THE Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, as evidenced by the delay in the process of purchasing electronic tablets, will not be able to meet its deadline to complete the 2021 National Population and Housing Census. Last week, the BBS submitted a proposal for the third time to the Cabinet Committee on Government Procurement seeking approval for the purchase of 3.95 lakh tablet computers to conduct the investigation. In the past four months, the cabinet committee had returned the request to buy BBS on two occasions because their proposal involved unusually high expenses. In October 2019, the government approved the Population Census Project, but the Covid pandemic delayed the project. In June 2021, the government reduced the cost of the project and decided to conduct the survey digitally, which made the purchase of tablet computers mandatory. The cabinet committee has valid reasons for delaying the purchase, but to remedy the irregularities, it delays the implementation of a public interest project.
The cost of the 2021 census project was set at Tk 1,557 crore, up 643% from the Tk 237 crore spent on the 2011 census. In its previous submission, the BBS had proposed spending 10 to 211 times the amount he spent in his previous census. Some BBS officials said earlier that the allocation of Tk 27.1 crore for satellite cards appears to be a waste because the card is already available in the office. They also questioned the appointment of high-paying consultants and the purchase of expensive vehicles. The impasse on the purchase of computer tablets raised the question of the integrity of the public institution and highlighted the much criticized pattern of irregularities in government projects. Neither the BBS proposal nor the cabinet’s requests include any concerns regarding the use of the 395,000 tablets or vehicles beyond the scope of this project. According to the expert, however, any government purchasing decision must be made with the long-term use of resources in mind.
The government and the relevant ministry should carefully review the project proposal to stop any waste of public money. In doing so, it should not delay the approval of purchases necessary for the success of a census survey. The government must also provide the BBS with a clear directive for the long-term use of the tablet computers to be purchased for the survey. One possible and very effective use of the tablet would be to distribute them among students and teachers in public schools after the project is completed.