The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) published a list on July 9 of 14 blacklisted contractors who had misappropriated over Tk 100 crore from various government medical colleges and hospitals. As per the list, one contractor alone—a Topkhana-based medical equipment supplier called Bengal Scientific and Surgical Company—has embezzled Tk 44.9 million from Rangpur Medical College Hospital, Tk 16.6 crore from Satkhira Medical College Hospital in one instance, and a further Tk 60.6 million from Satkhira Medical in conjunction with Messrs Mercantile Trade International and Universal Trade Company. A report published in this daily highlights that a case was filed against this contractor by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in November and three more cases were filed against it in Rangpur and Satkhira between July and October last year.
It begs the question: why did it take the DGHS over six months to take action against these corrupt contractors when the ACC had submitted detailed investigation reports about their irregularities, and when there were already cases filed against them? One contractor had a case filed against it in 2015. Unfortunately, delayed and inadequate responses to the ACC's recommendations by the health ministry and associated institutions has become the norm—a report published last month highlighted how the ACC's warning about corruption in the purchase of medicines, surgical equipment and other machines had been ignored for 16 months by the relevant authorities.
The ACC has, on multiple occasions, warned about an alleged nexus of contractors and officials from the DGHS and other organisations under the ministry who enable such corruption and misappropriation of money, and provide impunity to embezzlers. We have also demanded on numerous instances that those involved with syndicates be brought to book. It's time the DGHS answers the public about what steps, if any, it has taken to identify the errant staffers within its own organisation.
Blacklisting of corrupt contractors is hardly a permanent solution to what seems to be a systemic problem. Unless those tasked with the responsibility of choosing and monitoring procurement processes are held to account, these 14 blacklisted contractors will simply be replaced with 14 others, and the public will have to continue to pay the price for it.