Last week I went to the office of one businessman, who, five years ago, came to meet me at my office in Kuala Lumpur. After exchange of usual courtesies, we talked about a number of issues from business sector to politics, from culture to economy, none was excluded. However, at one time, we had to end our talks due to other engagements.
While my car was on its way to my residence, I was revising our talks to pass the journey time. One issue, which was hitting my mind repeatedly, was nothing but the tender system of Bangladesh. I know there might be difference of opinions on that issue. The arguments could be in favour or against. But, if we think about the rule of law or count the interests of the country, the issue deserves appropriate attention. Whether one is educated or not, a conscientious person of Bangladesh cannot support easily what is happening there. But that is happening. In fact, if we feel very uneasy to think of something, then it becomes really difficult to accept that. That’s why I would like to share my feelings here.Whether it is a public or private organisation, we, who are working there, should maintain transparency in our works. And when it concerns any financial matter, transparency becomes very crucial. Transparency comes with the existence of accountability. In any way, an organisation that likes to be run with accountability must have transparency. It is worth mentioning that the absence of accountability or transparency can easily lead to corruption. A corrupt person always tries to keep his influence and power in the society defying his accountability. Justice in a society without accountability and transparency kills itself silently. Then, truth bows down its head to falsehood. But, it is ought to be the opposite scenario.
Like other countries in the world, Bangladesh also follows a tender procedure to bring transparency in all government procurements, projects or collections that have financial implications. Depending on the amount of money allocated for a particular work, it would be decided whether there would be any tender or not, and if any, what will be the tender criteria. Whether it is a government or private procurement or project, the appropriate authority determines the tender issue. In addition to tender system, projects or procurements are also done through mutual understanding. There are some big projects in Bangladesh which are implemented through bilateral agreements or negotiations, but not following any tender process. However, if any work is done following a procedure that ensures accountability and transparency, then we might restrict ourselves from thinking otherwise.
It is understood that while inviting tenders for any government project, description of the work, total expenditure, duration to complete the work, etc. are specifically mentioned. Then, how does the question of extra expenditure or extension of time come? And from where will the extra money be provided or who will give and for what reason? More such questions might be raised. Once all the conditions of a tender are accepted by the winning party, then the two parties sign necessary document/contract and the execution of the work commences. Is not it the violation of the contract to raise such questions in the implementation stage of the work? It is normal that the beneficiaries would place arguments in favour of their interests. It is not understood why someone cannot present, at least, a statement on this issue to protect the interests of the country. Majority of our people only think whether the work is done or not, there is no need to see anything else. That’s the way it’s going on. Everyone is afraid of telling the truth. As a result these issues remain firmly in the sphere of many irregularities forever.
We know that a general tender process contains - Tender Opening Committee (TOC), Tender Evaluation Committee (TEC), Award of contract, Agreement, Notice about award of contract, etc.
After inviting the tender, the tender opening committee opens tender box and all eligible tenders are sent to the evaluation committee. Important issues in this process are- the tender must be sealed and the tender documents must clearly specify evaluation criteria, technical and financial proposals of the tender are submitted separately, tender is assessed according to evaluation criteria, time for evaluation is fixed and evaluation process is confidential, etc. Tenders without required information and documents are rejected at the first stage just after opening the tender box.
In the last step of the tender procedure, the authorities intimate the winning participant and prepare the contract. The contract includes all the terms and conditions for the execution of the work and the two sides sign it once they agreed. If there are any exceptions to the terms of the contract, then those points must be clearly mentioned in the contract. Do the contracts of our various projects contain any terms or conditions that allow the contractor to claim excess money or time? Maybe there’s something behind. Otherwise, this situation cannot come in this way.Our major projects are usually done through international tender. However, in the case of foreign investment, the contract between the government and investor is to be followed. Here, it might not be necessary to follow usual tender procedure. But, the deadline to complete the project and the amount of money (cost) should be mentioned in the contract. Because, all other terms and conditions of the contract are determined on the basis of these two issues. In case of any natural disaster, then it might be dealt in a different way.
Some of the observations on government projects under tender system are- (1) Projects take more time than it is specified in the tender for completion; (2) The responsibility for increment in the project cost falls on the shoulder of the government; (3) Government has to reduce the allocation of other sectors to provide additional funds for those projects; (4) Delayed completion of projects create enormous public sufferings; (5) Delayed completion of projects also makes heavy monetary loss for the government in all respects; (6) Wrong choice of season for the implementation of short-term projects does not produce appreciating results; (7) Loss of time and money for current projects subsequently hampers the implementation of new projects; etc.
In order to safeguard the economy of Bangladesh, to ensure the accountability and transparency of all establishments and individuals, to prevent any scope for corruption, to reduce public sufferings and above all and to uphold the country’s interests and the image of the government, it is expected that all concerned would look into the issues seriously.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary