Vol. 5 Num 835 Sun. October 01, 2006  
Front Page

Power crisis deepens for powerful quarter

The exit of the state minister Anwarul Kabir Talukder will hardly help improve the acute power crisis as the problem lies elsewhere in the government, said a number of top officials of the sector yesterday.

"Since coming to power in October 2001, the alliance government has been following an unwritten policy to award power contracts to favoured parties in violation of rules and regulation," said an official. "This has driven away genuine power companies and repressed efficient officials," he added.

A number of power experts also alleged that the removal of the second power minister within four months Friday has nothing to do with his performance in the hot seat.

This exit synchronises with the fact that in the last five years, the government changed eight power secretaries and eight Power Development Board (PDB) chairmen. Whoever failed to obey the vested interest quarter or the 'alternative powerhouse' was removed in the past.

On the contrary, Talukder's four-month old move to rid or reduce corruption from the power ministry has now become futile. Talukder took the initiative soon after he became the state minister for power in May. He sensed that in the next five months of the government's tenure the best strategy was to improve the affairs of the power sector as the period was too short for undertaking any new power project.

Talukder had played a vital role in the formulation of the Public Procurement Regulation, 2003 to prevent corruption in procurements. He has the reputation of being one of the few cleaner ministers of the government.

"There are a couple of major power projects in the pipeline -- the Sirajganj 450 megawatt (MW) and the Meghnaghat-3 450MW schemes. The minister had serious difference of opinions with the power secretary and a section of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) about how to award these contracts. The vested interest lobby has been pushing the ministry to sign Meghnaghat-3 scheme based on unsolicited negotiation and award the Sirajganj bid to a pre-selected company," an official noted.

He added, "The state minister was obliging to their wish but not without giving the higher authorities a picture of what was going on in here."

The official noted that the state minister was preparing a report on the irregularities in the sector to the prime minister.

Besides, his move to cleanse the ministry had already angered the vested interest lobby so much that a month ago, the PMO tried to remove him. The prime minister at the last moment, however, did not remove him at that time.

"Even though the state minister has now been removed -- we believe that the vested interest quarter within the government would not be able to get approval of Meghnaghat-3 or clear the Sirajganj bidding process within its tenure. But the quarter will be successful in protecting the group of corrupt officials and businessmen who have drained out money by cheating the nation," the official observed.

In the last five years, the BNP led alliance government awarded two power contracts to Chinese company Harbin to set up the Tongi 80MW plant and the Fenchuganj 90MW plant. A third contract will soon be signed with Harbin to build the 150MW Chandpur plant. Of these, the Tongi plant started operation in May 2005 and tripped around 90 times, mainly because of the plant's sub-standard designs and machinery. Harbin's business lobby last year admitted to The Daily Star that it has richly bribed a section of officials and the 'alternative powerhouse' of the government. There is wholesale irregularity in all these projects.

Frustrated by the performance of the Tongi plant and the inaction of the Power Development Board (PDB) to penalise Harbin for setting up such a faulty unit, Anwar Kabir Talukder two months back forwarded all documents of this project to the Anti-Corruption Commission for action.

Other than Harbin, the government last year awarded a contract to Orion-Belhasa for setting up the Meghnaghat-2 power plant, violating government rules. The Orion-Belhasa group is so misfit in this scheme that it could not arrange the project finance and therefore has not signed the contract.

In 2004, the government cancelled the bid awarding the 450MW Sirajganj power project to Summit Power at its final stage -- on the unofficial ground that the chief of Summit Power is the brother of an opposition lawmaker.

In recent times, the tender for the Siddhirganj 240MW power project has become uncertain as the authorities appeared hell-bent to award this contract to Harbin, violating the rules again. The project's financier Asian Development Bank (ADB) has, however, resisted this questionable move.

Other than these suicidal actions, the PMO has been overriding the power minister's decisions all along, creating an anarchy and lack of leadership in the sector.

Since Anwarul Kabir Talukder took over the charge of the power ministry, he has tried to assert his power and became a target of the vested interest group. Talukder's conflict with the current power secretary manifested this conflict.

The vested interest group's nominee ANH Akhtar Hossain was made secretary from the rank of deputy secretary overnight through a double-promotion under the President's quota twice in a single day. There is no precedence of such blatant violation of service rules.