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Will massive development for airports’ expansion lead to massive corruption?

Shahabuddin Ahmad
Six airports of the country namely, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Dhaka, Cox-Bazar Airport, Sylhet Airport, Shah Amanat Airport of Chittagong, Sayedpur Airport and Jessore Airport will be developed in the next few years, estimated time being three years, at an estimated cost of Taka 20,000 crore. In this connection, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAB) of Bangladesh has reportedly taken steps to call for tenders.
Currently very widespread activities are visible around Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport where large areas have been fenced, traffic for entry and exit is being regularly diverted, creating day-to-day problem to the air passengers and also to the residents of Uttara residential area and beyond. At Dhaka the 3rd terminal will be constructed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at an estimated cost of taka 14000 crore and Taka 3,700 crore will be spent for expansion of the Cox-Bazar Airport, the hub for developing the tourist facilities at Cox-Bazar and also to meet the defence needs of the country. Other airports named above will see large scale expansion activities to handle more flights and passengers.
Massive corruption in CAAB
While the above news has made headlines, the newspapers are agog with reports of various kinds of corruption in the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and also in Biman, the national carrier. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has already identified areas of massive corruption in CAAB and also in Biman. The listed areas for CAAB are procurement, construction, asset management, leasing of space in the airport, installation of billboards, sign posts, appointment of consultancy and abuse of training facilities for the officials mostly belonging to the air force who man the high posts in CAAB.
The areas of corruption in Biman include receiving cash money from exporters to air freight goods abroad, aircraft lease and payment of fake overtime and medical bills, interference of union leaders in the activities of Biman, sale of air tickets through agents etc. The findings of ACC regarding CAAB and Biman have been handed over to the Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister who is reported to have said that incidents of corruption and regularities would be looked into.
Former Ministers of Civil Aviation and Tourism were aware of the irregularities, corruption and incompetence of the above two organization but could not take any corrective measure against the above organizations or people who were involved during the last 10 years. Nothing moved for a better turn. Biman was turned into a company in 2007 and the Ministry hardly had anything to do as the company was performing according to the Companies Act.
Biman’s performance is questionable
Air Marshal Jamal Uddin (rtd) was the Chairman of the board of Director of Biman for the seven years. His successor, Air Marshal Mohammad Anamul Bari (rtd) is continuing as the Chairman for four years. But the performance of the Biman remains questionable. During the last 10 years Biman has procured new generation aircraft including Dreamliner’s but the number of stations now served is less than what Biman used to serve with old generation aircraft. There have been accusations that in the past that Chairman of the Board did not attend the meeting of the Parliamentary standing committee on Civil Aviation and Tourism on the plea that Biman is a company. No finger was raised for this.
Biman was born as a corporation in 1972, and in 2007 when it was turned into a company in order to experiment that if instead of a corporation Biman may do better as a company. But hopes were dashed.
In view of the information leading to investment of Taka 20,000 crore for development of airport facilities and handling of air passengers, it remains to be seen how massive could be the corruption.
Why did Biman’s foreign MDs quit without completing tenure?
Biman is a company now and the Civil Aviation Authority is a statutory body. Although the characters of the two organizations are currently different, they are the two sides of a hand. If corruption sets off in both of them what will be the future of Civil Aviation of Bangladesh? There were talks that Biman and CAAB’s function maybe overseen by internationally acclaimed experts. But nobody knows when that will happen. For the operation of Biman, two foreign experts were appointed as Managing Directors (MDs) but both of them had to leave the job before completing their tenure.

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