A government investigation has found massive corruption in the supply of 11kv Automatic Circuit Reclosers (ACRs) for an electricity expansion project of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB).
According to the probe carried out by the Power Division, 230 ACRs out of 527 supplied by a BREB-appointed firm under nine lots became inoperative within the warranty period.
M/S Desh Engineering and Development Agency (Pvt) Ltd supplied a total of 793 low-quality ACRs to the BREB at a cost of Tk 50 crore from 2015 to 2017.
However, 230 of 527 ACRs supplied under nine sub-packages went out of order within the warranty period. The supplier replaced only 25 of the inoperative ACRs.
But the BREB has not yet taken any action against the firm. It has neither withheld the Performance Guaranty deposited by the supplier nor sought any financial remedy, forcing the government to suffer a loss of Tk 12.87 crore (Tk 6.27 lakh for each ACR).
Besides, the BREB took nine months to supply the procurement-related documents after the probe panel sought those for investigation.
The Power Division formed the investigation committee on September 13, 2020 with its Additional Secretary Md Nurul Alam as its head after one Abdul Haque, owner of Century Trading, lodged a complaint in this regard.
The ACRs were purchased from 2015 to 2017 while the firm was established in 2015.
The products were purchased without any verification of quality and test report from that new company.
The ACRs were supplied through local firm M/S Desh Engineering and Development Agency (Pvt) Ltd. After criticisms, the BREB blacklisted Chardon Korea Company Ltd but did not take any action against the local supplier.
It was reported that a leader of the BREB Contractors’ Association owns M/S Desh Engineering.
The report said on September 17, 2020, the committee first sought related documents and information from the BREB.
As the BREB did not respond to the request, the committee again made the request on November 11, 2020.
After long procrastination of 11 months, the board finally sent full-fledged documents and information on August 29 this year.
The probe committee said such non-cooperation by the BREB delayed a proper investigation into the allegations.
The investigation panel recommended ministerial directives so that the BREB supplies necessary documents as needed in future.
It also suggested postponing the refund of the Performance Guaranty to the supplier until the loss is adjusted and taking action against those responsible.
“We’ve submitted our recommendations to the ministry. We’ve recommended that the Power Division launch investigation against alleged irregularities by several companies,” said Nurul Alam, head of the probe committee.
Desh Engineering proprietor Baharul Islam Mintu, however, denied the allegations, saying his company followed all the tender procedures properly. “All of our products were tested at the BREB testing lab in Savar. We also replaced all the inoperative ACRs after one year despite the expiry of the warranty period,” he said.
According to him, Desh Engineering has already completed projects worth over Tk 1,000 crore in the power sector.
“I’ve never faced such complaints in the past. A syndicate of people is trying to tarnish my image,” Mintu said.
BREB Chairman Major General Moin Uddin said the board was yet to get any directive regarding the company. “We’ll take action against the irregularities committed by the company once we get a directive in this regard,” he said.
‘Power Division has no control over BREB’
Energy adviser of Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Prof M Shamsul Alam said the Power Division has no control over the BREB in supervising different projects.
“BREB is implementing electricity expansion projects at their will disregarding the quality of work. This leads to the waste of huge public money,” he told the Daily Sun.
Currently, over 3.16 crore electricity consumers out of total 4.14 crore are the BREB subscribers in the country.
Shamsul suggested that the government conduct independent audits of most of the purchase deals, including the recent corruption allegations against Desh Engineering, as 86 percent of electricity consumers are under the BREB.
“The supply of low-quality equipment in power expansion projects is not only the failure of the BREB alone but also of power ministry. The ministry failed to supervise the BREB’s procurements properly,” he said.
“A syndicate is out there to secure BREB’s works worth multi-billion dollars,” the energy expert said.
People now get power
Although the mismanagement and corruption in BREB cause disruption in the power supply in rural areas of the country during summer and even sometimes in winter, the overall power situation remains in a good shape.
The electricity supply situation has got a good shape in recent years thanks to different efforts taken by the government.
“This is very rare that we experience power outage now-a-days. The country has achieved 100 percent electricity coverage thanks to the government’s initiatives,” Md Rafiq, a schoolteacher from Fatikchhari in Chattogram, told the Daily Sun.
“Sometimes we see forced load-shedding for what officials say technical glitches,” he said.
Abu Raihan from Naogaon, who is also a BREB consumer, echoed Rafiq.