Saturday, December 6, 2014

19 opposition activists disappeared in Dhaka, over 2 weeks

Over the last week, the New Age newspaper has published a series of articles investigating the abduction of 19 Dhaka based opposition activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in a two week period at the end of 2013.

All these abductions took place between 28 November and 11 December. None of these men have been returned.

The New Age reports investigate each incidents and sets out eye-witness testimony which support the allegation that all these men were abducted by law enforcement agencies.

These disappearances are only a relatively small fraction of the total disappearances that have taken place in Bangladesh - but these are remarkable in that they are all opposition political activists/supporters, all have been taken from a single city, and all have been taken in a short period of time.

The final article is important. The law minister says that he will investigate these incidents. It is an important commitment, but whether it will be kept is another matter. Lets see

Below are the links to each of these articles: First, on the New Age website, and Secondly, at the bottom of the page, on this blog (if the New Age website articles do not load)
1.    Introductory Article        
       Picked up a year ago, they are yet to return 
2.    Five men picked up on the 28 November 2013 outside Dhaka Central Jail   
       How it all began    
3.   Four men picked upon on 2 December 2013 in Shahbag       
      Birthday parties that did not take place
4.   Six men picked up on 4 December 2013 at Bashundara Residential Area  
      They picked up 6 at Bashundara and drove off
5.   Two men picked on 5 December 2013 morning from Shahinbagh       
      Two picked up but promise to return not kept
6.  Two men picked up on 6 December 2013 from Mollatek      
      2 taken from area close to airport
7.  Two men picked on late night of 7th December 2013 from Sonargaon      
     An unexpected end to a weekend in Sonargaon 
8.   1 man picked up on 11 Dec from Mirpur       
      Last abduction taken from family home 
9.   Human Rights organizations condemn enforced disappearances       
      Rights groups decry disappearances 
10. Law minister agrees to investigate these disappearances       
      I will investigate allegation about 19 disappearances: Law minister

'I will investigate allegation about 19 disappearances: law minister'

Article published in New Age on 4 December 2014

This is the last of the series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

I will investigate allegation about 19 disappearances: law minister 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid

The Bangladesh law minister has told New Age he will take responsibility to investigate what happened to the 19 Dhaka-based opposition activists who were, according to eye-witnesses, abducted by law enforcing agencies this time last year.
‘Whatever the truth is, I will find it,’ he said.

'Rights groups decry disappearances'

Article published in New Age on 28 November 2014

This is the seventh in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here


Rights groups decry disappearances

David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid

Human rights organisations have condemned the alleged state involvement in the abduction of 19 opposition student activists that took place a year ago, and called for an independent judicial inquiry to be established.
On Friday, New Age published the names of 19 opposition activists abducted in eight separate incidents in Dhaka over a two-week period starting on 28 November 2013, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
Sultana Kamal, the executive director of the country’s largest human rights non-governmental organisation said that any enforced disappearance should be condemned but there was ‘all the more reason to be concerned when those disappeared are overwhelmingly members of the opposition.’

'Last abduction, taken from the family home'

Article published in New Age on 4 December 2014

This is the eight in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

Last abduction, taken from the family home 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid 
The last in the sequence of pick-ups of opposition party activists in Dhaka over a two week period at the end of 2013 was the disappearance on December 11 of Selim Reza Pintu from his brother’s flat in Pallabi.
Over the last week, New Age has reported on seven separate incidents of abduction involving the disappearance of 18 people, all of them opposition activists or supporters, allegedly undertaken by state agencies.
The abduction of Pintu, the president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s student wing in the Sutrapur part of Old Dhaka, brings to 19 the total number of disappearances in the fortnight.

'Unexpected end to a weekend in Sonargaon'

Article published in New Age on 3 December 2014

This is the seventh in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

Unexpected end to a weekend in Sonargaon 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
On Saturday the December 7, 2013, Mahabub Hasan Sujon, the president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party student wing in Shabujbagh Thana in Dhaka and Kazi Farhad, the president of one of its wards, were staying at a farmhouse in Sonargaon.
The two were planning to return the following day to their rented flat in Fakirerpool, Dhaka, which they then shared with some other senior Chhatral Dal leaders.
They had come to the farmhouse at Noakandi village in Shanmandi Union two days earlier.
‘On Thursday morning, Sujon told me that the place where he lived was really risky,’ said Azad Md Sadequl Islam, a member of the family which owned the farmhouse.
‘He knew I used to go down to my farmhouse in Sonargoan between Thursday and Saturday, so Sujon asked if he could come and stay,’ Azad continued. ‘It was agreed he would leave Dhaka that morning.’

'Two taken from area close to airport'

Article published in New Age on 2 December 2014

This is the sixth in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

2 taken from area close to airport 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
It was ten o’clock at night on Friday, December 6, 2013 and things were quiet at Mollartek’s bazaar, located near Dhaka’s international airport.
One of the few shops open was a small launderette run by Md Jasim Uddin.
At that time Jasim was not at his laundry. An hour or so earlier he had asked someone else to look after his business so that he could carry out some family chore.
Sitting on a motorbike in front of the launderette, talking to some friend was Jasim’s friend, Tariqul Islam Jhantu, 28, the joint secretary of the student wing of the opposition Bangladesh National Party at Tejagon College.
On his way home, Jamal an owner of a business down the road, walked past the laundry and mentioned to Jhantu that it was late and he should get back home, as things were ‘tense’. The BNP student activist however was having none of it. Jamal walked on to his house.

'Two picked up, but promise to return not kept'

Article published in New Age on 1 December 2014

This is the fifth in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

Two picked up, but promise to return not kept 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid

On the night of December 4, 2013, Adnan Chowdhury, a member of Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s volunteer front Jatiyatabadi Swechchasebok Dal, heard that his senior political colleague, Sajedul Islam Sumon, had been picked up earlier that night by law enforcement authorities.
‘After work he went to Sumon’s family house and returned home at about 12.30 am. He freshened up and had some dinner,’ Adnan’s wife, Marjina Sultana Tonni, told New Age.
Adnan, 28, lived in Shahinbagh with his wife and parents, in a tin shed house about 5 minutes walk from Sumon’s.
His father, 65 year old retired teacher Ruhul Amin Chowdhury was woken up at around 2 am by a knock on the door. ‘I asked who was there,’ Chowdhury said. ‘And a man said that he was from the administration. I hesitated to open the door, but he said that I had to open it.’

'They picked up 6 at Bashundhara and drove off'

Article published in New Age on 30 November 2014

This is the forth in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here
They picked up 6 at Bashundhara and drove off 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid 
On the evening of 4 December 2013, Sajedul Islam Sumon, 36, the general secretary of BNP ward 38 in Shahinbagh thana, was standing by the side of a stony pathway next to an under-construction building of Block-I in Bashundhara residential area in Dhaka, chatting with his cousin, Zahidul Islam Tanvir, 33.
Four friends, Mazharul Islam Russel, 26, Asaduzzaman Rana, 27, Al Amin, 26, and Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum, 22, all of them involved with BNP’ student wing, had just met with these two cousins, and were walking back along Road-4 to the main road in Block-I.
All of a sudden, three vehicles arrived, picked up the four men putting them into one of the vehicles and drove back to come to a stop beside Tanvir and Sumon.
‘One of the cars was a black pickup, the ones usually used by RAB, and the two others were white Hiace microbuses,’ a construction worker who lived on the site at the time, told New Age. He said that there were ‘letters’ on the side of the vehicle but he could not read them.

'Birthday parties that did not take place'

Article published in New Age on 29 November 2014

This is the third in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of 19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here


Birthday parties that did not take place 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid 
Monday, 2 December 2013 was supposed to be a day of celebrations in the house of 35-year old Mahfuzur Rahman Sohel, the vice-president of the Bangshal thana Chhatra Dal, the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
It was his son’s 14th birthday, and the family had a party planned for later that day.
Instead, a few hours before the celebrations were due to start, he was picked up as he was standing outside a tea house at Shahbagh along with three fellow activists, by men in plain clothes and was put into a white microbus.

'How all it began'

Article published in New Age on 28 November 2014

This is the second in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of  19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here

How all it began 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid

A series of disappearances of 19 BNP activists and supporters in a two-week period in Dhaka started on 28 November 2013 when five men were picked up from outside Dhaka Central Jail just after 1:00pm.All of the men came from Sutrapur in the Old Dhaka.
New Age has tracked down two direct witnesses of the ‘arrest’ of the five men and they both confirm that it was done by law enforcement personnel, though they could not say for sure which state agency was involved.
Three of the five men taken away were released 11 days later but have been unwilling to speak to New Age.
The two men whose whereabouts remain unknown are Samarat Molla, 27, the organising secretary of Chhatra Dal at Sutrapur and Khaled Hasan Sohel, 27, who was president of the thana’s ward 79.

