Corruption has crossed all limits
According to yet another damning audit report by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the Standard Asiatic Oil Company Ltd (SAOCL), a subsidiary of the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), has deprived the government – or, more accurately, the people – of Tk 472.7 crore through 21 counts of irregularities. This came to light after the CAG went over the company's books from 2012-13 to 2019-20 fiscal years and made field visits. Over the past several weeks, multiple audit reports by the CAG have given us a small peak behind the curtain to see how different government organisations are functioning. And the picture that has formed from what little information we have seen so far is truly terrifying.
SAOCL is a 50-50 joint venture between the BPC and the Asiatic Industries. According to the CAG audit report, anomalies in the SAOCL include embezzlement by top officials, high rates, overtime, missing funds, irregularities in payment of litigation fees, and violation of the Income Tax Ordinance and VAT Rules. Moinuddin Ahmed, one of its five directors and the president of its management advisory committee, was found majorly involved in the irregularities.
Ahmed took out Tk 86.7 crore from SAOCL's bank accounts for company purposes from FY 2011-12 to FY2013-14 without furnishing any vouchers or invoices for the advances. He also withdrew Tk 23.11 crore from FY2012-13 to FY2015-16 in advance – thanks to no withdrawal ceiling – and never returned the funds. According to an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Ahmed bought two flats under his wife's name on Gulshan Avenue for Tk 12.37 crore and six flats for Tk 10.31 crore in Lalmatia, North Kamalapur, Baridhara, Bashundhara, and Chattogram's Halishahar with the money embezzled from SAOCL.
While Ahmed is currently under ACC investigation, it is obvious given the scale of the irregularities that the BPC's internal controls have failed, as auditors have pointed out. Therefore, the government should launch a full-scale investigation into the matter and bring to book all those responsible. This is not the first audit report to disclose the outright looting of public funds that is happening in relation to the BPC. A previous audit report submitted in parliament in June revealed that the state coffer was robbed of about Tk 4,697 crore because of irregularities in 11 companies under Petrobangla between FY2014-15 and FY2016-17, and in two companies of BPC in FY2013-14.
Therefore, we cannot accept the statement made by the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources that, "BPC is responsible for looking into the issue of SAOCL. If BPC finds any irregularity, then they can take action." Clearly the BPC has failed that task, and it is such lackadaisical attitude on the minister's part that is partly responsible for it. We expect the concerned minister in particular, and the government in general, to take the findings of the audit reports much more seriously. Bangladesh is currently going through a significant economic crisis. And government corruption has been one of the biggest reasons behind that. It is high time we established some accountability and transparency in governance.