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Experts call on the government to eradicate graft in the power sector

  • Published at 09:36 pm March 10th, 2019
Web_State Minister Nasrul Hamid Bipu-Mehedi-Hasan
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu, left, looks on as CPD Chairman Rehman Sobhan addresses a dialogue organized by the local think tank in Dhaka on Sunday; March 10, 2019 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The minister admitted that there are a lot of challenges and hurdles

As one of the fastest growing economies in South Asia, much of Bangladesh’s development rests on infrastructure and power supply.

In an effort to gauge what the current issues and challenges are in the power sector,  Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) thinks special attention needs to be given towards affordability and accessibility of energy for the population of Bangladesh.

In a dialogue organized by the local think tank on Sunday, CPD's Dr Fahmida Khatun, research director and head of research said: “During the past few years the power sector has experienced impressive growth, however much action is needed to fill the demand and supply gap.

“We know that the government of Bangladesh has planned to increase power capacity to 24 megawatts by 2021, along with 8,000km of new transmission lines and 120,000km of distribution lines by 2020. Additionally the country’s power system master plan aims to set up 2470 MW of renewable energy by 2021.

“However there are a few challenges. We need to ensure reliable and affordable quality power to maintain the growth momentum and the high reliance on natural gas is also a cause for concern. Diversification of power sources is thus very important. This requires skills upgrade and capacity building.”

This dialogue comes on the heels of CPD’s analysis of a number of sectors before the elections where the think tank made a number of recommendations addressed by chief guest, State Minister for Power, Energy & Mineral Resources, Nasrul Hamid Bipu.

The minister said: “The development of the country is moving fast and I want to move fast. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given a vision of what we want to see Bangladesh as in 2021, 2030, and 2041. We want to be a developed country and we want to work to get to that very level as fast as I can.

The minister admitted that there are a lot of challenges and hurdles.

Sector plagued with corruption

Terming the power and energy sectors full of irregularities, a noted energy expert has suggested that State Minister Nasrul Hamid Bipu quit if the latter fails to curb or eliminate malpractices.   

M Shamsul Alam, the energy adviser of Consumers’ Association of Bangladesh (CAB), said it is beyond any doubt whether there is graft ( in the power and energy sectors).

“Corruption is definitely there, leading to mismanagement, embezzlement and damage to property. There is no chance to deny the fact,” Shamsul said.   

“Honourable (state) minister, just make an announcement here that you will root out graft, or quit the post,” he said.

Earlier at the discussion, he said no positive changes will come even if the state minister sacrifices his own life for fighting anomalies as the energy expert narrated the magnitude of anomalies in the public sector.

In his reaction to the call, the state minister said: “We need to adopt new technologies and expertise, especially for gas exploration in which we are lagging behind. We need some action from our experts.”

Citing the idea of horizontal exploration of gas wells, he said: “What did the local experts do over the last 30 years? None of them talked of it. So, there is the conflict (of interest).

“I reckon we must think of something outside the box. We spent a lot of time making suggestions” he said, hinting at experts.

The government wants to see some action from the experts, who must come up with specific plans on the power and energy sectors, he suggested.

“There are a number of people who are busy finding the mistakes or failures made by others. But it takes a lot of courage to move forward with a specific plan,” he further said.

Recommendations

CPD Chairman Rehman Sobhan, who also presided over the discussion, said a speedy action is noticed in addressing crucial projects, especially in the energy sector, for which a business model is followed.

“An important part of the model is that you (the government) offer the investors or development partners a win-win solution because the nature of the game is that the government is the buyer,” he said.

It is important for the government that it ensure a transparent and competitive process (in bringing and engaging project finances or builders), he said.

Rehman Sobhan, also a prominent economist, said a lack of transparency or expertise in negotiating  with a company regarding project outcomes will push up project costs.

“Subsequently, the financial burden will have to be carried by the government through its own particular resources,” he maintained.

On a separate note, he urged the state minister to make the entire bidding process transparent, and keep an eye on things so genuine competition takes place in a tender process.

He was also of the opinion that too many powerful people participate in competitive bidding, and their conflicting interests delay and even put projects on hold at times.

CPD’s Research Director, Khandoker Golam Moazzem, gave a presentation at the event addressed, among others, by  energy experts Badrul Imam and M Tamim, and CPD Distinguished Fellow, Mustafizur Rahman.

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