'Picked up a year ago, they’re yet to return'

Article published in New Age on 28 November 2014

This is the first in a series of articles published in New Age investigating disappearances of 19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here


Picked up a year ago, they’re yet to return

David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid


Witnesses to the abductions a year ago of 19 Dhaka-based opposition student activists provide evidence of the involvement of the state agencies, an investigation by New Age reveals.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Isil, detention and enforced disappearances

Samiun Rahman, outside court in Dhaka
It is difficult to judge the credibility of the allegation made by Bangladesh detective branch officers - that Samiun Rahman is a jihadist recruiter who came to Bangladesh to recruit fighters for ISIL.

Rahman admitted to me that he had spent time in Syria at the end of last year (supported by his passport stamps) and clearly this does raise legitimate suspicions. He, however, says that he went for 'humanitarian' purposes and was not involved in militant activity. Whilst it is true that some people have gone to Syria for that reason alone, one should be mindful that humanitarian aid may well have become a useful excuse for others to hide their jihadism behind. 

Rahman also said that when he returned to the UK from Syria, he was questioned for five hours before being let into the country - by which he was suggesting that if the UK police really thought he was a jihadist, he would have been arrested at that time. However, there could have been many reasons - other than the police accepting his version of what he did in Syria - as to why the police took no action against him.

However, this blogpost is not about whether Rahman is or isn't a jihadist recruiter.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What the alleged British jihadist recruiter said in court


Saimun Rahman: alleged ISIL recruiter in Dhaka

On Monday (yesterday), the Detective Branch of the police held a press conference in which they claimed to have detained, the previous evening, a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin who had come to Bangladesh to recruit 'jihadists' to fight in Syria/Iraq for the Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This 'arrest' had been trailed with the detective branch telling journalists a few days earlier that they were on the hunt for such a person.

At around 3 to 4 pm, yesterday, Samiun Rahman, the alleged ISIL recruiter, was brought to court no 19 of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court.

As coincidence would have it, I had just finished interviewing a public prosecutor across the road for another story and I rushed over to the court.

Here is the full transcript of my short interview with him before the magistrate entered the court (short extracts were used in the Daily Telegraph article, above, and New Age)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

World Bank gets its audit numbers wrong

Will heads roll? The Bangladesh office of World Bank has got a key figure completely wrong in its rejoinder to New Age's article which was published on 29 June, titled 'World Bank health programme: Audit finds $70m spending irregularities'.

In its rejoinder, which is printed in full below (an edited version was published in New Age along with the paper's response), the World Bank claimed that there were a number of errors in the article - the main one being that the 2012/13 audit of the health program did not find $70 million of irregularities but instead $25.6 million.

$25.6 million is of course a large number, but nowhere near as large as $70 million, and if the World Bank was correct, would indicate that the article had made a serious error.

However, the World Bank was not correct.

Below is a table setting out each of the observations (dealing with expenditure) which is set out in the audit along with the amount of Bangladeshi taka involved and then in US dollars. The taka/dollar exchange rate used was Tk77.75 = $1, which is the exchange rate used in the audit itself.

As you will see the total amount of these financial irregularities is Tk 533.02 crore which is equivalent to $69.44 million.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

World Bank scrutiny of government audits - a tip of an iceberg?

Below is the second op-ed in New Age relating to the audit reports of the donor supported health program. You can read the first one here looking at the transparency of donors in providing access to these audit reports.

The relevant New Age articles upon which this op-ed is based are:
'Audit finds $70m irregularities' and
'$428m or irregularities in 8 years'.

WB scrutiny of govt audits: a tip of the iceberg?

by David Bergman
Whilst the World Bank can certainly be applauded for making public the government audits on donor-supported health programmes (‘Donors and audit transparency,’ New Age, 5 July), a more pressing question is how well it, and, indeed, other donors, responded to the reports themselves.
The audit reports would not have made easy reading for donors, suggesting as they do, that millions of dollars were stolen or misused on these two  programmes.
So what did the World Bank, which is not only responsible for its own money but also that of other donors, do when it received these reports?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Over half of education sector procurement 'corrupt'

Following on from previous articles on financial irregularities in a donor support health programme in Bangladesh, here is an article, published today in New Age, on corruption in procurements involving a donor supported education program.

