- IMED officials received cash instead of 30 bags
- The number of participants in workshops is 80
- IMED allegedly forged cash memos to withdraw money
- In FY21, 43.2 lakh was allocated to purchase stationery items for 30 online workshops
- Omission of food bills in workshops saved Tk28 lakh
Class-1 officers of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) took part in 30 online workshops in only nine days to give "opinions" on the projects evaluated by private firms and received 30 bags, but on paper.
Interestingly, they collected cash instead of these bags and other stationery items by allegedly making fake cash memos.
Thus, the IMED has itself got involved in anomalies that it is assigned to find in other project purchases.
The trend of spendings on online meetings, no less than those on physical meets, in the form of stationery items and allowances, seems to be a regular phenomenon for the IMED.
In FY20, IMED officials who participated in online workshops collected cash instead of 72 bags and other stationery items, while they received cash equal to prices of 48 bags in FY19.
The IMED has been evaluating projects by appointing private firms since 2010. Its officials give opinions on the impact assessment and intensive monitoring of such projects by arranging workshops.
Many officials get honoraria and stationery items even without taking part in such workshops.
In June last year, the IMED faced a lot of criticism for making food and other bills for participants despite holding meetings online amid Covid-19. Later, the IMED slashed the number of project evaluation outsourced to private firms to 30 from 72 in the last fiscal year. The number of participants in workshops was also reduced to 80 from 120.
In FY21 too, the IMED held workshops on the project evaluation reports submitted by private firms online on 6-15 June this year. The division again allocated some funds for "unnecessary spending" although it omitted food allocation this time.
The omission of food bills in the workshops saved Tk28 lakh, according to IMED sources.
In the just-concluded fiscal year, the IMED allocated Tk43.2 lakh to purchase bags, folders, pens and pads for 30 workshops.
Private firms spend money on purchasing bags or other items as per the terms of outsourcing. They then separately submit 30 copies of purchase bills to the IMED sectors concerned. These bills are signed by private firms and officials of the IMED sectors' officials. The bills are sent to the IMED's accounts section.
The Business Standard has obtained copies of a few such bills.
A private firm called Data Development Service (DDS) was tasked with evaluating the fish farming through a waterbody development project. The company submitted a bill amounting to Tk1.44 lakh to the IMED on bag purchase.
According to the submitted cash memo, the company bought 80 bags from a shop in New Market in the capital on 7 June. In the memo, the buyer's name was written as "DDS" and the address mentioned was "waterbody fish project".
When this correspondent went to the shop and showed a copy of the cash memo to the shop manager, he said the cash memo was not theirs. They did not sell any bags under this name or address this month.
He mentioned that it is a fake cash memo made using their shop address.
When asked, Mushtaq Ahmed, chief of Data Development Service, said as per verbal instructions of the IMED, they gave cash to officers instead of bags. The IMED prepared the bills.
In another such case, the Participatory Management Initiative for Development (PMID), which evaluated the rural water supply and sanitation project, bought 80 bags from a shop in Shaheed Park Masjid Market at the Town Hall in Mohammadpur.
The shop proprietor told TBS that they do not sell bags, and so, there is no question of supplying bags to it. He said the PMID only collected a cash memo from them.
A firm called Integrated Solutions Limited was tasked with evaluating the Clinical Contraceptive Services Delivery Programme.
According to the cash memo submitted by them, the private firm bought bags and folders from an organisation called JI Corporation on 2 June. The address of the organisation was mentioned as 12/13 Motijheel Commercial Area in the cash memo. But no such organisation was found when this reporter went to the address.
The security guard at the address of Rahman Chamber said he has been working there for about 10 years and have not heard of any such name.
When contacted, Ahsan Dewan, head of Integrated Solutions, declined to make any comments.
Not only these three but the 30 cash memos submitted to the IMED are also fake, confirmed an IMED source.
TBS also has a few more fake cash memos.
Seeking anonymity, an official of an outsourcing firm, said they have been working with the IMED for the last five years. They never bought bags for workshops but always gave cash. Later, they submitted fake cash memos to the IMED. They are doing it as per the advice of the IMED.
In FY20, a bill of Tk1.38 crore that was made for the purchase of bags, folders and pens was fake. A fake bill of Tk92 lakh was also made in the previous financial year, sources alleged.
Is there any need for so many bags?
If IMED officers had got the 30 bags allocated for them, they could have used a new bag every 12 days. In FY20, there was an allocation of 72 bags per officer. They could have used a new bag every five days if they had received those, according to an analysis.
The IMED said according to the government circular, there are rules for giving bags in workshops and seminars.
According to them, they are taking money instead of bags. It is not illegal.
Many IMED officials also commented that the prices of the bags were not so high.
Does any government official really need so many bags? In reply, an IMED official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they take money instead of bags that are not necessary. The IMED sends fake bills to the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
The official further said he received more than 15 bags by participating in various seminars or workshops in the last financial year. He does not need these bags. That is why they are taking money instead of bags given for participating in workshops.
Another IMED official said they do a lot of work. This is why it is given to them as an incentive.
Another official said it is legal but immoral. This is why it needs to be excluded from the outsourcing budget management like the food bill that was excluded in the last fiscal year.
Meanwhile, IMED officials are again expecting to get 72 bags each in the fiscal 2021-22 although the number was reduced to 30 in FY21.
IMED sources said there is an initiative to increase the number of workshops again in the current fiscal year.
When contacted, IMED Secretary Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty refused to say anything on the matter. IMED Additional Secretary Dr Gazi Md Saifuzzaman also did not comment on the issue.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said there is no need to spend on bags and what the IMED is doing is, of course, corruption.
"All corruption is equal, no matter how big or small it is. Besides, such an anomaly by an organisation like the IMED cannot be accepted," he said.
They monitor government development projects. So, they have to have transparency in their work, Iftekharuzzaman said, demanding initiatives to stop such irregularities.