Yet more controversy in power sector
THE approval of the cabinet committee on government purchase of a Power Development Board proposal to award the contract for engineering, procurement and construction of a 300-450 megawatt power plant at Ghorashal to a firm that was actually disqualified in the bidding process could be indicative of rampant irregularities in public procurement in general and the energy sector in particular. According to a report published in New Age on Tuesday, the China National Import and Export Corporation looks set to receive the work order for the Tk 2,000-crore contract although its proposal was rejected by the technical committee for at least two major deviations from the bid criteria. In its report, the committee pointed out the Chinese firm quoted a 70.06 per cent ratio of the outputs of simple and combined cycles of the plant against the requirement of 65 (± 5) per cent, and a 141.12 per cent heat rate against the requirement of 150 (± 5) per cent. Moreover, in its proposal, the firm said it would provide up to 85 per cent of the investment, making no assurance, in line with the bid requirement, that the investment would be deemed as loan. Besides, its contract with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China expired on December 30, 2012, which pushes the project itself into uncertainty. Still, both the power board and the government have chosen to stick with the Chinese firm, allegedly at the behest of an influential Awami League lawmaker.
The energy sector seems to have become a hotbed for corruption and controversy over the years, spanning different governments — elected or unelected, civilian or military. In fact, corruption and controversy have marked almost every project in the sector — be it for exploration of oil, gas and coal or installation of power plants. The vicious trend seems to have continued during the four years or so of the Awami League-led government, many will argue, with greater intensity. The commissioning of rental and quick rental plants is a case in point. The incumbents went for the fuel- and subsidy-guzzling plants, which charge exorbitant price for the meagre amount of electricity that they produce, not only under questionable circumstances but also pre-empted any review — legal, juridical or otherwise — of the commissioning process in the future through enactment of an indemnity law. Not surprisingly, there are allegations that these plants may have done more to line up the pockets of a few individuals close to the ruling party than to actually mitigate the energy crisis that the incumbents used as a pretext to authorise their commissioning. In such circumstances, the allegation of an AL lawmaker pulling the strings to have the Chinese firm awarded the contract for the Ghorashal plant looks eminently credible.
It is indeed ironical that a government which promised ‘multipronged measures to fight corruption’ seems to have facilitated and encouraged corruption through both its action and inaction. Worse still, the incumbents do not seem to be in the mood to sincerely and seriously look into the raging controversy and allegations of corruption in the energy sector. In such circumstances, perhaps, the time has come for the people to step forward and demand credible answers from the government; after all, they are the owners of national wealth and resources.
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