The article is based on an Annual Fiduciary Review of the program - the relevant parts of which can be downloaded here

55pc of edn sector procurement ‘shady’

Donor commissioned probe finds

David Bergman
The extent of corrupt and collusive government-run procurements in Bangladesh has been laid bare in an independent scrutiny of tenders undertaken for a donor funded development programme, which was conducted in 15 different districts by an audit firm hired by a consortium of donors.
The procurements were investigated as part of an ‘annual fiduciary review’ of the $5.8 billion Third Primary Education Development Programme supported by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the British government and the European Union along with other international donors.
The review, conducted by the chartered accountant firm A Qasem and Company, found that in 91 out of 163 procurement packages which it had investigated, there was ‘fraud and corruption, syndicated bidding, collusion, and malpractice.’  155 of the tenders had been conducted by the Local Government Engineering Department and 8 by the Department of Public Health Engineering
Assuming this level of corruption was reflected in all $1.6 billion worth of procurement, which the World Bank estimated would take place during the five years of the primary education programme, this would amount to about $880 million of corrupt tenders for goods and contracts.
Shyamal Kanti Ghosh, director general of the Directorate of Primary Education, told New Age that it was not true that there was corruption in the
procurement. ‘No procurement is going wrong. There is no corruption, as [donors] approved those before they could happen. So how can the [donors] now make such comments.’
On Sunday, New Age reported that corrupt or illegal procurement counted for nearly half of $70 million of the financial irregularities identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General in one year of a donor-supported health programme.
The chartered accountant’s ‘interim’ report, which has been obtained by New Age, was commissioned by a consortium of donors led by the Asian Development Bank. The report relates to the 2011-12 financial year, the first year of the primary education programme.
Dated May 2013, the 17-page report sets out nine ‘indications of syndicated bidding’ which it found within the 91 corrupt procurement packages.
These included the ‘same spelling mistake’ and ‘similar handwriting’ found in different documents submitted by different bidders; the ‘same format, wording and content found in different documents submitted by different bidders’; ‘identical unit cost rate in most cases, and unusually higher unit rate in a few cases quoted to avoid winning the contract’; ‘sequential tender securities’ submitted by different bidders; and ‘tender security’ withdrawn by ‘same person on behalf of different contractor.’
The report also listed 18 different kinds of irregularities and deficiencies in the bids which were not identified by those conducting the procurement. These included ‘fake documents’; ‘inauthentic’ accounts; missing details in documentation, including information on annual construction turnover, qualification certificates of employees, and equipment lists; and different tax identification numbers found in different documents of the same bidder.
According to the Asian Development Bank, the 163 contracts scrutinised by the chartered accountant’s firm were randomly chosen and were worth a total of $11.6 million.
In an appraisal document, written by the World Bank before it agreed to provide the government a loan of $300 million for this primary education programme, ‘fraud and corruption’ was considered to be one of three ‘key risks’.
The appraisal report stated that ‘certain systemic weaknesses in some aspects of the programme, such as delivery of stipends, contracts for books, hiring of teachers, and civil works expose the project to a risk of corruption and non-transparent or inefficient practices. Furthermore, enforcement of GOB‘s procurement regulatory system may not meet the needed level of governance and accountability.’
The report added that the Bangladesh government’s regulatory system would be ‘strengthened in line with internationally accepted procedures, and procurement capacity would be enhanced as needed, including through recruitment of procurement (and financial management) consultants.’
The programme is mainly funded by the government of Bangladesh, but the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank loaned the government $320 million and $300 million respectively, and the UK government gave $110 million, the European Union $55 million and the Canadian government $48 million, along with smaller amounts by other donors.
Rudi van Dael, senior social sector specialist, Bangladesh Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank, told New Age that it was currently discussing 15 of the contracts (valued at approximately $2.04 million) with the government. ‘As we are still in the midst of discussions, ADB is unable to provide any further details.’
He said, ‘ADB, World Bank and other development partners, in common with the ministry of primary and mass education, take a zero tolerance approach to fraud and corruption.’
The ADB does not explain why out of the report’s initial findings of 91 ‘corrupt’ procurement packages, it was only concerned with 15.
A spokesperson for the European Union Delegation told New Age, ‘We appreciate that several important initiatives have been taken by the government to strengthen and improve capacity in the area of procurement. We also appreciate that LGED analysed the findings from the reviews and took its own actions – firms involved in the collusive malpractice are blacklisted.’
The World Bank disputed that 91 contracts were ever in question, and told New Age that it had ‘zero tolerance’ to corruption. ‘The World Bank maintains due diligence to ensure that every dollar is spent for the purpose intended.
Donors point out that the education programme has ‘gone a long way to improving the quality and reach of primary education in Bangladesh, which will, in turn, support longer-term economic and social development.’

