It is not workers but corruption and mismanagement that are responsible for the losses of jute and sugar mills, Professor Anu Muhammad has said.
Without addressing these, stopping the operations of jute and sugar mills is the wrong decision, the Sorbojonkotha editor said while unveiling a research and investigation report on jute and sugar mills at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity on Monday.
Sorbojonkotha official researcher Maha Mirza said most officials – including project heads, directors, buyers, and suppliers – are involved in corruption.
Jute mills' operating costs have increased due to corruption and this has led to continuous losses, she added.
"Corruption includes: not buying jute during the season, buying low-quality jute at high prices later, embezzling money by showing excess weight by putting sand and water inside jute, and taking twice or thrice the amount for machine maintenance than the actual cost," she explained.
Maha said six months have passed but many workers have not yet received arrears despite assurances from the government.
The researcher warned that if government mills remain shut, jute farmers might become dependent on raw jute exports and be exploited by the syndicate of private mill owners and exporters.
She demanded taking action against individuals involved in corruption and irregularities, reopening jute mills and paying all arrears to workers.
Citing a Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation's report, she said old machinery, a lack of skilled spinners and weavers, not maintaining machinery because of a lack of skilled mechanics, and undiversified jute goods led to jute mills' losses.
"But all these issues can be addressed without shutting down the mills. It only needs the adoption of appropriate technology and machinery which should cost around Tk1,000 crore," she continued.
Professor Anu said allocating Tk5,000 crore in the name of giving workers a golden handshake, instead of allocating Tk1,000 crore for machinery maintenance, shows the government's unwillingness to keep this sector alive.
Shutting down jute and sugar mills is a suicidal decision, he added.
The government made the decision to close six sugar mills due to losses but did not disclose the reason for the loss, said Moshahida Sultana, a professor in the Department of Accounting & Information Systems at the University of Dhaka.
"The actual reason is that the local sugar production cost is higher than the cost of imported sugar. But the cost has risen due to mismanagement and corruption," she said.
"Due to old and worn-out machines, mills are experiencing lower output, and consuming more power and time. The maintenance cost of these machines is also higher. All these have increased production costs," explained Moshahida.
Receiving kickbacks for different tenders and contracts to buy parts and repair machines as well as irregularities in paying bills are also the reasons for losses, she said.
Insufficient supply of sugarcane and interest on loans are also setbacks for sugar mills, she continued.
The professor demanded that all these issues be addressed instead of the mills being shut. "Mill closures may have a bad impact on our economy as a good number of workers will become unemployed."
Dr Md Tanzimuddin Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, and Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua also spoke at the programme.