Criminal misuse of scarce resources

The scene is a very familiar one to residents of Dhaka city. A road divider is seen going through the centre of a thoroughfare. But it hardly remains a standing feature for long. Only some months may pass when a demolition squad arrives to remake it. No reason is given for the remaking .  Only a year or  even less time may pass before even this divider is destroyed again to build  a higher  divider. This divider may again be flattened  only some months later  with the excuse to make a simpler one with the only difference that this time some illumination stones are fixed on it. This could be an excuse perhaps for the reconstruction. But this is not the end of the story.  Again after some time, this divider gets knocked down  as some so called wise men have contemplated that doing away with it would be good for traffic movement. But again, after a period of time, a divider could be seen set up on the same road because someone somewhere  has had a rethink that this would be good for traffic movement.
In this manner it goes on — the  never ending  farce of  building, rebuilding, demolishing, reconstructing, again destroying and again building of road dividers, footpaths, fencing, etc., round the year in the roads and boulevards of Dhaka city . This game never ends. It goes on and on, month after month, year after year. No one would object to it but for the fact that  it goes on in a country which is   one of the least developed  countries. When  people in charge of governance in this country should logically seek the optimum conservation of resources, this opposite outrageous spectacle of criminal misuse of resources is as shocking as it is bewildering because of people’s  tolerance of the same.The ministry of public works is a big spender in the country. Apart from it there are autonomous bodies like the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) which is supposed to build and maintain roads and streets in Dhaka. But both the ministry and the autonomous organisations are guilty of  regular colossal waste of public resources.
There was a time, as senior citizens could tell you, the roads  in Dhaka city were made very solid indeed. The contractors in the past, like in the present, had their eyes set on profit and to this end  sought a collaborative relationship with the government engineers to get  certification of satisfactory completion of projects  to get their bills released from the government’s accounts departments. But the contractors then were not hundred per cent immoral as they are today. A contractor then would build a road using, say, a mixture of four shovels of sand with one shovel of cement whereas the rules of the contract required him, say, to mix three shovels of sand with one shovel of cement. This amounted to  breaking of the rules but not so much that a road built would crumble only after  a year or in a shorter period of time .
Nowadays, contractors are prone to mixing, say, one shovel of cement with ten shovels of sand. This is just to give you an idea of  the abject lack of morals on the part of the contractors these days and the same applies to their collaborators in the engineering sections of the government departments who are to certify that the works were properly done or state that these had been shoddy constructions.  But the shoddy constructions these days, in almost all cases, are approved as meeting standards, of course in exchange for a  bundle of cash going underhand to persons who  certify such work as satisfactory.
No wonder  the roads in Dhaka turn into virtual rubble  after their use for only some months. The  repaved old roads  in many cases  start crumbling only weeks or months after the repaving.  In contrast, there are roads in existence in Dhaka city that date back to the British period or the Pakistan period which remain in quite good conditions and are highly praised for their durability. When workers dig up such a road  for some purpose, they usually remember their exceptionally hard toil  in doing their work. Roads made in recent years hardly need such effort  as these  break easily under the workman’s hammer and testify to the poor quality of their making.
One comes across reports these days of  classrooms of new school buildings collapsing, or a section of a bridge similarly collapsing soon after 0its commissioning. Huge work orders for building all sorts of  structures for the public sector originate from  tender bids floated by the government. According to rules, there are various categories of contractors listed with the government from the top A grade to lower grades down the line. The contractors at each grade are supposed to maintain appropriate construction teams, show proofs of solvency and expertise in undertaking works at their respective levels. But the rules are in paper really.
A contractor fit to be included in the C category can find himself in the A category and this miracle is  the outcome of graft. There is nothing that bribery cannot achieve in Bangladesh. Therefore, it must not come as a surprise that a C or lower category contractor can acquire the recognition of an A class contractor and take up a costly project– which is in the public interest– only to  make money at the expense of the public purse. It needs no explanation to realise what would be the quality of a project taken up by a C or lower category contractor in terms of design, quality, appearance, etc., when in all propriety the work deserves to be executed by a genuine A class contractor.  Apart from  the inevitable  loss of quality from lack of know-how or expertise, such a project is inexorably destined to suffer a great deal also from the  lust of that contractor trying to squeeze out as money as  he can from it.
Public works in theory should be for the public good. The works are to be undertaken to provide  real utility services to people, to create  facilities or for the ease, convenience and recreation of people. But many works were taken up over the years the value of which from the above perspectives have been little or none at all.  The building and rebuilding of road dividers  is  prominently such a case in point. Many  public works have no enduring value for anybody. The same are carried out so that some contractors and their accomplices in the government departments can lay their hands on some money. There does not exist any  other purpose for the undertaking of such works.
When will this culture of senseless waste of people’s resources be questioned with sufficient enthusiasm or force by anybody ? So far, the political parties have not made any noise about it. Civil society has been surprisingly mum.  There are so many social organisations in Dhaka city. But none of these so far has taken up the issue  with any seriousness . The press draws attention to it but not in a focused manner with the intent of creating greater awareness or the building up of public opinion  against it. In these circumstance, it is no wonder that this culture of squandering of public resources to gratify a few unscrupulous people has been going on quite unopposed year after year.
It is high time for people in all walks of life to  wake up to this issue and start a campaign against it strong enough to make the necessary impact.


Top