Taxpayers' money: Establishments named after parents of ministers, secretaries

At the village of social welfare minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed a hospital -- Karimpur Nurjahan-Samsunnahar Mother and Child Specialised Hospital -- (named after his mother) is being built at a cost of Tk 440 million

At the village of social welfare minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed a hospital -- Karimpur Nurjahan-Samsunnahar Mother and Child Specialised Hospital -- (named after his mother) is being built at a cost of Tk 440 million. The Department of Social Services, an organisation under the Ministry of Social Welfare, is providing 80 per cent or Tk 350 million for the construction of this five-storied hospital. The hospital is being established by Karimpur Nurjahan-Samsunnahar Development Agency, an NGO (named after the minister’s mother). The construction work is given to a construction farm of the minister’s brother.

There is another government hospital already existing within a kilometer of the hospital that is being constructed.

Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), an anti-corruption organisation, told Prothom Alo that establishing a hospital in the name of the minister’s mother through a project of the minister’s organisation is a conflict of interest. Ministers take an oath saying that ‘they will not do anything out of passion or displeasure’. The decision to spend public money through his own subsidiary to establish a hospital named after his mother is a reversal of the oath.

However, not only the cabinet members, but also the bureaucrats have established hospitals, health centres, training centres and so on in the name of their parents or relatives through the project of the Department of Social Services. The Department of Social Services has constructed or has been constructing such facilities through 18 projects (excluding diabetic hospitals) from 2015 to 2022, of which at least 11 are in the name of parents or relatives of ministers or bureaucrats.

NGOs build and run hospitals, training centres or similar facilities with grants from the Ministry of Social Welfare. The rule is that the government will pay 60 per cent of the total cost of projects in urban areas and 80 per cent in rural areas, and the rest will be provided by the NGOs. But it appears that the NGOs who are getting the project do not have the capacity to establish and manage such institutions. The NGOs are mainly established by ministers and secretaries in the name of their relatives. In some cases, facilities have been constructed but service delivery activities are not getting underway.

Hospital in the name of minister’s mother

Two NGOs, who were given the hospital project, were established in the name of Samsunnahar Karim and Nurjahan Karim - two wives of social welfare minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed’s father late Karimuddin Ahmed. Nuruzzaman is the son of Samsunnhar.

Nuruzzaman Ahmed is an MP for Lalmonirhat-2 (Aditmari and Kaliganj) constituency. He became the Minister of State (now minister) of the Ministry of Social Welfare on 19 June, 2016. On 26 December that year, Karimpur Nurjahan-Samsunnahar Development Organisation was registered as a voluntary organisation in the Department of Social Services. And a year and a half later, it was awarded the project of constructing the hospital although the government policy states that in order to get government assistance, the NGO must have experience of at least two years in the relevant field.

Zakir Hossain, public relations officer of the Ministry of Social Welfare, was sent an email on 17 July, seeking Nuruzzaman Ahmed’s statement regarding the establishment of a hospital with public money in the name of his mother. He was also reminded of the matter on the phone. However, his statement was not found.

The hospital is about one kilometre away from the minister’s house at Kashiram in Tushbhandar union of Kaliganj. A visit to the area on 5 June reveals that the roof work has been done up to the fifth floor of the hospital building.

Establishing an organisation in the name of parents with government money is tantamount to embezzlement
Ali Imam Majumder, Former cabinet secretary

The construction work of the hospital is awarded to The Builders Associated Limited, which is owned by minister’s brother Samsuzzaman. Samsuzzaman told Prothom Alo on 13 June, that 90 per cent work of the project was completed and a further year was asked to complete the remainder.

According to a report dated 5 June by the Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning, the work of the hospital was supposed to be completed by 2021.

The NGO is supposed to contribute 20 per cent (about Tk 90 million) of the total cost of constructing the hospital. The price of an acre of land given by the minister’s family as part of the NGO is shown at Tk 55 million. The rest of the money was not deposited for the construction of the hospital. IMED’s report urges quick deposit of money.

The price of land shown for establishing the hospital is also exorbitantly high. According to the information received from the local sub-registry office, the local mauza price (rate) of the land was supposed to be Tk 5.2 million. But the price was estimated to be more than 10 times of actual price. The hospital’s land is also not next to any major road so that the market value could be much higher. The hospital site can be seen after traversing about one kilometer through the muddy upazilla road.

Speaking about making another hospital with government money within one kilometer of the government upazila hospital, professor Syed Abdul Hamid of the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University told Prothom Alo that “big” people constructed such hospitals outside the government healthcare network before too. Later those turned into grazing fields. As the government budget is not allocated for those hospitals, human resources do not get appointed.

Institutions named after the parents of bureaucrats

The Directorate of Social Services has taken up projects to establish organisations in the names of relatives of some of the bureaucrats holding top-level responsibilities in the Ministry of Social Welfare or the Directorate of Social Services.

A grant of Tk 200 million (2019) was awarded for the establishment of ‘Ferdous-Majid Handicapped Service Centre and Hospital’ in Noakhali in the name of former social welfare secretary Zuena Aziz’s maternal grandparents. The institution has a four-storied building but providing services has not commenced as yet. It cannot be launched due to human resources and financial crisis. The establishment is now under the supervision of Noakhali pourashava.

