so the meeting scheduled for last week did not take place.

Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said that the appointment process for the MD must certainly be transparent. He told Prothom Alo, the WASA Act should not allow any person to hold the same position for such an extended time.

Corruption allegations

There are extensive allegations of corruption against the WASA MD, including inflating project costs, appointing contractors in keeping with a syndicate, bribery, creating posts to appoint his own people, making any official he disliked an OSD (officer on special duty) and so on. The ACC last year sent a report to the ministry, identifying 11 corruption-ridden sectors in WASA.

According to the ACC report, WASA’s projects did not end within the scheduled time. The term and the costs of various projects were increased. In many case the projects were not implemented in keeping with the project design and description. Conditions were enforced in the selection of consultants and contractors so that only a limited number of contractors could compete. Also, syndicates, political clout and bribery were rampant in the appointment of contractors. The ACC report said that there was extensive corruption in setting up deep tubewells, in meter reading and in revenue collection.

WASA has turned around in such a matter that even the road in front of its head office is waterlogged during the rains.

When asked about the corruption allegations, Taqsem A Khan advised Prothom Alo to speak to the ministry. Speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday, he said no complaints had come to him about appointments and promotions and so he would make no comment.

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ACC last year submitted complaints against two other officials appointed by the MD. It gave the local government ministry the responsibility to look into the allegations. The ministry formed a committee in this regard, headed by additional secretary Zahirul Islam. Zahirul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday, said he had submitted their inquiry report to the ministry five or six months ago. However, he refused to comment on whether they had found proof of the corruption allegations.

In the meantime, WASA’s website shows that there is no post of director in the organisation, but the WASA MD has appointed on contract two persons of his choice as directors. Many promotions have also taken place in the organisation, superseding seniority. And a certain official has been issued a show-cause notice for speaking to the media.

No WASA official is willing to speak to the media. They have nothing to say even if a water pipe bursts anywhere. They simply say to contact the MD.

Huge bribes

WASA’s main responsibilities include ensuring uninterrupted water supply, a functioning sewerage system and prevention of water-logging. After Tasqem A Khan took charge, in 2010 a programme called ‘Turn around Dhaka WASA’ was taken up ostensibly to improve the organisation’s service. Ten years hence, there has been no improvement in service, the people are extremely dissatisfied and water-logging has increased.

Water supply is not the same all over Dhaka city. In the dry season many areas face acute water crisis. The quality of water is questionable too, but the price of water has gone up at least 13 times over the past 12 years. Water that cost Tk 5.75 in 2009, now costs Tk 14.46.

WASA records show that there is no sewerage system in 80 percent of the Dhaka. The city is submerged in water at the slightest rainfall. WASA has turned around in such a matter that even the road in front of its head office is waterlogged during the rains.

Ali Imam Majumder commented, Dhaka WASA has been a failure in resolving the water-logging problem. It still has not been able to ensure a sewerage system in all places of the city.

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