Vol. 5 Num 382 Fri. June 24, 2005  
Front Page

Power minister's power curtailed
Principal secy asked to play role in making decisions

The government has virtually curtailed the powers of State Minister for Power Iqbal Hasan Mahmud and assigned Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Kamal Uddin Siddiqui to spearhead various decisions of the power division of the energy ministry.

A top official of the ministry said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) took a stance a few months ago, blaming Iqbal for poor performance including failure to implement various power projects in time.

A committee headed by Kamal in its report on the energy ministry recently came down came down heavily on the state minister for his 'failure'. The report also outlined a plan to generate another 430 megawatt power within a year on an urgent basis.

At the same time, Kamal went on record criticising Iqbal's performance at a high-level meeting on the power sector. This prompted the state minister to reply to that through the press, shrugging off the blames.

According to sources, Iqbal's performance in the last three years as regards implementation of some power projects was affected by interference from the PMO.

Citing an instance, the sources mentioned that in early 2004 when the Sirajganj 450 mw power project under the Power Development Board (PDB) reached the final stage of launch and the bid winner Summit power was finalising arrangement of $186 million funds, the PMO cancelled the project on the pretext that this project should be supervised by the Power Cell, not the PDB.

The reason behind this was simply political -- the chief of Summit is the brother of an Awami League lawmaker, and the BNP government will not award a contract that will 'benefit' the main opposition party directly or indirectly.

The Fenchuganj 90 mw power project that saw re-tendering five times in the last two years was also delayed because of interference from the PMO. The project has been recently awarded to a disqualified Chinese bidder.

PMO sources however say that tender process for the Fenchuganj project was repeatedly tampered with by the PDB, and the state minister should have addressed the issue from the beginning to avoid such re-tendering.

On the other hand, the state minister claims success in implementing the Siddhirganj 210 mw power project and the 100 mw Tongi project. "There was almost no external interference in these projects," an official said.

"It is not fair to judge his (Iqbal) performance as he could not act independently. Various lobbies and vested interest groups always resorted to higher authorities to influence different tender procedures. And that happened most of the time in the last three years," he pointed out.

"It is the role of the PMO which is mainly responsible for poor performance of the energy ministry."

Another source said Iqbal came under tremendous pressure in recent times as powerful business lobbies are pushing ahead an unsolicited deal for the Meghnaghat phase three 450 mw power project.

The lobbies are also hammering on awarding the Meghnaghat- 2 project to disqualified bidder Belhasa of the UAE along with Orion Power. Belhasa and Orion, blessed by the 'alternative source of power' in the government already bagged the massive Gulisthan-Jatrabari flyover project.

While Iqbal is not resisting both these faulty deals, the government procedure itself requires that the interested parties obey some rules. This slowed down both the projects and made the powerful lobbies very unhappy.

The government, after nearly four years of rule, also realises that it did not do much in the power sector and that power crisis has become a major political issue, the sources noted.

Now the principal secretary's plan to add 430 mw power at a cost of Tk 1,200 crore in one year is getting top priority.

"But the fact is that the 430 megawatt mission is not a pragmatic one. The government will have to abide by its own rules. And these rules are major hindrances to speedy implementation of power projects," a top official of the energy ministry pointed out.

When contacted, Iqbal said, "Under the (principal secretary's) proposal, I shall do my part as fast as possible. But I cannot take the responsibility of the pace with which a project proceeds through the other ministries like the planning ministry or the finance ministry."