The government is set to spend more than Tk1.5 crore to train 24 public officials abroad for an irrigation project, even though the duties of the travelling officials do not include operating the project machinery.
Those who will actually operate the machinery will not be trained, even though the project proposal says the training is necessary for them.
The training is aimed at teaching modern irrigation techniques and the use of relevant technologies, but the irony is that the trainees will not be directly involved in what they will be trained in.
The proposed expenditure of the Mujibnagar irrigation development project under the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) is Tk257 crore. It will cost the government a total of Tk1.68 crore to train the 24 officials – Tk7 lakh for each.
The officials will travel to countries such as Australia, Germany and the Netherlands.
Under the project, 200 kilometres (22 lakh cubic metres) of canal will be re-dug in 13 upazilas of the western districts of Kushtia, Meherpur and Chuadanga.
In the project proposal, the BADC said the training is necessary to ensure moderate use of irrigation, and impart knowledge of irrigation management and modern technology.
The necessity of such an expensive training has been questioned also, because the irrigation machinery to be used in the project is not new. This sort of machinery has already been used in different projects across the country.
But the BADC said its officials and engineers will train 600 field workers, operators and farmers after returning home because the latter are not qualified to run the machinery.
The inefficiency of farmers and field workers is raising costs of production, operation and maintenance, BADC officials said.
BADC Chief Engineer (small-scale irrigation) Md Ziaul Haque told The Business Standard the trainees would become familiar with the modern machinery used abroad and would learn how to use that in Bangladesh.
The trainees will travel in three batches, each comprising eight members. The whole team consists of 12 BADC officials, five Ministry of Agriculture officials, and seven Planning Commission officials.
Ziaul said most of the trainees work in technical supervision and Ministry of Agriculture officials were included in the team as they are involved in the project's administrative and irrigation tasks.
"Officials of different Planning Commission wings are involved in project verification and approval, fund disbursement and project supervision. That is why they also need technical knowledge," said Ziaul.
He admitted that the irrigation machinery of the project is already being used in the country but the trainees, he said, would learn how to utilise new technologies.
Speaking on the issue, Additional Research Director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem of the Centre for Policy Dialogue said, "Instead of sending more officials abroad, farmers can be trained by officials who have already been trained on this abroad.
"Alternatively, officials from the company that is selling us the irrigation machines can be brought to Bangladesh to provide training. This will reduce the overall cost."
He added that the Planning Commission should look into the logic of sending non-technical officials on visits to other countries.
Of the seven Planning Commission officials, four are from the irrigation wing, one from the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division, one from the programme division and one from the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.
There is enough availability of ground water in the project areas where water from several rivers, including the Padma, the Gorai, the Mathabhanga and the Kaliganga, is supplied via canals. The main objective of the project is to store floodwater and rainwater in reservoirs, and to re-dig canals as necessary.
The cost of internal travel of the trainees has been estimated at Tk1.70 crore. Also, Tk4 crore will be spent on transportation, and Tk1.25 crore on fuel. Tk4.88 crore has been earmarked for buying work assistance and security services, and Tk1.44 crore for labour wages.
A similar project was earlier implemented in the proposed project area and the machines used at the time are almost the same as the ones to be used this time.
A total of 267 kilometres of canal was re-dug under the previous project implemented between July 2011 and June 2017.