It came as no surprise that there was yet another case of misappropriation of public funds in the name of non-existent needs for medical equipment—taking place at the Rangpur Medical College in June 2018—but what had us rolling our eyes is the extraordinary swiftness with which this particular case was executed. Normally, it takes several months to complete a tender process. But on this occasion, as an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has revealed, it took just 10 days for those involved in the scam to embezzle Tk 4.49 crore! This entailed selecting a bidder, issuing a work order, passing the bill, submitting it to the district accounts officer, and finally withdrawing the money—all within the space of these 10 days. Among the accused is the college principal, who allegedly went ahead with the purchase without any approval from the Directorate of Health. This is a blatant act of abuse of power. Unfortunately, it’s also quite the norm these days.
We have often reported such cases in which public officials connived with unscrupulous bidders to embezzle taxpayers’ money in the name of purchasing goods for public institutions including hospitals. Often they exploit a need—real or artificial—for supplies of various kinds in these institutions. We have seen several high-profile cases in recent times in which insanely inflated rates for supplies were provided to maximise profits for the embezzlers. These people are clearly emboldened by their political connections, and lack of transparency and accountability in the public procurement system. Adding to their sense of impunity is our fast-crumbling criminal justice system, which often leads to shoddy investigations and consequently low conviction rates. This is a cycle that has all but crippled the public administration—and it needs to be reversed. The government must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for corruption which has emerged as the single biggest challenge to growth in Bangladesh. It should establish transparency and accountability as the guiding principles in the administration.