Noakhali pourashava mayor Shahid Ullah Khan told Prothom Alo that a committee has been formed to manage the hospital. It has to be funded by grants.

It is true that it was easier to get the projects as I was in the vital posts. But I did not commit any irregularity
Moazammel Haque Khan, Former home secretary and commissioner of ACC

A grant of Tk 200 million (2019) was awarded for the establishment of ‘Setara-Safiullah Kidney and Disability Service Centre’ in Narsingdi in the name of parents of former additional secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare Saida Naeem Jahan.

A grant of Tk 200 million was awarded to construct a hospital at Debidwar, Cumilla in 2017 in the name of the parents of former director of social services and former additional secretary Khairul Alam. The NGO - Jalaluddin Foundatation - that got the project is also named after his father. The infrastructure of the 50-bed hospital was completed but could not be commissioned. According to the sources of the Department of Social Services, Jalaluddin Foundation could not provide the money that they were supposed to for buying furniture and ambulances for the hospital.

Khairul Alam informed Prothom Alo on 18 July that his interest in constructing a hospital grew during his tenure at the Social Welfare Bureau. “It is easy to construct a building but tough to run the hospital. Now I am in stress thinking where would I get physicians and nurses and how to provide their salaries?”

Tk 390 million was given as grant in 2018 to construct a hospital at Fulgazi of Feni in the name of Saleh Ahmed and Ahmed Ullah - father and grandfather of former home secretary and currently the chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Kamal Uddin.

Kamal Uddin told Prothom Alo on Tuesday that it is not that he got the government money as he was in a higher post. He got the allotment by following the rule. He also claimed that he donated land to build a hospital. He said, “I’ve no interest in doing business from the hospital. I established the hospital on humanitarian grounds only.”

The construction of the infrastructure of the hospital has been completed. However, project director Delwar Hossain said that it has not started yet. He told Prothom Alo that the NGO implementing the project has not yet completed the decoration work of the hospital. That’s why it’s not being opened.

A total of Tk 900 million was given as grant (in 2017 and 2019) to build old home at Madaripur in the name of the parents of former home secretary and commissioner of Anti-Corruption Commission Mozammel Haque khan, orphanage in the name of his grandfather and hospital in the name of his house (Khan Bari).

Sources of Madaripur District Social Services Office said that the activities of three institutions namely Wajeda-Quddus Elderly Home, Nawab Ali Khan Orphanage and Khanbari Community Hospital have not yet fully started. These institutions are established by Wajeda-Quddus Welfare Foundation.

“It is true that it was easier to get the projects as I was in the vital posts. But I did not commit any irregularity,” Moazammel Haque Khan told Prothom Alo.

Besides, Tk 190 million was taken to construct Fazlul Haque Senior Home and Vocational Training Centre for the adolescents who are lagging behind in Sirajganj in the name of the father of former law affairs secretary (deceased) Zahirul Haque. A grant of Tk 200 million (2020) was given for setting up a training centre and health centre in the name of the parents (Golejan Begum and Shamsuddin Ahmed) of former religion affairs secretary Nurul Islam.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik said that avoiding conflict of interest is the basic principle of bureaucracy. In the past bureaucrats did not even think of any project in their area.

“Now we have forgotten the difference between bureaucracy and landlordism. By looking at these works, it seems that the bureaucracy has become landlordism,” he added.

‘I could make a mistake as I was emotional’

The socio-economic wing of the Planning Commission looks after the projects of the Department of Social Services. Additional secretary Swapan Kumar Ghosh took charge as the head of the wing in March 2020. He has established Prafulla Pratibha Pravin Nibas, orphanage and help centre for people with special needs in Payari village of Shatruchitpur Union in Magura sadar upazila in the name of his parents. The total cost of this project has been estimated at Tk 280 million. Out of this, the government has allocated Tk 225.6 million.

The project has been implemented by Prafulla Pratibha Trust. Swapan Kumar Ghosh is the president of this trust and his wife Chitra Rani Kar is the general secretary. Two five-storied buildings have been constructed under the project.

Swapan Kumar Ghosh is now retired. When asked whether it is a conflict of interest to process a project related to his own interest, Swapan Kumar Ghosh said, “I could make a mistake as I was emotional.”

On 6 June, it was seen that buildings for old people’s home and orphanages have been built. But the residents did not start living there. Magura sadar upazila has a government children’s home. There are a total of 175 seats, including 10 for senior citizens there. But no elders live there. Currently, 120 children stay there.

When asked, who would stay in a private orphanage and old home 15 kilometres away from the Sadar, especially when the elders and children are not staying even at the government institutes, Swapan Kumar Ghosh said, “I am also in doubt about it.”

He further said he is contemplating running the institutions with the help of his friends who stay abroad. He will hand it over to the government if he fails to run it.

‘Why with government money’

Government is spending Tk 2.86 billion to build organisations named after the relatives of ministers and secretaries but doubt remains whether most of these organisations shall get underway or provide services effectively.

Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder was asked for his opinion on utilising tax money to establish institutions in the names of bureaucrats’ parents and relatives.

He told Prothom Alo that establishing an organisation in the name of parents with government money is tantamount to embezzlement. No one can use government money for personal gain. It is the people’s money. Organisations should not have been established in the names of parents with people’s money. The Anti-Corruption Commission should look the matter.

* The report was originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for English edition by Syed Faiz Ahmed