HIGH procurement cost in medical equipment and supplies which appears to have set out as a pattern in 2019 seems to have continued even until now, during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, as Transparency International, Bangladesh makes public findings of a study that it has recently conducted. The civil society organisation that fights corruption says that the corruption in the purchase of medical supplies continues for a lack of transparency in the procurement process. The organisation has said that purchase of substandard medical supplies have been proposed for prices five to 10 times higher the market prices cashing in on the novel coronavirus crisis. It has found that old models of DNA amplifier polymer chain reaction machines have been procured while some existing machines have not been used for COVID-19 tests. The study has also found that in a fast-track COVID-19 project, Tk 5,000 have been proposed for a pair of safety goggles when they sell for less than Tk 1,000 on the market; Tk 4,700 has been proposed for a personal protective equipment while it sells for less than Tk 2,000 on the market; a pair of boots, which sells for the highest market price of Tk 500, have been proposed to be bought for Tk 1,500.
Besides, Tk 550 million has been quoted for five computer software where the average unit price of the software is Tk 2.8 million; Tk 105 million has been quoted for the development of four web sites against the highest market price of Tk 200,000 each and there has been a proposal for the production of 30 audio clips for Tk 115 million where a complete film could cost between Tk 10 and Tk 20 million. Transparency International, Bangladesh, which says that the COVID-19 emergency is being used as an opportunity to make money, finds that a lack of transparency in the procurement process has mainly been responsible for such a situation as none but a few senior officials know anything about procurement. The organisation thinks that an excessive control by syndicates of all procurement, with an alleged connivance of some officials in the health ministry, has led the situation to such a pass. Illogically costly public procurement, which came to light in May 2019 involving the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project, soon spread to the health sector, with similar corruption having been reported in the purchase of books and medical equipment in two public medical colleges in August and September that year. In the first week of October 2019, the Chittagong Medical University came to be mired in such problems. Dhaka Shishu Hospital is reported towards the end of October that year to have sought to procure medical equipment for high prices.
The issue of high procurement costs, which is corruption committed to the benefits of the suppliers and some officials who are corrupt, cannot be headed off without institutional reforms and capacity building. Issues of high cost and ways to stop such issues have been in discussions since the first incident took place. But nothing tangible has as yet happened. It is imperative that the government must now look into the issues stringently and deal with the loopholes to save public money and public health and deterrently punish people involved in such corruption and corruption moves.