Money allotted for a poverty alleviation project in Bogura has allegedly been embezzled by the project director (PD) himself.
According to a progress report on the project, most of the Tk30 crore allocation, for a cow-goat distribution, tree plantation and training project, has been embezzled by project director Samir Kumar Sarker, who is also joint director of the Bogura Rural Development Academy (RDA).
The project was undertaken for the improvement of the living standards of the ultra poor char people of Sariakandi and Sonatala upazilas of the district.
The progress report, prepared by the Planning Commission, has been sent to different ministries and divisions, including the Rural Development and Co-operatives Division (RDCD).
According to sources, with the aim of improving the living standards of 16,000 char people, the Rural Development and Co-operatives Division undertook the Tk30.55 crore project in 2017. The project is being implemented in six unions under Sariakandi upazila and two unions under Sonatola upazila. Implementation of the project commenced in June 2017.
The project, scheduled to end in June 2020, has been extended by one year to June 2021.
Even before the completion of the project, in official documents, project officials have shown that the entire allocation has been spent. But the Planning Commission's report unearthed the misappropriation of the government money.
Cow-goat money devoured
As per the DPP (development project proposal), Tk8.1 crore was allotted for the distribution of 3,000 cows and 3,000 goats among 6,000 families by June this year. In the documents, project officials showed that until September 2020, 2,912 cows and 2,931 goats worth Tk7.95 crore had been distributed.
RDCD sources said following a field level investigation, the Planning Commission in its report concluded that less than Tk3 crore has been spent actually under this category.
Not a single tree planted
Although 3,000 fruit trees and 6,000 wood saplings were supposed to have been planted in the two upazilas as per the DPP, project documents showed that a total of only 932 saplings worth Tk10 lakh were distributed among 233 beneficiaries till last October.
An RDCD official told The Business Standard, "During field investigation, it was found that not a single tree has been planted under the project. But the entire allocation under this category was shown spent."
Allocation spent but no training
Under the project, a total of Tk3.5 crore was allocated for the training of 12,220 people in 14 categories, including animal husbandry, dairy processing and veterinary medicine. But according to the progress report, the project officials showed that the total allocation was spent in training only 450 people in four years.
Cows' artificial breeding centre dropped
The Planning Commission report says, "According to the DPP, two artificial breeding centres of cows are supposed to be set up with an allocation of Tk84.75 lakh. But no artificial breeding unit was found during the inspection."
Tube-well in documents only
According to the DPP, Tk62.13 lakh has been allocated for providing 300 hand-operated shallow tube-wells to 300 beneficiary families. In reality, no tube-well was provided to any beneficiary despite the allocation being fully spent, the Planning Commission progress report says.
In addition, Tk2.98 crore has been allocated for setting up four deep tube-wells and overhead water tanks to supply water through a Solar Operated Rural Piped Water Supply System in the project area. Project officials showed an expenditure of Tk1.86 crore, with only one deep tube-well being set.
489 toilets built out of 1,500
According to the evaluation report, Tk1.4 crore was allocated for the distribution of 1,500 hygienic toilets (Tk 9,390 for each) to 1,500 beneficiary families. But only 469 beneficiary families have been provided with hygienic toilets at full cost.
Office rent, electricity bill without office
To implement the project, two offices were rented at Sonatala and Sariakandi upazila complex premises at a total cost of Tk46,500.
The project has no separate office at Bogura RDA. However, in documents, project officials showed Tk3.73 lakh as rent for the artificial breeding lab, bull station and dairy farm of Bogura RDA, and Tk7.15 lakh as electricity bill of those facilities.
In addition, according to the DPP, fully hundred percent of the Tk5 lakh project-related travel expense allocation has been spent as per documents prepared by project officials.
"But a review of relevant documents of the project office shows that a total of Tk1.48 Lakh has been spent in reality," according to the Planning Commission report.
Flood, agricultural rehabilitation stumbles
The DPP allocates Tk50 lakh for agricultural rehabilitation, to be distributed among 400 beneficiary families in three years, and Tk50 lakh for flood rehabilitation, to be distributed among 400 families in three years.
But, according to the Planning Commission report, a review of relevant documents of the project office shows that a total of Tk10 lakh has been provided to 250 people (Tk4,000 each) for agriculture and flood rehabilitation. There is no trace of the rest of the money.
The progress report says, the Tk5 crore allocation for the establishment of satellite healthcare centres, cow-feed assistance, cow fattening and creating entrepreneurship, milk marketing and entrepreneurship creation has not been spent in full. The allocation has been misappropriated after only 30% of the work was completed.
When contacted, Project Director Sameer Kumar Sarker told The Business Standard, "The progress report submitted by the Planning Commission to the ministry is not correct."
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman told TBS that not only in this project, such irregularities, corruption and embezzlement are common in all such projects.
Observing that those responsible for taking action against such irregularities remain silent for mysterious reasons, he said, "As a result, these misappropriations are not stopping."
Rezaul Ahsan, secretary in the Rural Development and Cooperatives Department, said, "The report of the Planning Commission has come to our notice. A committee will be formed to investigate the matter. After the investigation report is received, appropriate action will be taken."
According to a source at RDCD, the project has been suspended following the report of the Planning Commission.