Dhaka Central Jail: Tk 37.5cr mishandled in just one year
In fiscal 2019-20, the Dhaka Central Jail authorities forked out Tk 9.11 crore to procure rice for inmates. That rice turned out to be unfit for consumption.
"The rice was of inferior quality, broken and putrid," said the auditors from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh, the government's supreme audit body, after an on-site inspection of the silos.
It can thus be assumed that the entire amount had gone to waste. This was not the only irregularity unearthed by the auditors by poring over the bills, vouchers, bill registers and from on-site visits.
From providing substandard, scanty food to spending in excess of demand on foodstuff, from violating procurement rules to not depositing canteen proceeds to the exchequer, the authorities indulged in as many as 14 counts of irregularities during the course of the fiscal year involving Tk 37.5 crore.
A report on the CAG auditors' findings was presented to the parliament in June.
As per the jail code, the daily allowance for inmates' three square meals is Tk 59.34 and for prisoners Tk 54.66.
So for the entire fiscal year, the food bill should have been Tk 20.6 crore. But the authorities billed Tk 26.7 crore, meaning the government was charged Tk 6.1 crore extra.
This is a violation of General Financial Rules, the report said.
Not just that, the meal served to the prisoners and inmates were substandard.
The portion size of fish and meat was smaller than the minimum prescribed intake and no fruits are served, the report found.
For lunch, the inmates and prisoners were supposed to get rice, lentils and vegetables, but they are only served rice and lentils.
The same menu is served day in and day out and it is not appetising, so a huge portion of food is wasted. The inmates end up forking out prisoners cash to purchase food from the prison canteen.
The authorities were supposed to deposit the proceeds of the prison canteen to the government exchequer. But they do not, which violates the rules.
The authorities were supposed to get the food served to the inmates approved by the resident civil surgeon, as per the jail code.
But an on-field visit by the auditors to the Kashimpur High-Security Central Jail and the Women Central Jail in Gazipur found that this was not the case.
"This poses health risks for the inmates," the report said, adding that the two prisons spent Tk 10.6 crore on food.
The authorities also broke public procurement rules and the finance ministry's Delegation of Financial Power rules in tender approval and bill payment involving Tk 22.1 crore.
As per rules, for tenders upwards of Tk 2 crore, the authorities are supposed to take approval from the home ministry. This was not adhered to.
The senior jail superintendent of Kashimpur Central Jail-1 instead split the tender into five packages, which were for the other three prisons under the Dhaka Central Jail, and went ahead with the tenders and bill payment.
Besides, all four prisons under the Dhaka Central Jail are supposed to have separate procurement and tender as their budgets are different.
During the period under review, Iqbal Kabir Chowdhury served as the senior jail superintendent of Dhaka central jail.
As a departmental head, he was responsible for ensuring compliance with financial regulations.
Contacted, Chowdhury, who is currently on pre-retirement leave, said: "I know nothing about it. I am not in a position to disclose anything about it."
The audit report has revealed losses amounting to Tk 26.41 lakh for the government in the purchase of cigarettes at inflated prices in different jails.
According to the report, a tender was invited to procure cigarettes for death row convicts. MS Liton Enterprise won the bid, offering each cigarette for Tk 4.88.
However, between January 2020 and June 2020, the jail authorities paid Tk 6.7 and Tk 6.6 per cigarette to the bidding company, resulting in unnecessary expenses.
At the time of payment, Jahanara Begum served as the Senior Jail Superintendent at Kashimpur central jail-2. Currently, she holds the position of Senior Jail Superintendent in Mymensingh Jail.
When contacted, Jahanara's husband answered the call and said she is currently ill and unable to provide any comments or engage in discussions.
Md Abdullah Al Masud Chowdhury, secretary of the Security Service Division, declined to speak on the matter and redirected inquiries to the directorate of prisons.
Sheikh Sujaur Rahman, additional inspector general of the directorate of prisons, said he was unaware of any audit report by CAG.
The prison authorities diligently monitor the type of food served, he said, while acknowledging the possibility of irregularities. He, however, said that "necessary actions are taken when any anomaly comes to their attention".
Regarding the deposit of jail canteen earnings in the treasury, Rahman said the canteen is not funded by the government, but rather by prisoners' cash.
If the canteens were government-funded, the earnings would be submitted to the treasury, but since it operates on prisoner funds, the earnings are utilised for the welfare of jail staff, in accordance with the specified rules.