Five companies get 51 pc of the contracts

Collected from the Website of the Roads and Highways department

Five companies have got 51 per cent of the contracts of the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) in the 2022-23 fiscal.

Some 1,100 companies do the work of the Roads and Highways Department on contractual basis. So, questions have been raised as to how these five companies got so many contracts.

These five companies are Abed Mansur Construction Limited, Muhammad Aminul Haque Private Limited, Mozahar Enterprise Limited, Md Mahfuz Khan Limited and Hasan Techno Builders Limited.

These companies mainly do minor works of road construction, repair and maintenance.

However, the total amount of money for these small works is big – around Tk 48 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal. They got some of these contracts jointly.

According to the figures of the RHD, they got development and non-development allocations of Tk 273 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal.

Of these, Tk 100 billion has been allocated for new contracts and the rest was allocated for ongoing projects. As such, those five contractors have got half of the new contracts based on monetary value.

It has been learnt that the owners of these companies are not directly involved in politics.

However, they maintain a good relations with the ministers and MPs and leaders of the ruling party. There are allegations that the contractors pay commissions and offer gifts and other things to get the contracts.

The contractors have connections with some of the engineers in the RHD. Three names of additional chief engineers have come up in this regard. They are known as officials of ‘special preference’ in the road transport ministry.

In the past, the members of the ruling party used to exert influence to force the common contractors to submit tenders. To stop this, the government introduced the electric government procurement (e-GP) system to ensure competition. However, it is clear that the new system has failed as only a few companies get half of the contracts.

ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, secretary of the RHD under the ministry, feels there are some flaws in the e-GP tender process. The initiative to reform has been taken up for this reason. He told Prothom Alo, a committee led by the secretary of the finance department has taken the views of different ministries. The Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) is working on the reform of the tender process.

Speaking regarding the allegations of engineers in the RHD playing a role in creating syndicates taking advantage of the e-GP process, Amin Ullah Nuri says actions will be taken if any specific complaint is lodged.

However, according to several persons, to wait for specific complaints is a ploy to evade responsibility. The road transport and bridges ministry can investigate on their own and take actions if they want. They can transfer the people accused of illegally helping the contractors of their preference. The Anti-corruption Commission can seek the wealth statements of the accused officials. However, nothing is done due to lack of political commitment.

How many contracts they got

According to the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of road transport and bridges and CPTU, around 5,200 tenders were called under the Roads and Highways Department in the 2022-23 fiscal. Of them, five companies have got 2,660 contracts, which is 51 per cent of total projects. The scenario was more or less the same in the 2021-22 fiscal.

The CPTU started keeping an account of contractual works from 2018. According to the figures of the last five years, the Abed Mansur Construction Limited got around 3,100 contracts, the highest among all the companies. The company got sole contracts (contracts to be implemented by the company alone) worth Tk 5 billion. Works of some 218 projects worth Tk 1.76 billion are underway under the Abed Mansur Construction Limited at the moment.

Abed Mansur is from Noakhali. He started working for the RHD on a contractual basis 7 years ago. He introduces himself as a businessperson, social worker and politician on his Facebook page. He often uploads his pictures with bridges minister Obaidul Quader, his brother Mirza Abdul Quader and engineers of the RHD on his Facebook page.

Contractor Abed Mansur is in China now. Prothom tried to contact him over the phone, but he didn’t respond.

Another contractor Aminul Haque got 2,800 contracts worth Tk 23 billion, second highest among those five contractors. Aminul Haque is from Naogaon. He gets contracts in every divisional office of the Roads and Highways Department. His company is implementing a total of 200 projects at the moment.

The Mozahar Enterprise is in the list of top five companies in the last five years and two fiscals. The company has implemented a total 1,100 projects worth Tk 35 billion.

Mozahar Ali, the owner of the company, is from Khulna. He established himself in the contracting business by keeping good terms with a local influential pro-Awami League family. His company is implementing 87 projects at the moment.

Another company named Md Moeenuddin Limited is in the 5th position of the list of top five companies. They got some 750 contracts worth more than Tk 50 billion. Md Moeenuddin is the owner of the company.

The Hasan Techno is also in the list of the top companies with most contracts in the last two fiscals. The company got more than 500 contracts worth Tk 25 billion in the last five years. Nazmul Hasan, owner of the Hasan Techno is from Chandpur.

Md Mahfuz Khan Limited is another company in the list with more than 500 contracts in the last five years. Company owner lives in Barishal. He unilaterally controls the contractual works under the Barishal City Corporation (BCC) and local Roads and Highways Department. According to local sources, he has connections with former BCC mayor Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah.

However, these companies with the most number of contracts claim that they got more contracts for experience and competence.

Aminul Haque said that he gets more contracts as his works are up to the mark. Meanwhile, contractor Mahfuz Khan claimed the allegation of having close ties with a pro-Awami League family as a false claim.

The quality of their work is evident on the roads. The RHD expects any road to be suitable for movement for 20 years after its construction. However, the reality is different. The roads need repair a few years after their construction causing a huge expenditure of people’s money.

According to the Roads and Highways Department, they have spent Tk 1160 billion in the last 10 years since 2012-13 fiscal year.

In 2017, the World Bank Dhaka office said Bangladesh spends much higher amount of money for construction of one kilometer road than neighbouring India and China.

