Drivers of govt transport pool pocket Tk 3 crore as overtime bill during last year’s virus lockdown
When Bangladesh was put under a lockdown on March 26 last year, Dhaka, one of the world’s most crowded capitals, turned into a desolate place overnight. With people remaining indoors, no vehicles plied the roads except for a few emergency service ones.
However, during the three-month-long shutdown, some 350 drivers of the government transport pool not only had their usual eight hours’ duty, they apparently drove government cars for an extra four hours every day as well.
The government relaxed the closure at the end of June and partially reopened government offices. However, the drivers, tasked with chaufferring the vehicles of cabinet members, secretaries and other officials, kept doing overtime for four hours.
So where did they drive the vehicles when government offices were closed and the roads in Dhaka were empty?
The answer is indeed simple — they never drove the vehicles on the roads. They did it on paper to embezzle around Tk3 crore of taxpayers’ money on the pretext of working overtime.
This is one of the many instances of how the Covid-19 pandemic has opened new avenues of corruption in Bangladesh and in a number of other countries.
Sources at the transport pool said the overtime duty hours were almost identical — all the drivers performed their duties for an extra 250 hours every month and, surprisingly, it was given the stamp of approval by the respective offices of the vehicle users.
When the overtime bills were submitted, Transport Commissioner Mizanur Rahman refused to accept them and asked the drivers to provide certificates of proof of doing overtime during the shutdown. The drivers then got the certificates from the government offices they are posted at.
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Dhaka Tribune has obtained several copies of the certificates.
Mizanur Rahman refused to comment on the issue, saying: “Public Administration Ministry officials have instructed me to refrain from talking to the media.”
Dhaka Tribune had approached a number of drivers at the Secretariat, but none of them were willing to speak on the record. They, however, admitted off the record that they had spent time with their families during the lockdown as offices were closed at the time.
On condition of anonymity, an official at the transport pool said: “The drivers were realizing bills for maximum overtime hours and continued doing so even when they had no duties to perform.”
Driving vehicles during the lockdown and getting certificates in this regard from government officials have raised questions about how such an unethical practice on the part of the drivers had been approved instead of their being brought to book.
‘Brazen corruption, ruthless deception’
“This is an example of brazen corruption and deception for illicit personal gains by means of collusive misappropriation of public resources,” said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh.
Those who had enjoyed the undue payments must be brought to justice, he remarked.
Iftekharuzzaman continued: “In addition to refunding the misappropriated amounts, they should be charged with corruption and deception under due process. And those who approved the payments must be punished for their abuse of power and collusion in misappropriating public money.”
When his attention was drawn to the matter yesterday, Senior Secretary at the Public Administration Ministry Shaikh Yusuf Harun refused to make any comment.
High Court directives
It may be recalled that a High Court bench on March 18 had directed the senior secretary to form a three-member committee to identify the officers and employees involved in the overtime bill payment. He was directed to submit the probe report within 90 days.
The directive came following a public interest litigation filed in this regard by the human rights body Law and Life Foundation.
The High Court also directed the authorities concerned to recover the overtime bills and deposit the amount to the government coffers. Moreover, the bench issued a rule asking why the authorities’ failure to take action against the officials and employees involved should not be declared illegal.
When contacted, Senior Secretary Shaikh Yusuf Harun told Dhaka Tribune that he had yet to receive the High Court directives. “I will definitely take necessary measures once I get it.”