Donors and Audit Transparency

Here is a first of a number of opinion pieces published today in New Age, relating to the two previously published reports on financial irregularities in the World Bank and donor supported health sector programmes. The two articles are:  'Audit finds $70m irregularities' and '$428m or irregularities in 8 years'.

The article below contains links to relevant documents:

Donors and audit transparency

by David Bergman
THE financial irregularities identified in the donor-supported ministry of health programmes, implemented between 2003 and 2012, involve mind-bogglingly large numbers.
In the recently completed eight-year programme, irregularities involving $470 million were identified (‘428m irregularities in 8 years’, New Age, June 30) and in 2012–3, the most recent audit of the current health programme identified $70 million, which is nearly a third of the total audited expenditure. (‘Audit finds $70m spending irregularities’, New Age, June 29).
This does not mean that all the money was gobbled up by greedy ministry officials — some of it was also wasted, or spent on contracts given through illegal procedures.
The audits themselves raise a number of important questions about the integrity of development programmes in Bangladesh and how donors should respond to information about financial irregularities. However, this first article considers the transparency of donors towards the audit reports which they receive from government.

Monday, June 30, 2014

World Bank health program - $428m of irregularities in 8 years

In the second article in the series, New Age has published a report on financial irregularities in the 2003-2010 donor supported health program. Audit documents show that there were $428 million of irregularities. Below is a copy of the article.

Also see end to access key original audit referred to in this article


$428m of irregularities in 8 years

David Bergman
Annual audits of a ministry of health development programme, funded jointly by international donors and the government of Bangladesh, identified financial irregularities amounting to $428 million between 2003 and 2010.
The $428 million (Tk3,287 crore) represents about one third of the $1.3 billion of expenditure audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General during the eight year period – a total which, according to the audit report comprised $526 million provided by international donors, and $728 million given by the government.
The major financial contributors included the World Bank which loaned $300 million, the European Union which gave $105 million, the British government $110 million and the Swedish government $68 million.
Although the World Bank and other international donors were aware of these irregularities, set out in a total of 435 audit observations, they went on to commit a further $2.13 billion for a new five-year ministry-implemented programme which has just completed its third year.
On Sunday, New Age revealed that the last year of audited accounts of this current donor-supported health programme had identified $70 million of expenditure irregularities, including illegal procurements, unauthorised use of money and unverifiable payments.
The extent of the financial malpractice in the now completed health programme is set out in an audit report relating to its final financial year 2010-11 which New Age obtained under the World Bank’s access to information policy.
The Foreign Aided Project Audit Directorate, a part of the Comptroller and Auditor General, completed the audit for the multilateral agency.
This audit set out that in 2003-4 the financial irregularities amounted to Tk 134 crore ($17.5 million); in 2004-5 it was Tk 8.9 crore ($11.6 million);  in 2005-6 it was Tk 702 crore ($91.5 million); in 2006-7 it was Tk 1,565 crore ($204 million); in 2007-8 it was Tk 562 crore ($73 million); in 2008-9 it was Tk 73 crore ($9.6 million); in 2009-10 it was Tk 53 crore ($7 million); and in 2010-11 the amount was Tk 106 crore ($14 million).
The audit report stated that out of the 392 audit observations identified between 2003-4 to 2009-10 (not including the 43 from the 2011-12 audit itself), only 88 had been ‘settled’, leaving Tk 3,222 crore ($420 million) as outstanding irregularities.
Not all of the $428 million irregularities relate to improper or illegal expenditure, as some of them concern the failure of ministry officials to collect tax from companies or to transfer
money from a programme to a government bank account.
An analysis of the details of the 43 audit observations identified in the year 2010-11, found that only 3.6 million out of the $14 million involved non-expenditure irregularities. Though, in the 2005-6 audit, nearly two thirds of the identified irregularities were not expenditure related.
The World Bank only provided New Age with three out of the eight audit reports covering the period between 2003 and 2010, so a full analysis of the nature of the irregularities has not been possible. The Bank told New Age that the five other reports could not be found.
The 2011-12 audit states that the $428 million of irregularities only involves the government of Bangladesh, not donor money.
Following its own examination, the World Bank concluded that only a small number of the identified irregularities over the eight year period were significant.
In its 2012 ‘Implementation, Completion and Results’ report assessing the success of the programme, the World Bank stated that ‘Between fiscal years 2006 and 2011, the World Bank identified 36 audit observations (worth $68.14 million) as material and substantive from the observations raised by the Foreign Aided Projects Audit Directorate (FAPAD) auditors.’
The World Bank has not been willing to provide New Age with any further information on why it did not consider the remaining 356 audit observations to have been ‘material and substantive’.
In terms of achieving its objectives, the eight-year progamme is considered to have been relatively successful with many of its health indicators having been achieved. ‘It is fair to assume that the HNPSP has contributed significantly to the very positive achievements in the sector,’ the World Bank states in its report.
The Bangladesh government’s IMED report, however, stated (as quoted in the World Bank report) that ‘It is not possible to apportion these improvements to health sector interventions or specifically to HNPSP alone. A number of socio-economic factors seem to have influenced the outcome.’
Iftekharuzzaman, the executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh criticised the World Bank for acting ‘inconsistent[ly] with the anti-corruption policy it preaches.’
‘If the World Bank can downplay the importance of the reported types of audit observations, a question may be raised if in effect they are also colluding with such practices and benefitting from [them],’ he said.

