Water Development Board: Autonomy gone, efficiency too | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 18, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:09 AM, November 18, 2020

Water Development Board: Autonomy gone, efficiency too

Now a statutory body largely dependent on the ministry with its governing council non-functional

As an executing authority managing the vast water resources of the riverine country, Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) has been handicapped ever since the government curtailed its autonomy.

The government turned the BWDB into a statutory body from an autonomous one with the promulgation of the Bangladesh Water Development Board Act 2000.

Although the move was aimed at making it more "efficient", BWDB has been gradually sinking into a bureaucratic tangle since then -- mainly due to a largely symbolic governing council, said experts and insiders.

The 13-member governing council, headed by the water resources minister, with a mandate to look after operational jobs and major projects, is supposed to hold a meeting every two months, according to the BWDB Act.

In the last 20 years, 120 meetings of the governing council were supposed to be held, but only 45 took place till date, according to its officials.

The 45th governing council meeting, scheduled for May 2019, was deferred a number of times before it was finally held on October 19 this year.

When it was an autonomous body, it used to hold meetings twice a week. It helped to take quick decisions, said a BWDB official working there for three decades.

In the BWDB Act, the governing council, headed by the water resources minister, was incorporated at the top of the organogram.

Other members include the secretaries of water and environment ministries, finance division and local government division; one water resources engineer; one water resources expert; one representative each from an NGO, Institute of Chartered Accountants and beneficiary organisations; director general of Water Resources Planning Organisation; and the BWDB director general.

According to the act, the council's chairman fixes the time and the venue and a meeting has to be held every two months. At least six members are required for a quorum.

Due to the non-functionality of the governing council, BWDB had to turn to the ministry concerned for major decisions and gradually became fully dependent on it.

Preferring to remain unnamed, the BWDB official said that in the first 28 years since independence, BWDB's performance as an autonomous body had ebbed and flowed.

Yet, he added, it has done some great jobs such as constructing the Teesta Barrage, and implementing the Coastal Embankment and Dhaka Integrated Flood Protection projects.

But things changed once it was made a statutory body, he said, adding that the BWDB has now become a less lucrative body due to job insecurity and the absence of technically qualified people in leading roles.

'BOARD' TO 'DIRECTORATE'

There have been recent attempts to address the problem of a non-functional governing council and other issues that impede better management of the organisation working to ensure the country's food and water security and minimise flood damage.

An 11-member committee was formed in April 2018 to amend the BWDB Act 2000. The committee, in its fourth meeting on February 20, 2019, decided to transform the board into a directorate, and three sub-committees were formed in this regard.

In one of the meetings held on the formation of the directorate, 13 loopholes of the act and existing problems were identified.

One of these was that the governing council failing to comply with the act's mandate of meetings every two months is hampering BWDB activities.

Execution of important work like the annual budget, procurement, and additional work order or property handover requires approval from the governing council.

While the BWDB Act contained a provision over the formation of the governing council, no clear-cut directives were given over the formation of the BWDB itself.

Also, as a statutory body, BWDB's officials and engineers are not entitled to the rank their peers in equivalent positions in government agencies and departments receive.

This has created disparity in pay and rank and contributed to job insecurity, which the committee identified as another loophole. 

BWDB Director General Engr AM Aminul Haque, however, said all these limitations will be solved with the formation of a directorate.

"That is why a move has been taken from both the water resources ministry and BWDB to transform the statutory board into a complete government organisation," he told The Daily Star recently.

"The communication between the ministry and us will be smoother. Our work will gain pace," he said.

"Officials are now working on the Bangladesh Water Resources Directorate Act 2019," the DG added, without elaborating.

Pointing to the manpower shortage, he said many skilled officers quit BWDB jobs -- finding it non-lucrative as it is only a statutory organisation.

"But after the formation of the directorate, officials will get BCS rank. The problem will be solved then," he said.

Deputy Minister for Water Resources AKM Enamul Hoque Shameem, too, opined that transforming BWDB into a directorate will bring more dynamism.

"We need to take quick action. Under the ministry, the directorate will be able to function quickly," he said on November 10, adding it will also solve the issue of job dissatisfaction among officials.

But experts debated whether the formation of a directorate will make BWDB efficient in implementing the multi-billion dollar Delta Plan 2100 for example.

The government formulated the Delta Plan in 2018 to ensure water and food security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability, and reduce vulnerability to natural disasters and building resilience to climate change and other delta challenges.

Dr Abdul Matin, professor at the department of water resources engineering of Buet, said the job of BWDB is technical -- therefore, a technically qualified person should be in the leading role.

"A technical person used to lead it when it was autonomous and the country saw some tremendous work at that time."

The board will completely be under a bureaucratic grip after its transformation into a directorate, Dr Matin added.

 

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