Applicants may have to wait another five or six months, says BRTA chairman
It has become almost a running gag that the authorities shutter their own plans of bringing about discipline in the road transport sector.
Following a series of inexplicable decisions, smart driving licences will not be issued any time soon.
More than 700,000 people have already applied for smart driving licences at 57 regional offices of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) across the country, including the one in Dhaka --- given that a new transport law has already been enacted with provisions of huge fines for traffic violations.
In 2016, BRTA signed a deal with Tiger IT to manufacture 1.5 million smart licences within 2022. These new licences would be machine-readable and efficient.
However, due to the significantly higher demand, more licences were printed.
According to the BRTA, there are 4,217,523 vehicles in Bangladesh, but there are 3,602,419 driving licences.
But Tiger IT was found to have been blacklisted by the World Bank. When it therefore appealed to the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase to be given responsibility for the excess printing, the plea was rejected.
The Cabinet Division called for tenders on June 10, 2019 and received bids from IBCS & SELP, Logic Forum & MSP, and PNMB & Babar.
The IBCS & SELP was considered the least qualified, and complaints from Logic Forum & MSP against them during the procedure prompted the tender evaluation committee to review their case, which somehow led to IBCS & SELP being declared the most qualified bidder.
A probe committee formed by the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry also reviewed the complaints, and found them to be valid. The ministry then sent a letter to the BRTA demanding an explanation.
Though the BRTA’s response has not been disclosed, IBCS & SELP was proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase as the bidder.
But this past Wednesday, the cabinet committee nixed the proposal, and decided to call for new tenders.
BRTA Chairman Dr Kamrul Ahsan said he was yet to receive any documents outlining the cabinet committee’s decision.
What does it mean for regular people?
The BRTA has 57 offices throughout the country. Every day, it issues 20 smart licences at its Mirpur office, 10 at its Dhaka and Chittagong district offices, and five in other divisional cities.
But almost all of them are issued if they are only considered an emergency case. In a move back to form, the BRTA has continued issuing traditional paper licences.
The demand for smart licences sharply rose after the road safety protests in 2018 and the announcement of the Road Safety Act. The latter has a provision of a Tk5,000 fine for driving without a licence, which is doubled for a repeat offence.
Various officials privy to the process say that the BRTA had repeatedly shot itself in the foot, first by delaying calling for tenders when the supply of smart licences failed to meet demand; and, second, by getting itself in a quagmire where it utterly dismantled the entire process while attempting to print more smart licences.
As a result, it is regular people who continue to suffer without their driving licences.
Furthermore, corruption continues to lurk in the shadows. There have been several allegations that some syndicates are preying on the licence crisis and seeking to further benefit from it.
Why not do it yourself?
Sources say that it was obvious the tender would be cancelled, and that contingencies were being prepared concurrently.
In an October 10 letter, state-owned Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF) had proposed the the BRTA their openness to taking on the work, charging $4.25 per card.
But even as the Cabinet Division contemplates a new tender, chances of direct procurement methods (DPM) seem bleak.
Officials concerned say DPM would mean new machinery and raw material would have to be imported, and estimate it would take around 18 months to go into production.
However, BRTA Chairman Kamrul said: “If everything runs smoothly in the fresh process, we will be able to start issuing smart licences within the next five or six months.”
“On the other hand, to tackle the crisis, we have already started issuing an alternative slip as acknowledgement of driving licences on a temporary basis,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
To a question, he said: “The departments concerned, including the police, have been requested to allow alternative licences until we start issuing the smart driving licences.”
The BRTA has issued a limited number of smart licences after evaluating applicants’ urgency, for instance in relation to foreign visas or appointment letters.