Another day, another damning audit report
It's been barely a week since we demanded critical scrutiny of financial irregularities unearthed in a number of public offices by one of the government's own oversight institutions, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (OCAG). Even yesterday, we published an editorial calling attention to such irregularities in the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL). To have to come back to this topic so soon is not just a matter of timing, however. It symbolises the near-ubiquitous presence of corruption in all institutions run under state management. The latest to be caught in the CAG dragnet is Petrobangla.
Can such a huge pile of money simply vanish into thin air? If not the state coffers, whose coffers did it fill? Petrobangla did offer some justifications, none too convincing, and did nothing to rectify this gross anomaly.
According to our report based on CAG findings presented in parliament in June, the state coffer has been robbed of about Tk 4,697 crore because of irregularities in 11 companies under Petrobangla between FY 2014-15 and FY 2016-17 and in two companies of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) – another corruption A-lister – in FY 2013-14. This was done through 19 counts of irregularities, which really boggles the mind. These include purchasing goods and services at inflated prices, flouting instructions of the finance ministry and the National Board of Revenue, and disregarding the Gas Sales Rules 2004 and 2014, Bangladesh Gas Act 2010, Public Procurement Act 2006, Public Procurement Rules 2008, etc.
Of the Tk 4,697 crore thus lost, Petrobangla's failure to deposit with the state exchequer portions of the value-added tax and supplementary duties – collected from gas distribution companies – alone cost the Treasury some Tk 4,597.3 crore, of which Tk 4,270 crore in FY 2016-17. The outstanding amount, we're led to believe, remains unpaid to this day. The question is: Where did the money go? Can such a huge pile of money simply vanish into thin air? If not the state coffers, whose coffers did it fill? Petrobangla did offer some justifications about its usage, none too convincing, and did nothing to rectify this gross anomaly.
Clearly, those in charge of this vital cog in the state machinery and the powerful network that holds its reins feel so emboldened that they see no reason to refrain from breaking the law or taking arbitrary decisions. Before Petrobangla, we've had damning CAG reports on the BTCL, the Directorate General of Food, the Directorate General of Health Services, public hospitals and other healthcare facilities, the ministries of agriculture and fisheries and livestock, and of course the BPC – the last so immersed in corruption that even the chief of the parliamentary standing committee on public undertakings expressed his shock to journalists. Their inclusion is by no means selective, nor their mismanagement a total shock, given how frequently the media reports on such corruption across the public sector. It's only a question of who gets to be exposed. Even that may not be enough to hold those responsible for financial irregularities to account.
This cannot be how the public sector is run. Mismanagement cannot be our default management style. There must be accountability for the actions and decisions of all offices run with public money. We urge the administration to reform its modus operandi and take stern actions based on the CAG revelations.