Inexcusable callousness  

Published: November 10, 2018 22:09:58 | Updated: November 14, 2018 21:41:35

The news about taking over of operations of the Bangbandhu-1 satellite by the state-owned Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited (BCSCL) comes along with a disturbing piece of information. The Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has defaulted on repayment of loan taken from an international bank for the purpose of sending the country's first-ever satellite into the orbit and the bank has charged a penal amount for the alleged default. Though the defaulted amount is insignificant one, it has surely dented the image of the country that has never defaulted on servicing external debts during its 47 years of existence.

What is more annoying is that the country has got the stigma just because of callousness of a few officials of the state telecom regulatory body. Out of eight monthly instalments of 147 million euro loan that it had taken from one of the world's leading banks, the BTRC had made timely payments only in the case of four until last month. The reason cited by the relevant BTRC officials for the default on debt-servicing is not at all acceptable. The director (finance) of BTRC reportedly told a meeting, convened by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to discuss the loan default issue, that they were not aware of the instalment payment schedule. The top official of the regulatory body, according to a report published in this paper on Saturday, defended the wrongs committed, deliberately or otherwise, by the officials concerned.

What has been said by the BTRC official in defence of late payment of loan instalments would only evoke surprise. It is none other but the telecom regulator itself which is the recipient of the loan and the government had issued sovereign guarantee for that. The MoF, it seems, has taken up the default issue rather seriously and ordered an investigation. It is unlikely that the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication is unaware of the development. So, it should start its own investigation and punish the officials responsible for the misdeed.

It needs to be noted here that Bangladesh enjoys comfortable ratings by the relevant international agencies when it comes to borrowing from international financial institutions. Such ratings have been the outcome of its unblemished record concerning its international payment obligations. Moreover, there should be no reason for the country to default on repayment of sovereign loans, for its international reserve has been in a comfortable state for past many years.

The international creditors are also aware of Bangladesh's sound paying capacity. Yet what has happened in the case of payment against the loan on account of the Bangbandhu Satellite-1 project loan is an unwanted development. It only speaks of lack of competence and seriousness on the part of the relevant officials. However, such weaknesses are noted in most public organisations. The officials are more interested in furthering their perks and privileges and the government, too, has been found rather indulgent in this particular area.

The government has more than doubled the compensation packages of public servants and added a few extra facilities to high officials. But it has never been that serious in improving the quality of the service the public servants deliver and making them adequately serious in their day-to-day work. There were lots of talks about reforming the administration. That is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But improvements in commensurate with hike in perks and privileges of the public servants need to be ensured.

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