 Table listing irregularities in Health Sector Development Program

Nos Paras
Financial involvement
(GoB only) – Taka currency
Financial involvement in $*

* Exchange rate $1 = 76.72. This is the exchange rate given in  the 2010/2011 audit report

To see the page from the 2010/2011 audit report which contains this information, click here (please note that the doc does not include 2010/11 observations To download the whole 2010/2011 audit report, click here (big document)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'World Bank Health Programme: Audit finds $70m spending irregularities'

For those unable to access the New Age article on the website relating to financial irregularities in donor supported health program me, it is set out below.

               (b) Access the Audit report and other documents

[To see second article in the series: World Bank health program - $428m of irregularities in 8 years]



Audit finds $70m spending irregularities

David Bergman
In just one year, health ministry officials have misused at least $70 million of funds provided for a major development programme primarily financed by the World Bank and the governments of Britain, Canada, Sweden and the United States, according to an official audit report.
The audit of the Health Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme found that between July 2012 and June 2013, $69.8 million (Tk 542.9 crore ) was spent either on irregular procurements, unverifiable expenditure, or on medicine and equipment which was excess of requirement.
The audit, seen by New Age, refers to ‘collusive’ tendering, ‘fictitious’ documents, ‘fraudulent practices,’ ‘misappropriated’ money, ‘useless’ purchases, ‘misuse’ of money, ‘lack of financial propriety’ ‘violation of fundamental accounting practices’ and inability of officials ‘to justify the genuineness of payments’.
The identified financial irregularities represent over 20 per cent of the total $321 million (Tk 2,498 crore) which the programme spent that year but since $102 million (Tk 796 crore) of the expenditure was not scrutinised in the audit, it reflects as much as one third of the amount of expenditure that was audited.
‘The audit is a tip of an iceberg,’ one senior auditor told New Age.
Md Neazuddin Miah, the secretary to the ministry of health and family welfare, accepted that there were many audit observations, but claimed that many ‘are very minor in nature.’
He said that the audit for 2012-2013 was ‘not finalised as we have asked the officers concerned to answer why they have made such irregularities’. He added that the ministry was waiting for a response from the audit office about the explanations ‘before taking necessary action against the line directors’.
According to the audit report, in 2012-2013, the project was financed by $220 million (Tk1,710 crore) from international donors with the remaining $101 million provided by the government of Bangladesh.
The audit was undertaken for the World Bank by the Foreign Aided Project Audit Directorate, which is part of the government-run Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The World Bank not only loaned $359 million (Tk 2,791 crore) for the five-year programme but also was given fiduciary oversight of how most of the international donor money given to the programme was spent.
New Age obtained a copy of the audit relating to the programme following a request to the World Bank under its access to information policy. World Bank considers the Comptroller and Auditor General, as the ‘independent auditor for all Bank projects’.
The audit report for the year 2012-2013, which was sent by FAPAD to the World Bank in December 2013, sets out 99 different audit ‘observations’ of which 33 were categorised as particularly serious. It is not stated how much of the $70 million relates to donor as opposed to Bangladesh government money.
An analysis by New Age of the audit observations found that improper procurement of goods, amounting to $29 million (Tk 224 crore), was the biggest contributor to the total amount of financial irregularities.
The audit detailed 25 apparently unlawful procurements involving contracts worth as much as Tk 132 crore ($17 million).  In one contract involving the expenditure of Tk 99 lakh ($129,000), the audit found strong evidence of ‘collusive practice’ between the ministry officials and the supplier.
The audit also identified $18 million (Tk 139 crore) in spending where there were no documents to support the legitimacy of programme payments. One example involves $6 million (Tk 46 crore) which was supposedly spent on training but where there were no ‘basic records or documents’ to support the claim, and another $1.7 million (Tk 13 crore) which was supposed to have been spent on foreign training but which the auditors said was only justified by ‘fictitious’ vouchers.
