Institutionalised mismanagement in CPA

The port authorities must answer for the misallocation of funds
Corruption in CPA

The number of irregularities haunting the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) is truly staggering. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the state coffers were robbed of Tk 258 crore for 26 counts of irregularities by the CPA between fiscal 2017-18 and 2019-20. They include violations of Public Procurement Rules 2008, Income Tax Ordinance 1984, National Board of Revenue's order and statutory regulatory order, Chittagong Port Ordinance 1976 and Central Public Works codes and breach of contract terms. For each of the irregularities, the CAG sought explanation from the CPA chairman and the shipping secretary, but got no answer, according to the CAG report submitted to the parliament in June 2022.

The CPA chairman, however, has refuted this allegation, saying that his organisation had answered each of the enquiries made by the CAG. He further said that the CPA was not involved in any financial irregularity in regards to one anomaly mentioned in the report concerning the procurement of a tug boat. The CPA had signed an agreement with New Western Marine Ship Builders for the procurement of a high-power tug boat for Tk 37.75 crore, Tk 3 crore more than the shipping ministry's estimated cost of Tk 34.72 crore, the CAG said. The contractor was supposed to deliver the tug boat by June 2017, but as of May 2020, the tug boat remained undelivered. Consequently, the shipping ministry asked the CPA to take punitive action against the supplier. But the port authority continued to pay the contractor in violation of the Particular Condition of Contract, instead of taking any action against the contractor like cancelling the contract or confiscating performance security or blacklisting it.

The state coffers were also deprived of Tk 32.27 crore after CPA's accounts and finance department deducted income tax from the bill of berth operators at a rate prescribed by the National Board of Revenue from fiscals 2017-18 to 2019-20. Another Tk 30 crore was lost because the CPA's estate department had failed to collect rent from companies for CPA's leased out properties. Despite not achieving its set targets, the port authority gave Tk 29.27 crore as incentive bonus to its officers and staff in fiscal 2019-20. This was counted as another irregularity by the CAG, which called for the collection of the amount back. Moreover, the CPA incurred a financial loss of Tk 10.9 crore for rental cars and microbuses, overshooting the ceiling set by the finance ministry for such expenses.

All of these indicate that corruption and mismanagement within the CPA have become rampant. At a time when the prime minister herself has repeatedly called on different government ministries to practice austerity, the CPA's decision to exceed its expenditure ceiling set by the finance ministry without hesitation illustrates how little those in charge of it care about saving public money. Additionally, the number of irregularities discovered by the CAG shows that corruption within the CPA has become institutionalised. And that is extremely concerning. It is time for the government to demand answers from the CPA, and to punish those responsible for its errant behaviour. The government should also look to recover the misallocated funds, as recommended by the CAG.


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