Planning Minister MA Mannan has warned secretaries of all ministries and divisions of stern action if incidents of overpricing take place again in project purchase.
At a virtual meeting on Thursday, he recommended being thrifty for development projects.
Secretaries assured the minister that overpricing in project purchases like a Boti at Tk10,000, a plastic box at Tk2,000, a spoon at Tk1,000 or billing for stationery items and food for virtual meetings will not occur again.
Mannan also talked with the secretaries about improving project quality and the implementation progress of the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
Apart from the much-talked-about agriculture ministry's anomalous project costs, the meeting also discussed other cases of overpricing and the GDP growth in the last fiscal year.
"People are closely observing how the projects are spending public money. Therefore, we have to be cautious about the use, utilization and prices of any project fund," Mannan told the press after the meeting.
He said, "Recommendations have already been given to avoid wasting public money by extra project allocating, unnecessary foreign trips and food bills. Billing errors in any project will not be accepted anymore."
The minister also said that the Cabinet Division secretary at the meeting elaborated legal actions on financial irregularities.
"We must spend public money with transparency. Project monitoring should be strengthened from the ministries and development project proposals should strictly follow the respective rules," he added.
"Officials responsible for inflated pricing in agriculture extension department project goods will face the music," Planning Commission's Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Division Member (Secretary) Zakir Hossain Akanda informed the meeting.
Meantime, the meeting was told that the health ministry would form a taskforce to check discrepancy in medical purchases.
The planning minister said the premier expressed her annoyance several times over anomalous project purchases and unnecessary foreign trips.
"We have to refrain from any kind of wastage during this pandemic," said Mannan. He also asked for quitting the culture of being-in-charge of multiple projects at a time and staying away from the project site.
The meeting was told that 80.45 percent of the revised ADP was spent in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which in previous year was 94.66 percent.
The ADP spending until June amounted to Tk161,857 crore against the Tk201,198.56 crore revised ADP. Of it, the government provided Tk108,172 crore while Tk47,526 crore came from foreign sources and implementing agencies spent Tk6,159 crore from their own pockets.
A plethora of recommendations including cautious spending in new projects, introducing project documents on proper assessments, being more careful to extend project deadlines or raise project cost, prioritizing almost-completed projects and speeding up foreign-funded projects were put forward for better ADP performance in the current fiscal year.
The minister was asked about the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) reported 5.24 percent agricultural growth to the gross domestic product in the last fiscal year – which is marked by pandemic-led slumps.
"Agriculture did tremendous. Remittance also rose though it was said to drop drastically," he said, claiming these sectors helped achieve more than 5 percent GDP in the recently concluded 2019-20 fiscal year.
According to BBS, though the private investment in last year's budget was lowered to 12.7 percent of the GDP, investment in this sector stood at 23.63 percent. Though the ADP spending, which contributed 80 percent public investment, dropped by Tk5,329 crore, government investment jumped Tk23,064 crore, said the BSS.
From where the big investment came from – in reply to the query BBS Director Ziauddin Ahmed said, "The report was prepared based on the first nine months' data. Entire allocation to the sector was shown as government investment as the ADP was yet to be revised then."
"Why Zoom meeting would bill for snacks"
"We did meetings on virtual platform Zoom during the pandemic. Could we send Singaras [snacks] through the meeting?" questioned MA Mannan while talking about the food billing by the IMED officials.
"The government noticed even such whimsical issues as that made the headlines. Planning ministry is also deeply concerned over government purchases," said the minister.
"Why virtual meetings from home would require billings for food? Allocation for foods in a project does not mean that the money will have to be spent illogically," said Mannan.
He said the meeting unanimously decided to avoid such illogical expenditures.