The Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) constructed four surface water treatment plants in Barishal and Sylhet under "Sylhet and Barishal Metropolitan Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage Project".
Though the work got six time expansions, with the cost spiking to 470 percent, three of the treatment plants went out of order soon after the completion of the project – a typical example of irregularities and corruption undermining government projects.
Moreover, people were not getting safe water from the lone plant in operation in Sylhet as the supply network had been constructed with substandard pipes. As a result, water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and skin diseases spiked among people in the low-income bracket in Sylhet. Meanwhile, city dwellers have been paying double the price for water.
The grim picture of irregularities was spotted by the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) – a government agency that monitors successful development spending to attain sustainable development. The IMED also said it did not find a single community latrine while the project implementing organization claimed setting up ten of those in Barishal city.
The DPHE shrugged off all the allegations and termed the findings wrong.
While the two government agencies are at odds, many argue over how corruption in public health related projects are putting health issues at serious risks and causing a waste of public funds.
Another new project proposed for those out of order
Under the project, two surface water treatment plants, with a total capacity of 16 million liters of water per day, were constructed in Barishal's Beltola and Rupatoli area.
The Barishal City Corporation is not receiving the plants as they went out of order soon after project completion.The city corporation in a letter to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives said the city corporation did not have the financial ability to repair them.
Advised by the ministry, the city corporation later proposed a new project from the annual development programme to repair the plants.
The IMED report says that the Beltola water plant had been constructed in a river erosion-prone area without any assessment.The plant is under risk of erosion as no embankment was built to protect the establishment.
River erosion has already eaten up most of the laboratory building and pump house of the plant, with the entire Tk27 crore establishment waiting to be washed away by the river.
In the meantime, a 200-kilovolt electric transformer has been built instead of one of 400 KV at Rupatoli plant. For this, the 1.60-crore-liter water treatment plant can supply the highest quantity of 50-60 crore liters per day.
The IMED report noted, "The four submersible motors were out of order. The DPHE changed two of them upon city corporation complaints while other two are yet to be supplied. Those old motors stop working soon after replacements."
Moreover, five of the eight filters are faulty and cannot treat water. Digital meters to monitor chemicals, CWR scale and delivery pipe of drainage motor of the plant, built at around Tk25 crore, are out of order.
One of the two plants found running in Sylhet
Of the water treatment plants equipped to handle 8 and 20 millions of liters per day (MLD) capacity, the IMED found 8 MLD plants closed.
Fourteen generators were brought under the project for the 20 MLD plant so that it can supply water uninterruptedly. But the IMED found the generators out of order.
Though the cost for the two plants was estimated to be Tk29.22 crore, Tk5.81 crore was spent out of the approved DPP (Development Project Proposal). The IMED termed it contradictory with financial regularities.
Opacity in land development
For the two plants in Sylhet, the project allocation for land development was Tk5.27 crore for 79,810 cubic meters of land.
But the project documents show that 5049 cubic meters of land for the 8 MLD plant was not developed while the allocation was shown to have been spent. In the meantime, there was no data available for the 20 MLD plant land development work.
The IMED said land development at the Barishal project sites is also tainted by irregularities. The project developed 20,000 cubic meters of land against 23,700 and showed the allocation to have been spent.
Project cost jumps 470 percent
The 'Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage Project' was undertaken in 2005 with a three-year deadline. But the project lifeline was expanded six times in 11 years. The main development project proposal estimated the project cost at Tk49.53 crore. But the lengthy implementation dragged the development project proposal cost to Tk282.41 crore — which is 470.15 percent more than the primary estimation.
The project was concluded at a cost of Tk262 crore.
IMED wrong: DPHE
The chief engineer of the DPHE, Md Saifur Rahman, claimed that the IMED findings were not right. He also said that the DPHE had sent a written statement to the IMED protesting the report.
"The IMED claim is absurd. We did our job properly," he commented.
In the written statement, the DPHE said, "Local Government Division Senior Secretary Helal Uddin ordered Barishal City Corporation to take over the plants on October 10, 2019. The city corporation on October 17 took over the plants in a fully functional state. Therefore, the city corporation is now responsible to run and maintain the establishments."
In the written statement, the DPHE said that Sylhet City Corporation took over the two plants in May 2017. The 8 MLD plant suspended production due to a power supply issue last February. The plant will resume production soon as power has almost been restored there.
Meanwhile, a DPHE engineer on condition of anonymity, said, "The Local Government Division is the guardian of both DPHE and city corporations. A guardian knows what he or she is doing for the children."