- Top Biman officers who were punished for corruption were reinstated
- Managing director released them from all corruption charges beyond his authority
- Corruption was found in recruitment of 14 pilots
- Recruitment scam came to the attention of PMO
- Ticket income fell by Tk200 crore in April
- Investigation committee was formed to find out reasons behind falling ticket income
The litany of charges against the Biman officials was serious.
The top official who looked after Biman's sales and marketing was found involved in corruption regarding ticket sales in an investigation by the civil aviation ministry.
The second man in the airline's accounts department was also believed to have been associated with corrupt practices with travel agents regarding ticket sales and making illegal income.
And the person who was supposed to control Biman's flow of finance deposited the pension fund of the airline with a sick private bank that ultimately lost its capacity to pay back depositors' money leading to loss to the airline.
They along with 40 other Biman officials against whom serious corruption charges were proven were either dismissed or suspended from their jobs.
But all were absolved as soon as Biman got a new managing director, Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal, the new airline chief, who immediately reinstated them all, pardoning their serious crimes with rebukes.
The immediate result of the managing director's actions is a fall in Biman's performance. The errant officials had stopped its online ticket sales reverting back to the old corrupt practice of offline purchase.
As a result, Biman's income in April dipped by Tk200 crore despite a good passenger load factor, leading to another investigation by Biman itself about what led to this dive.
The airline's on-time flight performance has faltered. Biman had improved its flight departures to over 80% beyond the international standard in the year 2019 and continued till 2020. Now with new Managing Director Kamal in the chair, it has slumped back to 56%.
And a pilot in violation of standard operational procedures deployed the aircraft's emergency power system in midair that damaged both the engines. But he was let go of his lapses and continues with his service. Biman suffered a loss of $1.5 million for this irregular operation.
But there is more, Biman is today embroiled in a corruption scandal in the recent recruitment of 14 pilots.
Crime and punishment
Ashraful Alam, general manager at the marketing and sales department of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, was the main culprit of corruption in ticket sales, according to an investigation conducted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism in 2019.
The investigation report found that he stopped the online ticketing system and manipulated tickets through a manual system in connivance with travel agents. As a result, despite having empty seats in Biman flights, travellers would not get tickets, making the national carrier lose money.
He was dismissed from Biman in December 2020 after his corruption was finally proved.
But Ashraful was reinstated in March last year just one month after Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal joined as managing director of Biman.
Kamal relieved him of all corruption charges beyond his authority after only verbal reprimand.
After his dismissal, Biman fully automated the online ticketing and experienced a boost in revenue with increased ticket sales.
But those who were previously accused of corruption, have now again been given the charge of Biman's ticketing, causing the national flag carrier to incur losses from ticket sales again.
Muhammad Mohiuddin, who was released from his deputy general manager (accounts) post by the previous management for his involvement in financial corruption, has also got back his position.
The investigation found that he took undue facility from HAC travels, a travel agency, by allowing it to give Biman a bank guarantee against tickets, which was much lower than the required amount.
Mohiuddin did not deposit ticket selling money in Biman's fund when he was finance manager in London. He was also responsible for causing financial loss to Biman by buying payroll software from a private company without informing the relevant IT department, the investigation also found.
Moreover, without taking consent from the chief financial officer and the managing director, Mohiuddin disbursed Tk2.21 crore in Baishakhi allowance to Biman's employees in March 2020, at a time when Biman's operation was hard hit by Covid-19 and the carrier cut all extra facilities for employees, considering the pandemic crisis.
However, Mostafa Kamal pardoned Mohiuddin from all such corruption charges.
Abu Syed Md Manjur Imam, finance controller of Biman, was found guilty of disbursing Baishakhi allowance. He was also found involved in misusing Biman's employees' pension fund.
He parked the pension fund of Tk10 crore as fixed deposit in the then scam-hit Farmers Bank without taking consent from the trustee board. Manjur Imam is also a member of the trustee board. Approval from the board is mandatory prior to making any investment from the pension fund.
Moreover, he invested the pension fund in private banks instead of state-owned banks to take undue facility, putting employees' money at risk.
The investigation found proof of his misdeeds and violations, and the previous management sent him on leave without pay. Later, he was served a second show-cause notice over his corruption. But before the final action, the management was changed. After joining Biman as its managing director, Mostafa Kamal released Manjur Imam from all corruption charges and reinstated him after just verbal rebuke.
