Poor showing of a project on waterway accidents
It is disappointing to know the dismal rate of progress of a Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence project that, if implemented properly, would have expanded its diving unit. As per the findings of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) of the ministry of planning, although the project deadline of three years has passed this year, it has seen only 15 percent progress since its initiation in 2018. The goal of the Tk 165.19 crore project was to equip and train divers with modern rescue equipment in a bid to reduce the country's high rate of deaths by drowning (around 18,000 per year). But not only have the majority of the equipment not been acquired, but those that are there are also sitting idle in the project director's office, with their warranties nearing expiration.
Moreover, due to the "availability" of some of the equipment (such as tugboats, jetties, and pontoons), 68 percent of the estimated Development Project Proposal (DPP) was excluded while "only 19.97 percent of purchase packages were placed for tender" until June of this year. According to our report, there are only 50 divers countrywide. On top of that, the project director claims that the finance ministry refused their proposal to appoint six divers in each district, so they are planning on downsizing their ask to at least three divers per district and resubmitting the proposal. Reportedly, though the revised DPP stood at Tk 63.4 crore after the exclusions, and only 16 percent of the expected capital expenditure was fulfilled, the allocated budget for transportation and office equipment was already spent.
So, we are left to wonder why such major irregularities and delays of large-scale government projects are allowed, unopposed and unpunished. Frankly, the way this vital, life-saving project has been handled from the start leaves a lot to be desired. The excuse of pandemic-induced disruptions in regular activities is unacceptable when it comes to projects and initiatives that have a direct bearing on matters of life and death. The divers are a vital part of any rescue effort in case of waterway accidents, and the authorities must ensure there are enough of them in case of an accident and that they are equipped properly to do their job. Even this past Friday, at least 22 people (including nine children) died in a boat capsizing incident in Brahmanbaria's Laishka Beel, which shows, once again, the importance of reinforcing the diving unit.
If the proposal to extend the project duration by a year is approved by the planning ministry, we would urge the fire service and project managers to use the time effectively by not only recruiting and training an appropriate number of divers, but also to use any existing or to-be-acquired equipment to improve their response time when waterway accidents occur.