Why would people bear burden of Dhaka WASA loan?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Around a year ago the Dhaka WASA managing director Taqsem A. Khan said no organisation can stand on its own feet by begging from the government. He said this to justify hiking the price of WASA water. He, however, did not clarify where does the begging money go or who gets the benefit?

The local government division sent a letter to Dhaka WASA on 16 February saying that as per the loan agreement (LA) and subsidiary loan agreement (SLA) between the WASA and finance department, the due to the WASA is Tk 24039.84 crore (nearly 240.40 billion), reveals a Prothom Alo report. The letter also told the WASA authorities to pay the local and foreign loans and its interests (DSL) at a specific economic code. The amount of DSL of Dhaka WASA in 2019-20 was Rk 125.89 billion.

Have the Dhaka dwellers got the benefit of Dhaka WASA loan to the government that doubled in just four years? If not, then why would they bear the burden? Any of the government development projects is taken up giving priority to people’s interests. But this is probably not true for Dhaka WASA. Whether the Dhaka dwellers get the potable water or not, the top official of this organisation have been raising his salary and allowances every year. The salary of the MD of the organisation that is suffering from huge amount of loan is Tk 625,000 per month.

Questions have been raised about almost all the development projects that the WASA has taken up borrowing money from the government and abroad. Over one third of the capacity of the plant, inaugurated three years ago to supply water to Dhaka city treating Padma river water, is still unused. The reason is scarcity of supply line. Despite constructing a plant in Dasherkandi to treat waste matter, the construction of sewerage network to carry the wastes from catchment area has not begun. Most of the projects the Dhaka WASA has been implementing are not being completed on time and in fixed cost. The instances of the work remaining incomplete even after increasing the tenure and allocation is not few.

Dhaka WASA has hiked the water price 14 times in the last 13 years. On the one hand the amount of loan is increasing; on the other hand, the people are also being deprived of potable water. Why would people bear the cost of the development work they are not getting benefit of? Executive director of Institute for Planning and Development, an urban research and policy analysing body, professor Adil Mohammed Khan has justifiably told Prothom Alo that projects, involving a huge amount of foreign loans, have been taken one after another though those were not sustainable from planning and economic point of view.

Why would the people bear the burden of such projects? Both the salary and tenure of Dhaka WASA managing director is a record. A fair investigation is necessary to find out the amount of money Dhaka WASA spent in the last 13 years and the benefits people could get from that. It should also unearth the incidents of corruption and irregularities alongside identifying the people involved with those.

No autonomous organisation that runs at the people’s tax-money can work as per the whim of any individual.