‘Unauthorised’ expenditure amounted to $12.1 million (Tk 94 crore) , and excess or ‘useless’ spending added up to a further $6.8 million (Tk 52 crore) – with the auditors giving examples of  the purchase of $1.5 million (Tk 13 crore) worth of vitamins, and $924,000 (Tk 72 crore) of hospital equipment which were not required.
In addition, $4.3 million (Tk 3.5 crore) had been spent on goods that were not received or, if they were, did not function properly.
The audit for 2012-2013 was no aberration. The previous year’s audit for 2011-2012, the first year of the programme, identified that $21 million (Tk169 crore) of the spending – just short of 10 per cent of that year’s total expenditure – was irregular.
In that audit, irregularities included $2.4 million (Tk 20 crore) given to suppliers although no goods were received, $1.3 million (Tk11 crore) supposedly spent on training sessions though there was no supporting authorisation or documentation, and $215,000 (Tk2 crore) spent on buying materials without any open tender.
The secretary to the ministry told New Age that in relation to the 2011-2012 audit, three or four ministry officers had given back about Tk 2 crore to government accounts, and that departmental action was being taken against them.
Internal donor documents show that before agreeing in 2011 to commit money to the five- year health programme, the donors recognised that there were significant financial risks involved.
An appraisal document written that year by the World Bank stated that the financial risks were ‘substantial’.
And the UK government also stated that the project’s fiduciary risk was ‘high.’
However, both reports went on to state that they considered sufficient safeguards were in place to minimise the risks.
In a statement to New Age, the World Bank stated, ‘The program is subject to annual audits and any allegations, or suspicions, of fraud and corruption have been shared with the program’s other donors and the Bank’s Integrity Vice Presidency.’
‘With respect to the fiscal year 2013 audit report, the World Bank fiduciary team is currently engaged in the due diligence process with the Ministry regarding observations made in that report.’
In an earlier meeting with New Age, the World Bank played down the significance of the 2012-2013 audit claiming that only 22 out of the 99 audit observations, amounting ‘to about $10 million’, was ‘serious from the World Bank’s perspective’.
The Bank declined to provide any details of which particular audit ‘observations’ the Bank considered were ‘serious’, and the details of why it did not consider the audit’s other 71 observations to be significant.
The $3.1 billion five-year Health Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme, which started in 2011, is implemented by the ministry of health through 32 separate line directors.
The World Bank and international donors have committed to providing the ministry $2.16 billion over the period, two thirds of the total cost, with the Bangladesh government responsible for the remaining $1.17 billion.
Other than the World Bank, the programme’s main contributors are the United States government which is committed to giving $450 million, the UK government which will provide $191 million, the Canadian government which will give $102 million, the Swiss government is committed to providing $80 million and the German government $31 million.
Most of this donor money is pooled together and the World Bank has been given responsibility for the fiduciary oversight of its use in the programme.
In addition to the pooled money, there are a number of other donors, including the Japanese government, UNICEF, the European Union and other UN bodies, who give money directly to the ministry of health for use in the programme. This direct project aid, which in 2012-2013 amounted to $60 million was not audited by FAPAD, and the World Bank has no fiduciary responsibilities relating to its use.
The World Bank requires that FAPAD completes its annual audit of the programme’s activities within six months of the end of each financial year.
The $70 million of financial irregularities in the 2012-2013 audit do not include a further $3.7 million of irregularities which are ‘non-expenditure’ related – that is to say, involve ministry officials’ failure to collect tax from contractors, or their failure to transfer money from one account to another, as government rules require.
The audit report stated that it had only audited 70 per cent of the total $321 million expenditure, leaving about $100 million unaudited.

