By David Bergman
The New Age
Thursday, 2 February, 2012
Five non-governmental organisations have admitted to the World Bank that they made corrupt payments to Bangladesh government officials to receive contracts under a bank-funded project.
The admissions are contained in a report of an investigation which the World Bank’s Integrity Vice President conducted into the disbursement to hundreds of NGOs of part of a $53.3 million loan that the bank had given the Bangladesh government to further post-literacy continuing education.
Four of the five NGOs told World Bank investigators that to get a contract under the project, which lasted between 2001 and 2007, they each had to pay at least Tk 100,000 in bribes to government officials, money that was channelled to the officials through intermediaries.
Some NGOs had to pay as much as Tk 600,000 in bribes to obtain a contract, the investigators were told.
The World Bank investigation report also found that almost half of 470 NGOs which government officials had selected to receive a contract ‘were found to be non-compliant with the qualification criteria’ and that at last 61 of the NGOs had falsified their experience certificates.
Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of Transparency International, told New Age, ‘This is a clear testimony to the concern that corruption has become deep and wide. While it cannot be concluded that everyone in the government and the non-government sector is corrupt, it certainly indicates that the win-win game of corrupt transactions is ominously eroding the moral and ethical fabric of society.’
‘This being in the education sector is tantamount to stealing both the present and future of the country,’ he added.
The investigation report has been made public as part of the new 2011 disclosure policy of the Integrity Vice President, the part of the bank which investigates corruption and fraud allegations concerning the use of the bank’s money.
The report does not publish the names of government officials alleged to have taken the money. The names of NGOs barred from bidding for World Bank contracts for a period of three or four years, some of them because of their fraud in this project, however, can be found separately in a database on the World Bank web site.
At least three of the organisations in the database — Samajik Sangha in Dhaka, Development Action Centre in Chuadanga and Bittohin Chasi Somaj Kalyan Sangstha in Pabna — were sanctioned because of fraud on this project.
The report on the World Bank project to fund post-literacy continuing education is the only investigation involving a Bangladesh project that has so far been published by the World Bank.
According to the investigation report, one NGO representative said, ‘All NGOs had to make payments to receive contracts under the project unless the NGO was well connected politically to senior GOB officials.’
A representative of another NGO, not amongst the five who admitted to paying bribes and referred to as F in the report, told the investigators, ‘No NGO, no matter how experienced, could win a contract without a minimum payment of BDT 100,000.’
The person is also quoted as saying that he had been told that ‘officials had to “make money” before contracts would be awarded.’
A representative of another NGO, referred to only as G in the report, told investigators that he knew of one NGO that had paid ‘a total of approximately Tk 2,00,000’ to get a contract while another paid about Tk 6,00,000.
The report said that ‘these two NGOs had [reportedly] made the payments to a number of GOB officials.’
The investigators also found that 202 of the 470 NGOs — 43 per cent of the total — that had been initially selected to participate in the final phases of the project did not satisfy the minimum selection criteria for receiving a contract.
The criteria included that the NGO had to have established premises, two years of experience in working on non-formal education and have trained managerial and technical staff in the area, have a constitution and managing body, and have experience in organising programmes for women and children.
The investigation also found out that at least 61 NGOs had submitted fraudulent experience certificates in their bid submissions.
‘These 61 NGO’s submitted… experience certificates purportedly issued by five established Bangladesh NGOs stating that they had performed work for one of more of [them],’ the report stated.
‘Collectively, the five established NGOs informed [the investigators] that the certificates submitted by at least 61 of the NGOs bidding for contracts under the project has been falsified and that these 61 NGOs had never done [non formal education] work for them,’ it went on to state.
The report states that the office of the Integrity Vice president requested each of the 25 NGOs which went on to receive a contract from the government to show cause why the organisation should not be sanctioned.
Six NGOs replied to the show cause notice by admitting that they had submitted falsified NFE experience certificates. Seven other NGOs replied by denying the stated findings but the World Bank ‘found their explanations and denials inconsistent with the available evidence.’
The remaining 12 NGOs never responded to the show cause notices.
In January, New Age disclosed that Bangladesh topped the list of countries with the highest number of organisations or individuals that had been sanctioned by the World Bank in the last three years.
In October 2011, the World Bank announced that it would not start disbursing the $1.2 million loan it had agreed earlier that year to give the Bangladesh government to fund the construction of the Padma bridge because of concerns about corruption and fraud.