Sheikh Mohammad Nazim Uddin, a former project director of the Agriculture Mechanisation through Integrated Management Project phase one and two, is now trying to figure out how to defend and justify pricing a boti, a vegetable cutter, at Tk10,000.
He also has to explain that there is no discrepancy in fixing costs for buying other small kitchen utensils, furniture items and home appliances under the project.
Nazim Uddin fears that he might face the axe if he fails to defend the estimated prices of the project goods before two probe committees that were formed to investigate the agri-project purchase scandal.
He, along with a few other officials, is believed to have been involved in the pricing discrepancies in the agriculture project purchases.
The anomalies in the project purchase came to light after the report titled "How much does a Boti cost? It costs Tk10k for govt" was published in The Business Standard on July 19.
Nazim Uddin, who was instrumental in making the project proposal, claims, "A boti weighing four kilogrammes with a wooden base costs Tk6,500 in Karwan Bazar. Some 7.5 percent in valued-added tax, 20 percent in supplier's profit and transportation cost will also be added to it."
"It might take two or three years to buy a boti. During this time, the prices of iron and the dollar might go up. After analysing everything, we found that the price of a boti will reach close to the cost estimated in the Development Project Proposal over three years," he added.
Nazim said last Wednesday, they checked the price of a boti in Karwan Bazaar. They collected an invoice too to present it before the committees.
When contacted, Sayeduzzaman, joint chief at the Planning Commission, said the roads and highways department, the housing and public works department and some other government agencies have their own purchase schedules. They need to estimate costs for public procurement complying with the schedules. In the case of common products, they follow current market prices.
Dr Md Abdul Muyeed, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), said, "Even though around 20 products were overpriced, it will not be possible to misappropriate the additional money. If we compare it with the pillow scandal, it can be seen that the pillows were purchased and the funds were embezzled. However, the DAE's project has only been approved and the procurement process has not yet begun."
The DAE director general said the agriculture project proposal came to him for approval. As he was hospitalised with Covid-19, the proposal was sent to the agriculture ministry with the signature of acting director general Shah Alam without much scrutiny.
On the other hand, officials at the ministry also said as it was a Covid-19 fast-track project, they did not have time to look into it. They sent it to the Planning Commission with the consent of the secretary.
Rehena Sultana, another official at the DAE's planning, project implementation and ICT wing, was also engaged in forming the project proposal. She has also been asked to give an explanation for the inflated prices.
Rehena said, "The prices have been fixed after checking prices on the market. Purchasing products for household chores and purchasing products for projects is not the same thing. They have estimated the prices, including VAT, contractor's profits, and transportation costs in the direct purchase process."
According to an investigation by The Business Standard, a committee was formed in July last year as per the directive of Mir Nurul Alam, former director general of DAE, to make the project proposal. However, Nazim Uddin, a member of the committee, did not pay any heed to convener of the four-member committee agriculturist Nurul Islam's opinion. Altafun Nahar, another member of the committee, also alleged this.
Shafiqul Islam, another member of that committee, worked as an accomplice of Nazim Uddin, according to sources.
Meanwhile, the three-member investigation committee of the DAE started its activities last Thursday. The committee will submit its report in five working days.
AKM Monirul Alam, additional director at the DAE, who heads the investigation committee, said, "Pricing in project purchases cannot be done as per anyone's wish. The persons involved with the inflated pricing will not be excused. Right now, I cannot say what punishment they will get. There are examples of losing jobs for corruption in the DAE."
The intelligence agencies have also been given information as per their demands. They are also working on it. As a result, no one will be spared, he added.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzak sought a written explanation from: the DAE's current and former directors general, Sheikh Mohammad Nazim Uddin, Rehena Sultana and market price reviewing officials.
The committee headed by Abdur Rouf, additional secretary to the agriculture ministry's PPC wing, has also started its work.