Decision against public interest for whose sake

Prothom Alo illustration

The production of boro, aush and aman will not meet the target this year because of flashflood and incessant rain as well as the lowest-ever rainfall during the rainy season, with the government high-ups fearing a possible hike in the price of rice in November-December. Though this is a time befitting decision to ensure food security of the country, the food ministry has inked a deal to procure wheat from Russian at higher price violating the law, and, furthermore, process is on to import rice at higher price from international market.

According to a Prothom Alo report, a third party has been involved in the process to import wheat from Russia under the government-to-government (G2G) scheme. No third party from the private sector can get involved in the G2G procurement process as per the Public Procurement Act. Yet, a private firm, National Electronic, mediated the entire process of wheat procurement. Though the Russian state-controlled United Grain Company is the market leader in exporting wheat from the country, Bangladesh inked a deal with another firm of the country, Prodintorg, which runs with small number of staff.

It is learned that the food ministry is going to purchase wheat from Russia’s Prodintorg at higher price than that of global market. Price of wheat dropped to $300 a tonne when the deal was inked at the end of August. With the rising freight cost, it is logical that import cost may go up slightly, but the food ministry is purchasing wheat at $430 a tonne and that is, in fact, unusual. And, the food ministry said wheat is being purchased at the lowest price considering everything. Rules to call open tender is followed to get an idea on international market and fix price to export rice and wheat at the government level. The food ministry called tender on 17 August and cancelled it on 29 August.

According to the food ministry, currently, there are stocks of 1.74 million tonnes of rice and 135,000 tonnes of wheat in the country. Yet, the government are going to pay higher price than that of international market to import rice from Vietnam and Myanmar. Such allegation is not new in purchasing foods at the government level. But economy of the country is facing a crisis due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war; various austerity measures have been taken to save fuel and dollars, and experts think that foods should be purchased at the lowest price amidst such a situation. But, the procurement nature and process of the food ministry may seem that they are spending the government fund in accordance with their wish.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said the decision to import rice and wheat at a higher price than that of the international market goes against the public interest, and a dishonest, unscrupulous and opportunist syndicate is being provided with an opportunity to make immoral and excessive profit. On top of that, daily food situation report has been removed from the food ministry’s website and that put the entire process on further question.

Now, the question is for whose sake this decision against public interest was taken by violating the law. Price will be fixed through bargaining, and rice and wheat must be imported at lower price following proper process. It is necessary to hold those who benefit directly and indirectly taking advantage of crisis accountable by identifying them through fair and impartial investigation.