Illegal procurement, unsupported expenditure .... and more

The first of a series of articles dealing with corruption and financial irregularities in World Bank and international donor supported Bangladesh government programs is published in Today's New Age. (if you cannot access the article on New Age website, it is republished here)

In relation to today's article, there was no space for a number of other articles providing more details of the irregularities in the program - on procurements, unsupported expenditure, no goods received and unnecessary purchases. So here they are.

Please note if you want to download the original audit document, you can do so from here

1. Illegal procurements comprise 40 percent of financial irregularities
According to the audit undertaken by the government’s Comptroller Auditor General into the joint government/donor aided health programme for the year 2012/13, there were 25 illegal procurements amounting to a total of $29 million (Tk 223 crore) - 40 percent of the total financial irregularities. Here are just a few examples.

Moulvibazaar hospital – Tk 132 crore: The audit committee found that a tender for the supply of medical equipment for the 250 bed hospital in Moulvibazaar, won by M/S Techno Trade at a price of 132 crore ($17 mil), was ‘irregular’. The tender was inappropriately split into 13 different parts, all of which the company won, and payment was partly made to the company without having received the authorization of the Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase.

Dinajpur Medical College – Tk 25 Crore: Without obtaining authorisation from the ministry, the college purchased equipment, books and journals at a total cost of Tk25 crore ($3.2 mil) from Techno Trade, though the college principal only had the authority to sign a cheque upto Tk 4 crore. The college principal did this by signing 15 separate cheques, all of them below the TK 4 crore maximum – with seven of these cheques signed on a single day.

Financial irregularities at World Bank, donor funded health program

The first of a series of articles dealing with corruption and financial irregularities in World Bank and international donor supported Bangladesh government programs is published in Today's New Age.

(If you cannot access the article on New Age website, it is republished here)

This page provides access to the key documents, including the audit documents, which formed the basis of the article.

You can also read more detailed case studies of the illegal procurements, expenditure without supportive documentation, excess payments etc etc on this page of this blog

The first article deals with audits of the first two years of the $3.1 billion five-year Health Population and Nutrition Sector Development Programme in Bangladesh, which started in 2011 and which is implemented by the ministry of health.

Two thirds of the money in the programme is provided by a loan from the World Bank and by international donors.

The article reports that in in just one year, 2012/13, the financial audit identified $70 million of irregular expenditure - this is one fifth of the total $321 million spent on the programme that year. However, since $100 million of the expenditure was not audited, the amount of financial irregularities in fact amounts to one third of the audited expenditure.

The article reports on an analysis of the Audit undertaken by New Age which fount that:
- improper procurement of goods, amounted to $29 million (Tk 224 crore),
- no document to support legitimacy of programe payouts amounted to $18 million (Tk 139 crore) 
- Unauthorised expenditure amounted to $12.1 million (Tk 94 crore) ,
- Excess or ‘useless’ spending added up to a further $6.8 million (Tk 52 crore)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The government and the arrest of RAB officers

In a number of recent articles - here and here - I have written about the different way in which Bangladesh's High Court dealt with cases involving extra judicial killings in 2006 and 2009 on the one hand and 2014 on the other - and also the state's different response.

Whilst in the 2006 and 2009, for one reason or the other, the cases basically went nowhere, the situation was different in 2014 - with one court ordering the establishment of an inquiry committee into the Narayanganj killings and another court directing the arrest of three RAB officers who were allegedly involved in the deaths.

One article on the different judicial approaches is set out below - along with links to the four orders. It should be noted of course, that  the risk of the application of Bangladesh's Contempt of Court laws does circumscribe what would otherwise be instructive and useful analysis.

The Government and the RAB arrests
However, another interesting aspect of the 2014 recent High Court orders - and in particular the one relating to the arrest of the RAB officers - was how the prime minister and law minister responded.

Monday, June 2, 2014

RAB, party hypocrisy and impunity

An op-ed article I recently wrote for New Age about Rapid Action Battalion's extra judicial killings (also reproduced below) drew heavily on four reports written by Human Rights Watch - and I would highly recommend anyone interested in Rapid Action Batallion to read them. Local human rights organizations - Ain-o-Salish Kendra and Odhikar - have also done fine work on RAB, and conducted many investigations; but in these four reports HRW has summarised the case against RAB, and summarised their     investigations into an easily accessible form. 

The four reports are:
2006 - Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s 
           Elite Security
2011 - 'Crossfire': Continued Human Rights Abuses by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion