Covid Purchase Anomaly In Railway: Ministry shrugs off own probe findings
Ignoring its own probe committee's recommendation to take punitive measures against 21 officials for purchase anomalies, the railways ministry has promoted one of them and started the process for another.
Of the officials, all but one continue to serve in their positions without facing any departmental action in the last three months since the submission of the probe report.
One official was suspended last year over a separate allegation.
The three-member body, formed by the ministry on August 25 last year, found the officials involved in irregularities in the procurement of Covid-19 protective materials at higher prices, even before the completion of any tender process.
Submitted to the ministry on November 5 last year, the report recommended taking disciplinary action against the officials and excluding them from any kind of procurement process.
But a month after submitting the report, Sardar Sahadat Ali, an additional director general, got a promotion instead, found The Daily Star.
Besides, the ministry started the process of promoting Monjur-Ul-Alam Chowdhury, another ADG, in line with the Superior Selection Board's recommendation.
Despite being named in the probe report, Ruhul Quader Azad, chief controller of stores and three other officials still have the authority to procure different types of materials for the state-run transport agency, according to documents obtained by this newspaper.
The Bangladesh Railway (BR) suspended operation of its passenger trains in the wake of the countrywide shutdown imposed in late March last year to contain the spread of Covid-19.
It, however, continued freight train operations to ensure the supply of goods.
There are 25,000 staff in the agency.
Headed by Joint Secretary Faizur Rahman Faruqui, the probe committee was formed following media reports on Covid-19 protective materials being procured for BR East Zone without a tender process and at higher prices from selected suppliers.
Shahidul Islam, joint director general (engineering), and Najmul Haque, deputy secretary of the ministry, were other members of the committee.
The probe report said following the demands of different BR departments, materials worth Tk 4.65 crore were purchased from several contractors.
The report held 21 officials of BR East Zone responsible for irregularities in the purchase process and recommended "the authorities take action against the persons involved".
It also read, "Allegations published in the newspapers are true and the matter of purchasing goods at higher prices is also proved."
It was possible to float one tender as all the demands came within two to three days, but there were separate tenders in small lots to avoid approval from the higher authority, said the report.
The chief controller of stores is authorised for calling tender of at highest, Tk 30 lakh, while for an ADG, Tk 50 lakh.
The report said "some materials" on demand letters were received from suppliers even before tenders were called.
The probe found that the price evaluation committee's certification that the products were procured "in line with the market prices" was irrational as the officials assigned to check this reported a higher cost for every material.
The report shows three officials -- Monjur, Sahadat Ali and Ruhul Quader -- approved the market prices while Sahadat, Ruhul and Belal Hossain Sarkar were among those who approved the tenders.
Other officials were involved in different phases of the procurement, the report shows.
The probe also found three different offices of BR bought the same products at different rates.
For example, when the CCS office bought each KN95 mask at Tk 727, COS (east) office procured it at Tk 351, and CME (east) at Tk 250.
Similarly, when the CCS office purchased a jar of 1-litre Savlon at Tk 442, COS (east) office spent Tk 647, and CME (east) office Tk 750 on it, according to the report.
PROMOTED, THEY CONTINUE PROCUREMENT
Sahadat Ali was general manager (east) and Monjur-Ul-Alam additional director general (mechanical) of BR when the said procurement processes were carried out between March and July last year.
Sahadat was appointed ADG (operations) on December 6 last year.
The two were still in grade-3 while discharging duties of GM and ADG that fall under grade-2 as current charges.
The Superior Selection Board, on December 24, recommended promoting the duo to grade-2 and the railways ministry on December 27 issued a circular promoting Sahadat along with another official.
The ministry could not issue a circular regarding Monjur as he was yet to complete the stipulated three-year service in feeder post, a position from which a promotion is made.
It, however, sent a proposal to the president to condone the time limit so that he can be promoted to grade-2, said a BR official with knowledge of the promotion process. The decision is still pending.
The probe committee recommended excluding all 21 officials from the procurement process but this correspondent found documents showing four of them involved in the tender process even after submission of the report.
Ruhul Quader signed a document on January 17 this year "for selection and approval of qualified potential tenderer for the procurement of diesel electric multiple unit (DEMU) spare parts of Bangladesh Railway."
He also signed three other purchase-related documents between December 2 last year and January 20.
Of the 21 officials, documents show Belal Hossain Sarkar and two assistant controllers of stores were involved in tender processes. Belal, as the controller of stores of BR East Zone, signed a tender-related document on December 8.
The ministry, on December 29, suspended Belal after another probe committee found him involved in irregularities in railway purchases when he was controller of stores of the West Zone during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
This correspondent went to Monjur's office to take his comment on February 3. But he declined to meet this correspondent, let alone give a comment.
Sardar Sahadat Ali said he was not aware of the allegations.
"If the probe report contains my name and the authority seeks my reply, I will comply," he told The Daily Star at his Rail Bhaban office on February 10.
When this correspondent mentioned the allegations brought against him, he said, "I am not formally informed about it. So I will not talk about it."
The Daily Star tried to contact Ruhul Quader Azad over the phone but could not reach him, even after sending a text message.
Belal also could not be reached.
Contacted on February 3, Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan also admitted that no action was taken against the officials.
While apparently trying to trivialise the allegations, the minister said he sent the probe report to the director general of BR and would take the next step upon receiving the latter's opinion.
Talking to The Daily Star, Transparency International Bangladesh's Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said this is an example of how institutionalised collusive corruption is in the Bangladesh Railway.
"Taking no action after submission of the probe committee report rather giving promotion, manifested how deeply corruption is entrenched in the railway," he told The Daily Star on February 8.
"In this given circumstance, the question may arise whether railway high-ups are involved in the collusion," he questioned.