High corruption, non-implementation of work in time and free from competition in the tender are responsible for this inflated cost.

Why work divided into small portions

RHD sources said engineers in charge divide most of the contract work of the organisation in small portions. Cost of most of the works are between Tk 100,000 and 10 million as the entire work from appointing contractors to paying bills of small work is completed in the zone concerned.

About the matter, RHD secretary ABM Amin Ullah Noore said potholes develop if it rains. These tasks are carried out regularly. So, small tenders are floated.

Up to Tk 500 million of RHD, tender process for repair, maintenance and construction of mid-level expenditure is completed within the zone.

The minister gives its final approval. There are allegations of collusion and sharing of commission within the zone.

The construction of big roads and bridges require approval from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC).

Who are awarded big tasks

Foreign contract firms also work in the big project of RHD. Sources concerned said most of the foreign contract firms are from China. Around 30 Bangladeshi firms jointly and individually work for big projects. They have recently got work of Tk 400 billion.

National Development Engineers (NDE) is one of the Bangladeshi top firms.

Analysing information since 2018 till now, NDE has got 42 projects worth Tk 33.53 billion. The firm is new in the RHD. However, they are being awarded more projects.

RHD sources said a powerful man has a connection with this firm.

Infratech Construction Company was formed a year ago. After getting repair work of Meghna-Gumti Bridge, they came to limelight. The firm has got different works including the development works of Dhaka-Mymensingh highway and Noakhali district roads. Owner of the firm Ali Haidar Ratan is from Noakhali. Ratan once was identified as the nephew of a minister.

Of the firms which got big projects are MM Builders, Rana Builders, Abdul Momen Limited, Mir Akhtar Hossain, Toma Construction, Orient Trading and Builders, Masud Hightech Engineering, Taher Brothers, Wahiduzzaman Chowdhury, RAB-RC Limited, Jonmobhumi Construction and Saleh Ahmed.

Collusion between contractors and engineers 

The contractors are supposed to be completely unaware of the projects’ estimated costs. But some unscrupulous officials leak the information to their close contractors, according to sources. 

Consequently, all contractors submit tenders with a 10 per cent discount, resulting in uniform price bids. Then, the authorities employ  a contractor on the basis of previous track records (Past Performance Evaluation Matrix) and the contractor with rich work records easily wins the contract. 

The roads and highways department has long been giving work contracts through open tendering method (OTM) and limited tendering method (LTM). In 2021, the authorities introduced the one stage two envelope tendering method (OSTETM), but failed to refrain the certain contractors from bagging all the work orders. 

However, a senior officer of the roads and highways department anonymously asserted that the effectiveness of any method relies on the honesty of the concerned officials. No methods would come to effect unless the officials are honest. But the reality is that the vital positions are mostly occupied by the officials accused of unethically assisting contractors. 

Sabuj Uddin Khan, additional chief engineer for Dhaka zone of the roads and highways department, has been a subject of discussion due to allegations of colluding with the contractors. Since 2009, his postings remained limited in Manikganj, Gazipur, and Dhaka offices. For eight years, he served as the caretaker engineer and additional chief engineer in the Dhaka circle, the most demanding region for the department.  

Contacted, Sabuj Uddin Khan denied the allegations, saying the contractors are dividing work areas among themselves, making it challenging for officials to restrict them effectively. Regarding the dominance of Abaid Monsur Constructions in Gazipur and Manikganj, he said they have identified some issues and are taking action to fix them. 

Abu Hena Tarek Iqbal, additional chief engineer of Cumilla region, got postings within the certain region for a long period. He was mostly transferred to the offices that deal with a huge number of work contracts. Earlier, he was the caretaker engineer of Chattogram circle. 

The additional chief engineer of Sylhet zone, Fazle Rabbi, also faced similar allegations. 

However, they blamed the prevailing system for the appointment of certain contractors for the work projects. They said the participation of contractors in price bidding is not at the expected level. Besides, the authorities may look into if the contractors formed syndicates and divided the areas among themselves. 

Regarding allegations of engineers helping preferred contractors, Tarek Iqbal vehemently denied and termed it baseless, saying, "We have been burning with the allegations from the birth (joining)."

People do not benefit 

In an ECNEC meeting in November 2020, prime minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the delay in project implementation due to a single contractor receiving an excessive number of projects. She directed the officials concerned not to consider a contractor until it finishes the previous project. Later, the offices concerned were formally instructed in this regard. 

The parliamentary committee on road transport and bridges ministry, in a meeting in October 2022, recommended to break the 'syndicate' and facilitate price biddings by an increased number of contractors.  

In another meeting on 17 September this year, Raushan Ara Mannan, president of the committee, noted that the projects are concentrated among five contractors, which is mysterious and falls under the level of corruption. 

There are a total of 22,476 kilometers of roads, including national highways, regional highways, and district-level roads, under the roads and highways department. In a survey in 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Bangladesh at the second place among the countries with poor road conditions. 

Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said one of their studies also found a similar scenario of winning the roads and highway department project contracts by a syndicate of contractors. 

He alleged that the politicians, engineers and contractors have jointly formed the syndicate and their collusion is fundamentally an act of dishonesty and corruption. It is ultimately leading to a poor quality of work and forcing the authorities to undertake repair projects soon after. 

“It is draining the state funds and the people are being deprived of the intended benefits,” he added.