The agriculture ministry has issued a show-cause notice to Dr Abdul Muyeed, director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, for setting abnormal prices of various utensils, including boti, plates, spoons and spice pots, and laptops, for a project.
The step came following a stir created by the report titled "How much does a Boti cost? It costs Tk10k for govt" published in The Business Standard on July 19.
A three-member committee has also been formed to investigate the incident, Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman told The Business Standard over the telephone on Monday.
The committee headed by Abdur Rouf, additional secretary of the ministry's PPC wing, has been asked to submit a report on it within seven days.
Planning Minister MA Mannan called Zakir Hossain Akanda, a member of the Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Division of the Planning Commission, to his office and asked him to explain the matter.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the member's explanation, the minister said such a price estimation may pave the way for corruption.
When asked, the agriculture secretary on Monday said the price of a boti – a vegetable cutter – can never be Tk10,000. "I myself went to Karwan Bazar and learnt that the price of a boti is around Tk3,000-4,000. Even if VAT is added to the cost of installing handles in an iron boti, the price will not be Tk10,000."
He also said it is not possible for the ministry to see the price of each product in detail. Those involved in the formulation and implementation of the project have a responsibility in this regard.
The probe committee will go to markets and check the price of each product. It will calculate how much extra price has been charged for a product, he added.
The secretary further added that the culprits would be punished at first. The project will be revised before going for its implementation. There is no need to send the project to the Planning Commission for the revision in case of the price reduction.
Planning Minister MA Mannan sought clarification from a member of the Planning Commission on the increased cost.
The minister told The Business Standard on Monday that the member said to him that the products, whatever their prices may have been set, will not be bought at a higher price because of the tender.
"However, I do not think so. Because, once the price is set higher, the contractors get an opportunity. So, I am looking into the matter."
He added, "It is not possible for a minister to turn every page of a project document. So, he has to rely on the Planning Commission members. As soon as they fix everything, I take the projects to Ecnec. It is very unfortunate if the projects set such unreasonable prices."
The planning minister further said that he himself requested the agriculture minister over the phone and after the Monday cabinet meeting to take actions in this regard.
Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture has formed an inquiry committee.
Other members of the committee include Deputy Secretary of the Extension Wing of the ministry Md Moshiur Rahman and Deputy Chief of Planning Wing Dipak Kumar Sarkar.
Earlier, in a project titled Agricultural Mechanisation Through Integrated Management, the price of each boti was fixed at Tk10,000. The Business Standard published a report on it on Sunday last.
Not only botis, but also small items like food plates, plastic bowls, spoons and rice drums in the project were priced unusually high.
Costs for furniture like chairs, tables and sofas were also estimated abnormally high while prices of electrical products such as computers, laptops, smart televisions, ACs and refrigerators were almost double.
Under the project, 51,300 pieces of agricultural equipment will be distributed at a half-subsidized price.
The Department of Agricultural Extension claimed in the project document that it would save 50 percent time and 20 percent money in farming while the crop wastage would reduce by 10-15 percent.
Experts believe that setting prices of various products high under the project will create opportunities for corruption.
They said that corruption is taking place in almost every project of the government as the prices are set without checking the market.
The agri-project was recently approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.