A king's ransom for consultants!

FHM HUMAYAN KABIR | Saturday, 2 July 2022

It amounts to a king's ransom as Tk 5.0 million has been proposed as 'meeting allowance', Tk 6.0 million for arranging meetings and some Tk 771.4 million for consultants in a project.

Sources say the proposed ancillary costs of the trade-facilitation project of Bangladesh Land Port Authority (BLPA) has aroused question from the Planning Commission.

Insiders say Tk 5.0 million has been earmarked for providing 'meeting allowance' to civil servants who will attend project-related meetings, while Tk 6.0 million for arranging conferences and seminars.

And the BLPA-estimated fee for consultants alone is some Tk 771.4 million.

The Authority has proposed the aggregate expenditure at Tk 29.06 billion for the project, to be financed with borrowed external funds.

Borrowing from the World Bank (WB), the BLPA under the Shipping Ministry has sought approval for the project from the Planning Commission (PC).

The sources said the Planning Commission raised questions over the 'unusual' expenditures for the project titled 'Transport and trade facilitation programme: Bangladesh phase-1 project'.

Meanwhile, insiders said, the Tk 29.06-billion trade-facilitation project is of similar nature of few other schemes ongoing under the BLPA.

The port authority is currently implementing ADB-funded SASEC road connectivity project: Benapole and Burimari land port development at Tk 1.68 billion, Regional connectivity proejct-1: Sheola, Bhomra, Ramgarh and Benapole project at Tk 8.23 billion, and a Switzerland-funded digitization of Bhomra land-port project at Franc 1.05 million.

A Shipping Ministry official said they want to improve the port facilities on Benapole, Bhomra and Burimari borders aiming to simplify cross-border trade in the South Asian region.

A PC official said it is too much fund estimation for honorarium, arranging conferences/seminars, fees for the consultants, office rent, maintenance of office equipment, and cost of manpower to be outsourced for the project.

"The BLPA has proposed Tk 400 million for construction-supervision consult (international) alone which is very high compared to other projects," he told the FE, requesting anonymity.

He adds: "The port authority in this project proposed Tk 20-billion spending for infrastructure development. But the BLPA has also been implementing similar kinds of projects or completed few ones where it has developed the infrastructure too."

The land ports, especially Benapole and Burimari, are very much important for Bangladesh's foreign trade as those are handling billions worth trade annually.

Analysts, exporters and importers claim that the land-port facilities in Bangladesh are still very poor as the clearance delay, weak loading-and unloading facilities and lack of automation are hampering trade.

According to the BLPA, the WB will provide Tk23.28 billion in loan for the Tk 29.06-billion project, which awaits approval from the PC.

BLPA officials said they would construct modern chemical storage, port building, transshipment shed, warehouse, pavement and stackyard, gate and boundary wall, and modern international passenger terminal through the upcoming project.

Meanwhile, officials involved with the shipping ministry's project said the BLPA is also implementing similar works under its current and recently completed projects.

"It is clearly duplication of the works. If the port authority wants to develop the land ports, they should take one integrated project rather than taking up different half-done schemes," another senior official at the PC said, requesting anonymity.

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