The government agencies are spending a sizeable amount of taxpayers' money every year offering 'honorarium' to the participants of project meetings, defying Prime Minister's order, officials said.
They said almost all the public agencies earmark a handsome amount of funds in their development project proposals (DPP) with a 'sub-code' titled "honorarium".
They set aside "honorarium" funds in the proposals ranging from Tk 0.1 million to Tk 3.0 million for each of the projects.
The agencies provide honorarium to the members of different committees, which are formed for executing projects.
The committees are formed with officials of the line ministries, representatives of relevant ministries and project implementing agencies.
In February 2011, the Prime Minister directed the authorities concerned not to allocate funds in the DPPs against the 'honorarium' head.
At one meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC), the PM had directed that the development projects will not offer any honorarium to the members of the Project Implementation Committee (PIC) and the Project Steering Committee (PSC).
The line ministries and implementing agencies constitute different types of committees such as tender evaluation committee (TEC), project implementation committee (PIC), project steering committee (PSC), tender opening committee (TOC), proposal opening committee (POC) etc.
Each of the participants of the committees receives between Tk 500 and Tk 5,000 for attending a meeting, officials said.
The FE found that in some cases, officials rake up to Tk 150,000 per month in addition to their monthly salaries and other government benefits attending the meetings of the projects.
Government officials said the meetings of such bodies are held in every three months under each of the projects.
Usually, some selected officials of a ministry are nominated as the members of most of the committees under their respective development projects.
This correspondent has consulted with several public servants and retired government officials starting from the rank of senior assistant secretary to secretary, development experts, and analysts.
A joint secretary of the ministry of road transport and bridges on condition of anonymity said he sat on committees of at least 20 projects.
"I earned around Tk 60,000 a month from the honorarium of different project related meetings. This is a big incentive for me," he told the FE.
An additional secretary at the Planning Commission was more blunt. He told the FE that if the project implementing agencies do not offer any honorarium, he does not attend such meetings.
Former finance and planning advisor to the Caretaker Government Dr Mirza Azizul Islam said that there might not have "honorarium" sub-code at the DPPs during his tenure in the 2007-2008 period.
"The public servants are assigned to do the project work. They have to do everything for streamlining the project execution. This is a part of their regular job," he said. "How will they be paid extra money as honorarium?" Dr Islam questioned.
The FE investigation has found that the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has set aside Tk 0.50 million as "honorarium" funds even in the Tk 3.32 billion Jessore-Benapole road construction project.
The Bangladesh Investment and Development Authority (BIDA) has allocated Tk1.6 million fund as "honorarium" in its ongoing office building construction project, the Pyra Port Authority earmarked Tk 0.30 million as honorarium in its ongoing port development work.
The RHD has allocated Tk 0.40 million as honorarium funds for Tk 7.93 billion Dhaka-Chittagong road maintenance project, the ministry of foreign affairs has set aside Tk 0.40 million as honorarium for its Tk 344.1 million project for building the ambassador's house in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTA) has leapfrogged other agencies with a hefty allocation of Tk 11.2 million as honorarium for different committees under its Tk 47.86 billion river-dredging project.
Since the projects have the provision for honorarium, public servants from the ministries and agencies compete with each other to enlist their names with the committees.
"It is creating an unhealthy competition among the officials inside the offices. It is also demoralising some of the officials who are not being enlisted," an additional secretary of the Planning Commission told the FE asking not to be named.
He, however, said if any agency or ministry arranges any meeting without honorarium, the invited participants and the committee members usually skip such events.
Most of the participants expect honorarium /pocket money for attending the meetings, the additional secretary said.
The culture of honorarium has created an uneven competition among the officials of the ministries and agencies for becoming members of the project execution committees.
A joint secretary of the education ministry said they have more than 100 projects, where some 3-4 selected high officials are the members of almost all the committees.
A secretary now on post retirement leave said when the ministries and agencies introduced the honorarium they considered it as travel allowance.
"But at present, the government provides cars to all the deputy secretary to secretary level officials. So, the provision for honorarium and pocket money should be discontinued," he told the FE.
The government's different agencies and ministries implement some 1,900 projects per year under the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
Economics professor of Dhaka University MA Taslim said the government ministries and agencies should invest money in those development projects that have economic returns.
Executive director of the Transparency International, Bangladesh Dr Iftekharuzzaman said the provision for honorarium for the participation in meetings or other events by officials is not proper because it is supposed to be part of their responsibility. This has become a norm, which is a bad practice," he added.
The project development guidelines should discard the provision for honorarium against the roles that are part of the regular job of the officials, Dr Iftekhar said.