Where crimes draw no flak
12:00 AM, April 17, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:52 AM, April 17, 2017

Where crimes draw no flak

Misappropriation of fertiliser by a syndicate involved in shipment and transport, and mismanagement by its custodian -- the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation -- have scuttled government's commendable initiative for farm sector. This systematic graft has cost the state about Tk 100 crore each year since 2009. Hasan Jahid Tusher follows up his recent four-part series on this institutional corruption with two more reports. Here is the first part.

A culture of impunity has been reigning supreme in the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) for years.

A look into the affairs of the corporation reveals that even a parliamentary standing committee could not get the corporation to take action against its officials for corruption, negligence and malpractice.

For example, BCIC's own investigation found two of its officers and a fertiliser transporter misappropriated over 1,500 tonnes of urea worth Tk 3.94 crore in fiscal 2015-2016. 

Nabir Uddin Khan, former in-charge of Shantahar buffer warehouse, now on post-retirement leave, and contractor Bulk Trade International were directly involved in this. They prepared fake documents that showed the fertiliser reached the BCIC warehouse.   

Masudur Rahman, an accounts official of Shahjalal Fertiliser Company Ltd posted at the Shantahar warehouse at that time, was indirectly involved, according to the 2016 probe led by Alta Masul Islam, deputy manager (administration). Masudur helped Nabir and the Bulk Trade contractor realise the bill.  

The probe report was submitted to the BCIC marketing division on November 27 last year. The BCIC's then head of marketing ABM Ferdous, now posted to the ICT department, on January 15 wrote to the three asking them to return the money within 15 days or face legal actions.

No action was taken against any of them even though they did not pay a penny back.

Bulk Trade's owner Aminul Islam Mamun said his company delivered the fertiliser and that they had proof of this. It was not their concern if the fertiliser was misappropriated from the BCIC warehouse.

In another internal probe report submitted on March 2 this year, the BCIC again found Nabir and Masudur responsible for misappropriation of around 3,890 tonnes of fertiliser worth Tk 13.63 crore -- in the same fiscal year and from the same warehouse.

Transport contractor M/S Delta Shipping and Trading submitted a bill for delivering 8,500 tonnes of fertiliser to the warehouse. The company even received most of the payments for the delivery.

However, the warehouse officials told the BCIC headquarters that 3,890 tonnes were unaccounted for.

Again, neither Nabir nor Masudur faced any actions.

Masudur told The Daily Star that Nabir forged his signature to misappropriate the fertiliser. “I want a fair probe into the allegations.”

Contacted by phone, Nabir first said he could not hear this correspondent. He did not pick any of the calls later.

Following a probe in 2009, the industries ministry asked the BCIC to file a departmental case against the then deputy-chief of personnel Momtaz Begum for “corruption, nepotism, taking financial benefit and leaking recruitment exam's question paper in 2009”.

Since then, no action has been taken against Momtaz. The BCIC even promoted her to the post of chief of personnel (CoP), a crucial post in the corporation, superseding several other officials. She also was made director (company board) of six factories of the BCIC.

Momtaz could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts for five consecutive days.

Allegations of fund misappropriations in 2015 against BCIC Director (Production & Research) Mohammad Shaheen Kamal were proved in an internal probe late last year. Shaheen was the controller of accounts of the BCIC at that time.

Like Momtaz, he was promoted first to the post of secretary of the BCIC and then made a director superseding other officials.

The BCIC probe body submitted its report to the parliamentary standing committee on the industries ministry with a recommendation for taking punitive actions against him.

Shaheen told The Daily Star that the allegation of misappropriation of funds was not true. “The money was spent as per the rules.”

He said the authorities issued a show-cause notice on him following a probe body's recommendation.

“I responded to the notice. If the authorities are not satisfied, they may take action against me,” he said.

Momtaz and Shaheen were rewarded instead of getting punished because they have “blessings” of BCIC Chairman Mohammad Iqbal, sources in the corporation said.

A number of officials were found involved in misappropriating fertiliser worth crores of taka in the last several years in the name of “fertiliser in transit” but they faced almost no punitive actions, apart from a few transfers.

In November last year, the parliamentary standing committee suggested that the ministry take legal actions against those people, but to no avail.

In April last year, BCIC Director General (admin) Saki Hossain in a letter asked the authorities to take action against Shahidul Islam Biswas, deputy-chief engineer (mechanical), after a departmental enquiry found him guilty of taking personal benefits from a company.   

In the letter, Saki mentioned that Shahidul provided false information regarding offloading of fertiliser from a ship.

The BCIC authorities took no action against Shahidul. 

Shahidul Islam said M Trading, the international carrier, gave false information regarding offloading of fertiliser. Based on the claim, he had informed the BCIC that offloading of fertiliser had begun. “I did not do it with evil intentions.”   

He said he was transferred to the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd headquarters in Chittagong. But the CUFL managing director asked him to discharge his duties in Mongla until a suitable person could be found to replace him.

According to documents obtained by this paper, the BCIC in 2013 found negligence of duty by several officials in connection with misappropriation of fertiliser from three vessels.

No action was taken against them.

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE

“We even recommended the ministry suspend four to five officials for their involvement in corruption and misconduct, but unfortunately no action has been taken yet,” said Mohammad Omar Faruque Chowdhury, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the industries ministry.

He said they repeatedly warned the ministry and the BCIC to be more careful about some issues, including fertiliser import and transportation. But those malpractices have been continuing, he said expressing frustration over the ministry's inaction.

“We only play advisory role. We can't take action as we have no administrative authority. We only ask the ministry to take action against anyone for misconduct and it's up to the ministry to act,” he said.   

Officials alleged that due to the corruption and mismanagement, the BCIC incurred a loss of Tk 81 crore last year and Tk 93 crore the previous year. The organisation was a profit making entity for three consecutive years before that.

CHAIRMAN'S SAY

Asked why actions were not taken against the officials despite probe bodies' recommendations, the BCIC chairman said, “To run the BCIC, we need some competent officials.”

He dodged the question about why Momtaz was made the CoP.

On allegations that corruption and mismanagement led to the BCIC incurring losses, Iqbal claimed that he took the BCIC forward in the last two years.

Late last month, the government transferred Iqbal to Bangladesh Climate Change Trust as its MD. The new BCIC chairman joined office on March 30, but Iqbal did not hand over the responsibility.

Instead, he is lobbying hard for extension at the BCIC, sources said. 

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