At a recent meeting with the media, Mostafa Kamal admitted that he released 43 officials from corruption charges.
Asked if he had authority to release them from corruption charges, he replied that the Biman management could relieve them from charges as they appealed to it.
However, according to Biman's job rules, the accused must appeal to the board and the management has no authority to remove the charges.
At fault for damaging aircraft engines but still in service
In February this year, pilot Ali Rubyat Chowdhury deployed an aircraft's emergency power system in midair on the way to Sylhet from Dhaka, causing damage to two engines of the new De Havilland Canada Dash-8 aircraft of Biman.
The investigation revealed that the pilot's violation of SOP (standard operating procedure) was the reason for the damage. The aircraft has remained grounded since the incident and the national carrier had to spend $1.5 million to repair damaged engines.
In an executive directors' meeting held on 11 May, the investigation report was reviewed and a decision was taken that SOP violation will not be mentioned in the report so Biman can make an insurance claim, according to the meeting minutes. The managing director approved the decision.
But the previous experience says Biman got the settlement of an insurance claim even after pilot's fault in such an accident.
The latest decision reflects how Biman is covering up its own faults and releasing officials from their responsibilities without any punishment.
Even after damaging the two aircraft engines with faulty action, Pilot Captain Rubaiyat has remained in service.
The suggestion for keeping Rubaiyat in operation came from Director of flight operations Captain Md Siddiqur Rahman, according to meeting minutes.
In the view-exchange meeting, Mostafa Kamal was asked about how logical it was not to mention the SOP violation in the investigation report, he forwarded the question to Siddiqur Rahman to reply.
Siddiqur Rahman replied that this issue could not be discussed in the open forum.
Mostafa Kamal also came under severe criticism after he terminated senior pilot Captain Mahbubur Rahman in November last year reportedly without showing any reasons.
Anomalies in pilot recruitment
Biman management was found involved in pilot recruitment corruption again as 14 pilots recruited recently did not meet the requirements for the post. They were even appointed ignoring the existing pilot recruitment policy, causing financial loss to Biman.
The latest pilot recruitment corruption came to the attention of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) as well.
Referring to the PMO, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism recently sent a letter to Biman, mentioning corruption in the recent recruitment of 14 pilots.
The ministry in the letter on 25 April also asked the Biman management to conduct an investigation into pilot recruitment and submit the report to the ministry within 15 days.
Biman's former managing director Abul Munim Mosaddique Ahmed was forced to resign over the 28-pilot recruitment scam.
Biman appointed 14 pilots recently on contract basis but recruitment policy was allegedly ignored in the entire recruitment process. Moreover, controversial and disqualified candidates were recruited. Even, job agreement was done in the favour of new pilots, breaking the existing policy.
For instance, Sadia Ahmed, who has an accident record and was fired from US Bangla and Regent airlines due to inefficiency, was recruited in Biman as pilot for its Boeing 777 aircraft, according to a secret report the aviation ministry sent to Biman with reference to the PMO.
Captain Sazid Ahmed, chief of training at Biman, and also the husband of Sadia, conducted her exam.
Sadia was sent to Bangkok for simulator training for 777 aircraft at the cost of Biman. Previously, Sadia was disqualified in simulator training when she was sent to Istanbul from Regent airways, according to the ministry report.
This time, the simulator centre for Sadia was changed overnight from Jakarta to Bangkok with the influence of Sazid to make her qualify.
Previously, in the contractual pilot's agreement, it was clearly mentioned that training cost till 1st flight is to be paid by pilots. But in the case of the newly recruited 14 pilots, that provision was removed and there is no mention of which party will bear the cost.
The issue came to Biman's attention after the training department sent a payment invoice amounting to Tk44.77 lakh in favour of Thai Flight Training Centre for 14 pilots.
The ministry report said Sazid removed the clause of training cost from agreement to favour his wife, Sadia.
Moreover, in the case of Sadia's job agreement, there is a clause that she can leave her job anytime with a notice of three months. As a result, Sadia can leave her job and join other airlines after completing her training at Biman's cost.
Other newly-recruited pilots were found to have controversial backgrounds and did not match up with the recruitment requirements, according to the ministry report.
In the light of the above irregularities, the ministry asked Biman to conduct an investigation into pilot recruitment.