Foreign trips: Wrong picks at wrong time
Senior government officials are set to go to Germany for a training exercise that could have benefited field-level officials who are implementing a groundwater monitoring project.
The training is scheduled to be held between November 20 and 24 and the project is called Strengthening Hydrological Information Services and Early Warning Systems (SHEWS).
The project has been implemented and is in the stage of technology transfer, from a German company to Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB). The Tk 40 crore project is funded by World Bank's credit.
But the training will be given to the wrong people, according to water resources ministry officials and field-level personnel.
"The training is basically needed for field-level officials to learn about troubleshooting and maintenance [of automated systems]," a ministry official told The Daily Star, wishing not to be named.
But the tour party of eight includes heavyweights like two joint secretaries, one deputy secretary and BWDB's additional engineer, executive engineer and project director (PD).
One senior official with groundwater expertise was selected for the trip, but he declined to go, recommending that field-level officials be included for the sake of the project.
"The GO [government order] was issued on October 30. A day later the official expressed his desire to us," confirmed a ministry source.
The expenditure of the training could not be learnt immediately.
BWDB officials and those of the local contractor offices said the cost of the tour would be no less than Tk 30 lakh.
The zero-interest credit from the International Development Association, the World Bank's grant and interest-free credits arm, has a maturity of 38 years including a six-year grace period and carries a service charge of 0.75 percent.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at a cabinet meeting on July 25, restricted all government-funded overseas visits by government officials except in cases of foreign aid.
Under the project, undertaken to automate the data collection and transmission, 905 automated wells with data loggers and telemetry systems have been installed replacing the manual observation wells.
The devices collect data every hour and transmit those twice to the respective offices.
The Ground Water Hydrology Directorate collects data to assess aquifers, water levels, hydraulic gradients, flow velocity and direction and water quality.
"The project tenure is yet to be over. That's why we're getting support. But after handover it will be maintained by the field offices," said a geologist who works in a field office.
"The training is basically needed for field officers to learn about troubleshooting and maintenance," he said, adding that around 150 automated wells have already gone out of order.
According to the government order, those going on the trip are: Mohammad Lutfur Rahman water resource ministry's joint secretary; Khairun Nahar, its deputy secretary; SM Ajior Rahman, BWDB's additional director general (admin) and the ministry's joint secretary; Mahbur Rahman, additional director general (easter region) of BWDB; Mashiur Rahman, SHEWS project director; Anwar Zahid, director (geology) of Directorate of Ground Water Hydrology; Mohammad Mahtab Hossain, executive engineer of the project; and Alamgir Hossain, assistant programmer at BWDB.
BWDB sources said although Mahbur, Mashiur and Mahtab are from the board, they have no involvement in the day-to-day work on the groundwater.
"Geologists were not involved in the project implementation … Now the training is given to civil engineers and bureaucrats. What will they do with the knowledge? Will they maintain the wells?" asked a field official.
"Ultimately, people will bear the burden of the credit without getting appropriate services from us. Who do you blame for this?"
Two officials of local agents of the German company also criticised the inclusion of top officials in the training.
"They will not go to the field to apply their learnings from the training," said one of them, preferring to not to be named.
On May 12, the finance ministry issued a notification regarding the government's decision to place embargo on all kinds of overseas trips including all exposure visits/study tours/travels for annual performance agreement (APA), innovation, workshops or seminars for its officials to ease pressure on the foreign exchange reserves.
Contacted, Lutfur Rahman said they are not going abroad with government funds, and that their travel expenditure is covered by project financing.
"Since the money is already allocated for travel, there is no problem," he observed.
Asked about the rationale behind sending top officials rather than field officials who will actually look after the wells, he said they are going as per the decision of the BWDB.
Project Director Mashiur Rahman said the tour is a part of the project. "If we don't go, we'll be deprived," he said, adding that the ministry officials were included in the tour for supervision purposes.