A number of senior officials from both the ministry and PWD have told Dhaka Tribune that expensive high quality products were acceptable as many of the multi-storey buildings were meant for the Russian engineers
Over the past few days, a media report on cost-related anomalies in the housing project of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) in Pabna has stirred controversy, drawing harsh criticisms from the netizens and confused reaction from the authorities.
The authorities concerned on Sunday formed two committees to look into the alleged irregularities in purchasing furniture and other household products to furnish 966 apartments in Green City residential project, where the RNPP officials and employees will reside, and their unusually high moving costs.
Both panels were given seven workdays to submit their findings.
While the committees started working yesterday, the chief engineer at Public Works Department (PWD) under the Housing and Public Works Ministry — which oversees the housing project — has said that such moving costs were indeed “not normal.”
The report published by a Bangla daily last week had said that the purchasing prices of various household articles used to furnish the RNPP project apartments were higher than market prices and the moving costs were abnormally high.
A number of senior officials from both the ministry and PWD have told Dhaka Tribune that expensive high quality products were acceptable as many of the multi-storey buildings were meant for the Russian engineers.
But they also expressed disappointment when shown the moving cost.
A top PWD official, asking not to be named, explained: “We have to ensure a better working environment and facilitate a comfortable accommodation for them, and possibly, to do so, it was needed to buy expensive high quality products regardless of their prices.”
The official, however, admitted that the high moving cost needed to be verified.
According to the report, one pillow was bought at Tk5,957, and the cost to move that to the apartment was Tk760; while an electric stove reportedly cost Tk7,747 and the movers were paid Tk6,650 to move it from the bottom floor to upstairs.
Moreover, an electric kettle was bought at Tk5,313, and its moving cost was Tk2,945; and an electric iron bought at Tk4,154 was moved upstairs spending Tk2,945.
The report and the lists showing the amount of money spent to purchase and move these household products, among others, had quickly gone viral on social media and drew widespread censure from the people, with many demanding inquiries and steps against reported irregularities.
Members of citizen platforms Gono Oikyo and Nagorik Porishad — carrying pillows — yesterday held a human chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, protesting the reportedly irregularities and corruption at the RNPP housing project.
A sceptical PWD Chief Engineer Md Shahadat Hossain yesterday told Dhaka Tribune that they heard of the exorbitant spending from the news reports and are suspicious of the amounts of money shown spent to move household items.
“We are not sure that moving something can be this expensive,” he said.
Asked about the investigations, he said that the probes were “mainly focused on the moving cost and the standard of the products.”
Regarding the price list, when asked if the figures match what the contractors charged, Shahadat said the same unit prices of the products were quoted in the tender floated through the e-Government Procurement System last year.
“The figures definitely match that amounts mentioned in the tender quotation. I cannot comment on the product prices, but the moving costs do not look normal,” he added.
Md Masudul Alam, executive engineer at PWD’s Pabna branch, was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts to reach over phone.
However, a PWD official, requesting anonymity, said that the tender for the housing project had raised eyebrows at the Housing and Public Works Ministry after PWD approved it. The ministry then formed a committee to check whether the quotations in the tender were accurate.
That committee eventually cleared the housing project, said the official, but declined to share the details.
PWD Chief Engineer Shahadat said that committee had verified the price list as it was in line with the tender quotation. “Afterwards, the ministry asked us to continue the project and emphasized ensuring high quality products.”
However, Dhaka Tribune could not verify his claim with the ministry despite several attempts.
Additional Secretary Md Maniruzzaman — who is heading the four-member probe team of the ministry — yesterday said that they were yet to receive the necessary documents relating to the housing project.
“We will hold a meeting on Tuesday to devise an investigation plan. We will know more after visiting (the site),” he added.
Additional Chief Engineer Md Mainul Islam, who is heading PWD’s three-strong probe body, declined to comment on the matter as it is under investigation.
However, a PWD official, preferring anonymity, said the committee will decide whether they will work from Dhaka or visit Pabna after upon receiving necessary project documents.
In a statement on Sunday, the Housing and Public Works Ministry said the PWD approved the estimated costs of the products and awarded the tender to contractors and it was not involved in the process.
The ministry also ordered the PWD to put all payments on hold until the investigations end, and said the contractors will be paid according to the current market prices after the matter is resolved.
The contractors and the project
According to sources at Pabna PWD, four construction firms — Sajin Construction Ltd, Mazidsons Construction Ltd, Padma Associates and Engineering Ltd, and Hasan and Sons Ltd — were awarded the tender floated in September last year for the Green City housing project.
They were tasked with constructing 21 multi-storey buildings for foreign officials and staff of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. A number of subcontractors are also working under them.
The housing project started on July 19, 2016 and is supposed to be completed by mid-2022. At the end of last year, the contractors had completed four 20-storey buildings and are set to finish two others soon.
Emroz Khondaker from Pabna also contributed to this report