The Financial Express

In the name of environmental sustainability

| Updated: July 29, 2022 22:00:19

In the name of environmental sustainability

'Bangladesh Environmental Sustainability and Transformation (BEST)' is a high sounding title of a project. One cannot be blamed if one thinks of a comprehensive project on a grand scale involving the country's geo-morphological issues such as dying rivers or at least carbon emission. But it is more of an anticlimax than an appreciation for the objectives set out to accomplish, when the report informs that a proposal has been placed with the planning ministry for construction of 38 office buildings. The Department of Environment (DoE), the Bangladesh Bank, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority have joined hands with the aim of materialising the so-called 'environmental sustainability and transformation'. Of the total envisaged cost of Tk38.37 billion, the World Bank will provide Tk 26.30 billion. This is unlikely to be soft loan. What is even more concerning is that 150 civil servants, reportedly, will take a tour abroad to gain knowledge of office building construction. The DoE, will purchase as many as 82 vehicles to monitor air quality. If all these are not enough, it will also create an endowment fund of Tk 4.87 billion. 

At a time when the high-ups of the government including the prime minister are urging austerity from all quarters and no foreign visit unless it is highly essential, the spirit and tone of the proposed environmental sustainability project go counter to the principle. Why should civil servants familiarise themselves with building construction when this is a job of architects? The country has produced architects of world fame and they would not even require imitating their foreign counterparts. Let alone the world famous architects such as F.R Khan and veteran urban planners of the older generation, even the young generation's innovative buildings ---a low-cost community hospital blending healthcare with Nature in Satkhira and a mosque with a human touch to name a few --- have received awards like RIBA and Soane Medal respectively apart from the Aga Khan Awards. One has to tell them what the requirements are, they can deliver to the satisfaction of the clients.             

When there is such a large pool of talented architects, how does an army of 150 civil servants' foreign trips at a huge cost make sense is beyond comprehension. What is the urgency of such foreign trips, vehicle import and arrangement of an endowment fund (for whom is not even clear to the planning ministry) and the very basis of construction of office buildings in time of severe dollar crisis and austerity? Now that the government has categorised development projects into three types---A, B and C. The instruction is to complete A category projects immediately on full expenditure of the allocation; 75 per cent of budgets for B categories can be spent and the C category projects will remain suspended for the time being.

One does not have to be a development scientist or expert to see which category the office building project initiated by DoE and three other government entities belongs to. This is, however, not the only instance of defiance to the government restrictions on 'unnecessary' foreign tours. As many as 39 civil aviation ministry and authority (CAAB) have been on wasteful tours of a large number of countries, so have six WASA officials of Chottogram City Corporation been on tours of the USA and Turkey. When curbing avoidable expenditure is the principle, let it be practised with all seriousness and no double standard entertained.

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