Who will rein in Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation?
Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) is no stranger to controversies, having made headlines for mismanagement, incompetence and corruption quite regularly. Even judging by the "standard" of our plodding, overspending, underdelivering and by and large unaccountable bureaucracy, it seems to be a cut above the other state agencies. So, it comes as no surprise that the chief of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Undertakings has, according to a report by The Daily Star, expressed "shock" at the extent of financial irregularities at BPC.
The report details the findings of the committee saying that there has been no external audit of the accounts of BPC over the last 10 years. It only conducted internal audits since FY 2012-13. Moreover, even the audit objections raised that year by the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh, which should be doing the annual auditing, have not been resolved till now. Alarmingly, in FY 2012-13, the CAG found irregularities of Tk 9,295.4 crore at BPC taking place over the two previous years.
For example, a discrepancy of Tk 2,597 crore was seen in the amount of loans it gave to various institutions and projects, as per their respective balance sheets. The BPC also lost Tk 708 crore in interest for failing to collect dues of Tk 5,957 crore from three distributor companies between 2010 and 2012. For eight years till 2012-13, it also never initiated any reconciliation of accounts, which is a process to ensure that the money leaving an account matches the actual money spent. Among other reported irregularities, the BPC sold furnace oil to non-operational power plants, took loans from the government despite having huge deposits with banks, and kept the money it collected as VAT from businesses instead of giving it to the state exchequer, according to the CAG audit report.
These irregularities from the past, and the manner in which BPC authorities have since refused to address them, perfectly match with their recent activities, including whimsically and unthinkingly instituting a record hike in fuel prices, despite having several viable alternatives.
These irregularities from the past, and the manner in which BPC authorities have since refused to address them, perfectly match with their recent activities, including whimsically and unthinkingly instituting a record hike in fuel prices, despite having several viable alternatives. This has taken citizens' living expenses to never-seen-before heights in the country. One of the justifications given for the hike was to make up for the losses of BPC. The amount of concession being given to this organisation, instead of checking its corruption and mismanagement, is really stupendous. Another agency under the same ministry, Petrobangla, is now in the process of getting an indemnity clause included in the Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation Bill-2022 which, if approved, would shield its officials from any legal proceedings for "acting in good faith", effectively absolving them of any responsibility for their actions.
All this shows how unaccountable these institutions have become in the absence of effective interventions from the higher authorities. A continuation of this situation would further erode public trust in these vital institutions. We urge the government to undertake necessary reforms in how they are run so that they can serve public interests, not the interests of corrupt bureaucrats and their political masters.