Why is RHD hiring firms with poor records?
We are disappointed at the way the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has been planning and implementing its road improvement projects across the country, with a majority of them having to face time and cost overruns. Far from trying to rectify this abysmal track record, the state-run agency has now decided to give the job of implementing a part of the Dhaka-Sylhet highway expansion project – a Tk 16,918.59 crore undertaking to turn the 210km highway into a four-lane one – to two contractors who, reportedly, also have a questionable record in project implementation.
One of them, Sinohydro Engineering Bureau 8 Corporation Ltd, a subsidiary of Chinese firm Sinohydro, earned a bad name for its work on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway expansion, while the other, Toma Construction & Company Ltd (TCCL), a local company, was accused of being reluctant or extremely slow in implementing several projects in the past. Now, the first company is going to be awarded a Tk 576.05 crore contract and the second, along with a Turkish company, is going to be awarded a Tk 896.81 crore contract. These two are among the 13 contractors being assigned for the project.
The question is: why would the RHD authorities choose two companies with proven records of incompetence for this important work? While the director of the project claims that the tendering process is being conducted following the guideline of the Asian Development Bank, we think the government should investigate the authenticity of their claims as well as potential irregularities. Another question that we must ask is: why have they decided to implement the project under six packages? Apparently, the tendency to divide project work in "small packages" eventually benefits the influential, non-professional contractors. Did the RHD think it through before making such a decision?
One may recall that, in 2018, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had sent a letter to the secretary of Cabinet Division with 21 recommendations to prevent institutional corruption in the Roads and Highways Department. At the time, the ACC pointed out several irregularities in awarding tender, and observed that some syndicates were choosing the contractors for the RHD projects. In its investigations, the ACC also found that a number of engineers and other officials of the RHD were building sub-standard roads to misappropriate public money. It revealed that these officials acted in collusion with politically influential persons and contractors to violate the terms of tender.
We, therefore, urge the RHD authorities to remain cautious while selecting firms for its projects, and ensure that only competent firms with good track records get the contracts. This, however, is only one of the many problems that are plaguing the RHD projects right now. In order for this vital department to implement all its projects on time and within fixed budgets, it needs to eliminate corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement and also make the reforms necessary going forward.