Many public deals awarded on political consideration without verifying past records of companies and their owners backfired as most of those deals were marred by irregularities, corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
Two such recent health sector deals considered on political grounds as part of the government’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19-induced health crisis involved Regent Hospital and JKG Health Care.
These lesser-known companies were permitted to run tests and treat COVID-19 patients at the cost of public money, but the efforts ended in a fiasco because of corruption and inefficiency.
Former caretaker government adviser Hafizuddin Khan said that the latest scams in the health sector once again proved that deals awarded on political considerations breed corruption.
The political consideration for awarding public deals was common even among the previous governments, but it reached an extreme level under the current political regime, said Khan, also former chairman of the Transparency International Bangladesh .
In the recent past, there were allegations of supplying low-quality health products, including N-95 masks, to some government hospitals by JMI Hospital Requisite Manufacturing Ltd and Toma Construction Ltd surfed.
The Anti-Corruption Commission is now investigating the allegation.
Almost a year ago, a series of casino scams were busted by the law enforcers leading to the arrest of GK Shamim, a self-proclaimed ruling party youth front leader and owners GK Builders, who was given public contracts of whopping Tk 3,000 crore.
Another crime suspect Salim Pradhan, owner of Japan-Bangladesh Security Printing and Papers Limited owner, used to supply cheque books to at least 18 commercials banks including the state-owned Sonali and Agrani.
Regent Group was able to run two unlicensed hospitals in the capital city thanks to a memorandum of understanding the group signed with the Directorate General of Health Services on March 21.
The privilege led to one of the biggest scams in the health sector as Regent Group hospitals was found to have forged 6,000 COVID-19 certificates and charged extra for running COVID-19 tests.
Before the detection of fraudulence of the company on July 9, 54 fake reports on an average in a day were generated by the hospitals in the capital in 111 days, thereby embezzling over Tk 3 crore from people for running COVID-19 tests.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed said that the series of scams in the health sector tainted the country’s image globally.
They also eroded public trust on the beleaguered public healthcare system and complicated the fight against the new viral disease.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshis have been facing social stigma in other European countries.
Recently, the news of the Regent Group scam also prompted the Italian authority a ban on the entry of Bangladeshi travellers till October as some travellers from Dhaka with non-COVID-19 certificates were tested positive.
On July 16, The New York Times ran an article under the headline ‘Big Business in Bangladesh: Selling Fake Coronavirus Certificates’. It said that thousands of certificates showing negative results on coronavirus tests were sold to migrant workers when in fact the tests had been never performed.
It is feared that the overall mismanagement and corruption in the health sector amid the virus crisis would benefit the country’s rivals like India, Vietnam, and Cambodia on the exports front.
The foreign buyers would prefer countries with better records in tackling the pandemic for export orders, said Salehuddin.
According to RAB director general Chowdhury Abdullah Al Mamun, the RAB traced around 50 cases filed with police stations in different parts of the county against Regent Group chairman Shahed Karim even before his arrest on July 15.
Shahed used to introduce himself as a political analyst and a member of Awami League foreign affairs subcommittee, and Shahed’s intimate relations with ministers and ruling party leaders became fodder for public speculation on social media where photos with ruling party leaders went viral.
Dhaka University criminology department assistant professor Umme Wara said that the chronology of the Regent Group chairman’s ascent to prominence clearly suggested that he was part of a group engaged in financial crimes to amass wealth.
Frauds committed by the Regent Group chairman while so many cases remained pending against him, were almost impossible without political favour and leniency from the law-enforcing agencies, she noted.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shujan: Citizens for Good Governance, said that a section of politicians utilised criminals like Shahed and GK Shamim to make illegal money.
The governance campaigners found that appointment of director to the state-owned banks on political consideration also backfired.
Since 2012, the series of loan embezzlement cases in Sonali, Janata and BASIC banks have plunged the banking sector into an abysmal crisis.
Former BASIC Bank chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu is still a free person as the Anti-Corruption Commission is yet to include him in any of the 54 cases it filed over the BASIC Bank loan forgery scam, although a report by the the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General in parliament in January, 2020, found the involvement of Bacchu in the scam that had taken place in the state-owned bank between 2009 and 2012.
The financial losses of the BASIC bank during Bacchu’s tenure, who was appointed in 2009 on political consideration and was asked to resign in 2014 amid criticism, was estimated at Tk 3,884 crore against the objections by the auditors.
The bank that suffered losses of Tk 53 crore in 2013, Tk 110 crore in 2014, Tk 314 in 2015, Tk 1,493 in 2016, Tk 684 crore in 2017, and Tk 354 crore in 2018 had approved loans by Bacchu-led board of directors without verifying the collaterals and documents.
The ACC in 2013-2014 also dropped inquiries against the former Sonali Bank directors Kazi Baharul Islam, Subhash Singha Roy, M Anwar Sahid, Abu Sayed Mohammed Nayeem, KM Zaman Romel, Satendra Chandra Bhaktha, M Shahidullah Miah, Kasem Humayun, Saimum Sarwar Kamal, Jannat Ara Henry who were the board members during the embezzlement of Tk 3,700 crore by Hallmark Group from Sonali’s Ruposhi Bangla hotel branch.