Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) expressed outrage and concern about an armed demonstration by ruling party activists at the Pabna Public Works Office. TIB says it is an ultimate manifestation of the use of muscle power in government construction and procurement, and urged for effective measures against such tactics immediately.
In a press release on Sunday, TIB cited the incident as another clear example of the long-running illegal use of force in government procurement and construction, intimidation in the tender system, and competitive work distribution at gunpoint.
"The tender system was introduced for transparency in government procurement, construction, and various institutional works. It has long been ineffective due to illegal use of force, threats and coercion, by ruling party leaders and vested interests," said TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman.
"But the various authorities concerned have always denied this and in some cases have been providing protection, with a few minor exceptions. The Pabna incident is just another example of the horrific practice of using muscle power in government tenders.
Immediately, all those involved in this incident should be brought under the law and exemplary punishment should be given to ensure an open and competitive tender system," he added.
The weapons displayed were said to be registered legal weapons. Even if the weapons are legal, intimidation by displaying such weapons in public in important government offices cannot be legal. So it would not be an exaggeration to call the incident a terrorist act," Iftekharuzzaman added.
"A week has passed since the terrorist activity has happened and it has been published in the media, but we are shocked by the police's mere assurance that 'we will examine if the provisions of the Arms Act have been violated in the incident' and we are also not sure whether the legal proceedings will end with the assurance," he said.
Naturally, it was expected that the police and local administration would look into the matter and take appropriate action immediately after the incident. Such terrorist activities will spread like "poisonous snakes" all over the country if they are exempted on grounds of being of the ruling party, he added.
Referring to the study, "Good Governance in Government Procurement: Monitoring Effectiveness of e-GP in Bangladesh," published by TIB last year (16 September 2020), Dr Zaman said the Central Procurement Unit Launched an e-GP portal in 2011, aiming to stop corruption and the use of muscle power.
This has facilitated the procurement process but political influence, collusion, and syndicates are still playing a central role in obtaining work orders, as evidenced by the incident in Pabna. Failure to take immediate and punitive action in this case, will raise questions about the government's promise to control corruption and establish good governance, and other positive initiatives will also be hampered, he added.
Under the UN convention against corruption, each member state has to introduce a government procurement mechanism with impartial conditions for transparency, competition, and decision-making to prevent corruption. But incidents like that in Pabna send the opposite message regarding Bangladesh's commitment to achieving these goals and fulfilling the conditions.
Therefore, instead of waiting for the authorities concerned to abandon the culture of denial, we demand immediate and proper investigation of this incident, says TIB. They called for setting an example by taking strict disciplinary action, based on news published in the media, so no one else will dare to carry out such terrorist acts, taking advantage of political organisations.