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E-GP process shrouded in political influence, collusion, and syndication; TIB calls for more accountability

Political influence, collusion between influential people, and syndication still play a crucial role in getting public procurement contracts from four government institutions despite introducing a simplified procurement process named e-Government Procurement (e-GP), reveals a report of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

The four institutions are the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), Roads and Highways Division (RHD), Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), and Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB).  

The TIB report has unearthed that the introduction of electronic government procurement (e-GP) system since 2011 helped shift the public procurement system from manual to digital, and incidents like tender box snatching, preventing tender submission, and blocking office premises also stopped, but corruption organisations persist in other ways. 

The observations came up in a TIB study titled ‘Good Governance in Government Procurement: Monitoring the Effectiveness of e-GP in Bangladesh’, launched through a virtual press conference on September 16, 2020. TIB has also made 13 recommendations to overcome the existing limitations and get the benefits of e-GP. 

TIB analysed and reviewed the application and effectiveness of e-GP in the form of good governance in the public procurement sector in Bangladesh based on data collected from July 2019 to February 2020. The data was collected from 52 offices of the four administrative sectors using the internationally recognised ‘Traffic signal method’. 

The data was then analysed under 20 different indicators of significant five areas, including

Institutional Capacity, e-GP Process, e-GP Management, Transparency and Accountability, and Effectiveness. Each indicator had a scoring system as high, medium and low which refers to the scores as ‘good’ (81% or more); ‘satisfactory’ (61% to 81%); ‘not good’ (41% -60%); ‘worrying’ (40% or less). 

According to the report, the RHD (75%) obtained the highest score under the institutional capacity, and BREB (63%) came second. All institutions have the financial capacity to operate e-GP, and no need to allocate separate funds for e-GP management. Most institutions have the required staffing, but there is a lack of necessary skills and training for the concerned officials. 

The government guideline to initiate e-GP in at least 20% to 75% of the purchases and procurement is not adequately followed at the local offices. E-GP has not been fully introduced to purchase in many places, including Upazila Parishad offices. The annual purchase plan is not given on the website of any institution. In addition, e-GP has never been followed in military-led construction works.  

According to the report, the introduction of e-GP has resulted in some positive changes in the overall government procurement. The work of purchasing, submitting and verifying the schedule has been expedited as there is no need to print the schedule and collect the documents. 

Despite the easy processes, officials of almost all organisations have expressed that e-GP has nothing to do with reducing corruption. Despite the introduction of e-GP, various types of irregularities and corruption exist. There are allegations of politically controlling the work and dividing it among contractors. In some areas, political leaders, especially local MPs, decide who will submit tenders for a particular job. In many cases, the local political leader distributes work among his workers under a large license. 

At the conference, TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said, "e-GP was launched with many expectations. We thought that this would lead to the expected positive results in good governance and control of corruption in the public procurement sector. But the frustrating thing is that e-GP has increased institutional capacity, especially in the field. Still, it has not had any effect on controlling corruption and improving the quality of work.” 

He expressed his deep concern about the existing practice in essential areas like e-GP management, transparency & accountability, and effectiveness. He said, “Though the institutional capacity increased among the RHD, BREB, BWDM and LGED, still an overall deficit is there in every case. Political influence plays an important role in this. In our country, tenders are often used as a tool to earn illegal wealth using political power, and the government procurement sector is not free from their influence.”

TIB Executive Director urged the government to ensure good governance in the e-GP process to stop the political influence, collusion and syndicates.  

Documents related to this research report can be found here.