At a time when corruption is rampant in the implementation process of development projects and the quality of work is being seriously compromised, consider that there has been no audit of any projects under the Climate Change Trust Fund. The government has given BDT31 billion to the fund since it was created in 2013. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (OCAG) is responsible for auditing all development projects to ascertain whether money spent from public exchequer has yielded the desired value. The OCAG routinely audits all development projects taken by ministries or other government affiliate divisions, but it is making an exception to the climate fund. As a result, not a single taka of the BDT31 billion climate fund has been accounted for in the last seven years.
There is no monitoring and evaluation either. The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) under the Ministry of Planning is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the development projects, but it seems indifferent to the climate change mitigation projects. And, it hardly knows what is happening to those projects. Experts say the issue is serious as timely audits and monitoring not only can prevent corruption, but also can ensure completion of the projects on time by maintaining certain standards. Of late, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and Sachetan Nagorik Committee (Sanak) jointly inspected seven projects that are being implemented under the climate fund. The inspection report tells a tale of corruption and irregularities in those projects. Observers said that absence of monitoring and audit paved the way for corruption and malpractice centering the climate fund. Project funds are being waylaid at the field level. So far about 450 projects have been sanctioned under the climate fund. Of them, more than 100 projects are said to have been implemented. But there was no audit, and no inspection. Hardly anyone knows whether there was any positive impact of those projects on the ground. Considering the extreme vulnerability of the country to climate change, the government created the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) through a separate act in 2010 to tackle climate change and to fight the negative impacts of it. In the last seven years the government earmarked BDT31 billion for the fund through budgetary allocation. But there is no monitoring about how and where this staggering amount of money is being spent.
Experts lamented that the climate fund is without a guardian, and the main reason for this state is the weakness of the law. The law does not specify that IMED or any other third party will monitor the projects related to this fund. However, the authorities of Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF) said that after the creation of the fund in 2013 they have formed four committees to monitor the projects. Implementing organizations also have their separate monitoring teams. Besides, they submit audit reports on the climate fund to the government on a yearly basis. But experts refuted that claim saying that the trust fund authorities do not have the necessary manpower to properly monitor all those projects. Besides, if they themselves monitor their projects, how are they going to find any irregularities? So it requires third party involvement.
Climate change specialist professor Ainun Nishat said, “The climate change fund has no guardian. It has been left to its own devices. So we do not know what is going on.” He continued, “The trust fund lacks the wherewithal to effectively monitor the projects. The weakness in Climate Change Trust Act, 2010 has actually made this mess. IMED could have been included here. Besides, if local people were engaged as third party, they could ensure a proper use of climate fund.” Nurul Karim, managing director of the BCCTF and additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, said, “The climate change trust fund oversees the projects on its own. Moreover, the ministry also keeps a tab on project implementation work at the field level.” He, however, claimed that the authorities of the IMED was requested to monitor the projects, but they refused to do so saying that monitoring of the climate fund projects does not fall under the purview of their responsibilities.
IMED director Habibul Islam said, “BCCTF sent a letter asking us to carry out on-the-spot evaluation of those projects that have been implemented already. There were more than one hundred projects. But we told them that it is not possible as the projects are not a part of government’s annual development program (ADP).” It should be mentioned here that IMED is entrusted with monitoring and evaluating projects that fall under ADP. A number of such letters had been exchanged between the Ministry of Environment and IMED in this regard. In one of those letters, as seen by this correspondent, IMED replied that it would monitor and evaluate the projects only if IMED secretary was given a position in the Climate Change Trustee Board under the Ministry of Environment. But the ministry did not pay heed to this proposal. Consequently, the matter remained unresolved.
Meanwhile, finance minister AMA Muhith is very disturbed and angry about the climate fund. In the face of a flurry of allegations of corruption and irregularities, Muhith threatened to do away with this fund. He eventually reduced budgetary allocation to it. Last year, the Planning Commission also suggested that the fund be scrapped. Of the seven projects inspected by TIB and Sanak, one is being implemented at Nalua union under Bakerganj upazila in Barisal. The project on ‘tackling the adverse impacts of climate change by creating an embankment’, has been implemented by the Water Development Board. The inspection report says the design of the embankment was erroneous and it was built leaving out some houses outside of it. One affected woman said the dam was built by digging soil from her land. They took out earth from her sole piece of cultivable land in such a way that it has now become a pond. So she cannot use it for farming anymore. Another project for building embankment to protect the left side of Surma River in Sunamganj was also taken without consulting the local people, as TIB and Sanak found. Instances of irregularities are also rife in the rest of the inspected projects.
Director of TIB’s Climate Finance Governance Project (CFGP), M Zakir Hossain Khan, said: “Both the BCCTF and OCAG lack necessary manpower to monitor the projects initiated under climate fund. Which is why TIB has been demanding the inclusion of IMED in the project monitoring from the beginning.” “Civil society members also could have been included. The government should now evaluate the projects by forming a team of experts,” he added. Cross-ministerial involvement has also made the matter worse. As Zakir Hossain put it, “Projects under the climate fund are sanctioned by the Ministry of Environment of Forests. But many of the projects are being implemented by other ministries or autonomous bodies. For example, the Water Development Board is implementing 137 projects under this fund. So, when the allegation of wrongdoing arises, one ministry cannot take action against another.” It has been learnt that OCAG had audited 32 projects in a single fiscal year since the climate fund was formed. But after that there was no further audit, although the climate change trust fund authorities repeatedly requested them to do the same. There are 10 directorates under OCAG. Of them Local and Revenue Audit Directorate was given the task of auditing the projects of climate fund. When asked about the matter, Local and Revenue Audit director Jahangir Alam Khan said, “Once we submitted audit reports of a number of projects under climate change fund. But we are not doing this anymore.” He, however, refused to give more details.
Digging deeper into the matter it was learnt that the audit process came to a halt due to a lawsuit filed by OCAG. The Section 18 of the Climate Change Trust Act 2010 stipulates that the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh shall audit the accounts of the Trust every year and submit the copy of the audit report to the Government and the Board. But OCAG seems unwilling to do that. Meanwhile, shortage of necessary manpower has almost crippled BCCTF. At present, it has 82 designated posts, of which 12 are vacant. It has an evaluation team consisting of five officers led by a director, which is far fewer than the manpower needed to monitor all those projects. However, an officer of the Trust told this correspondent that a new proposal to recruit 140 personnel has been sent to the Ministry of Public Administration. If the proposal is approved, it will enhance the Trust’s capacity to a large extent.