DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An international watchdog has uncovered malpractice in the management of Bangladesh’s climate change funding, finding that some groups paid 20 percent of their allocation as “commission” in order to be chosen for adaptation projects.
On Oct. 3, the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) released a study on climate fund governance that revealed political influence, nepotism and corruption in the selection of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to carry out work on the ground.
It described how the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a state-owned ‘not-for-profit’ company that funds micro-credit programmes, had picked 63 NGOs to receive grants from the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), set up to channel money budgeted by the government to help communities adapt to climate shifts.
From 2011 onwards, TIB investigated the selection process, funding and project progress for 55 NGOs out of the 63. Researchers were unable to trace 10 of the NGOs. They also discovered that the heads of 13 NGOs were involved in politics, and that nine projects were awarded as a result of political influence.
“It is alleged (to us) that some NGOs received projects through political influence, by paying commissions (20 percent of total project value), by engaging associate NGOs with connections with policy makers for implementing the project in partnership with the approved NGO, and by colluding with decision-makers and providing undue benefits, such as establishing a computer centre in the electoral constituency of the concerned official,” TIB researchers said.
Only 17 of the NGOs had prior experience of working directly on natural disasters, environment and climate change, according to the report. Presenting the research, assistant coordinator Mohua Rauf said most of the NGOs chosen were inexperienced, lacked the necessary infrastructure and had questionable credibility.
Funding allocations do not appear to be based on need, she added. Among the districts worst-affected by climate change, Khulna got only 6.5 percent of the total, while Satkhira received only 1.2 percent and Bagerhat nothing. But districts that are much less affected - Tangail, Gaibandha, Rajshahi and Nowabganj - were awarded a large number of projects.
Rauf said the PKSF, which manages the trust fund, did not monitor, inspect or review the progress of project implementation. This could be due to a lack of funding to carry out the work, as the body has not received any money from the BCCTF for that purpose, she added.
The PKSF hit back at the TIB investigation after it was reported in different media outlets.
“Initially, (the) government selected 131 NGOs from over 4,000 applications. Later on PKSF was entrusted with the NGO verification and finance. Finally, 63 NGOs were selected. During the procedure, PKSF investigated (the) existence of the NGOs, their capacity, previous activities/experience etc. Only those NGOs which fulfilled the above criteria were selected for funding,” it said in a statement.
TIB’s finding that 10 NGOs did not exist was incorrect, the PKSF added.
“According to the existing terms and conditions, selected NGOs are at liberty to engage partners for project implementation. Since climate change adaptation is a new concept, we found some NGOs are facing some difficulties in implementing the project,” it said.
The PKSF’s fund allocation and selection criteria “are very rigid and transparent”, it continued. “Strict rules are followed in the entire process. There is no scope for any unfair means or corrupt practice in PKSF activities,” it said.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman told Thomson Reuters Foundation projects should be selected based on local need.
“Political influence, nepotism and other malpractices should not get consideration in project selection,” he said. “Projects should be undertaken in the areas where people are more affected and vulnerable to climate change impacts.”
In addition, project transparency and accountability has to be ensured during implementation, he said. If that doesn’t happen, international funds may stop flowing, he warned.
Up to June this year, developed nations made climate finance pledges of $594 million to Bangladesh, although much of the money has yet to be delivered. In addition, the South Asian nation has received $147 million out of $149 million promised by a group of wealthy states through the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), a multi-donor fund administered by the World Bank.
“We get money from (the) national and international level for adaptation. If we can utilise it effectively, more funds will be channelled in the near future. If the malpractices are not eliminated, donors won’t show interest,” Iftekharuzzaman said.
‘IT’S A VERY EASY JOB’
Ruhul Matin, executive director of Sagarika Samaj Unnayan Sangstha (Sagarika Social Development Organisation), said he had submitted a project proposal for Tk 30 million ($386,400) to help 5,000 fishermen in the southeastern districts of Noakhali, Laxmipur and Feni.
“I was given Tk 3 million, and we are now supporting 500 fishermen,” he said. “We helped them elevate houses, provided some trees for forestation and lifejackets, and gave (them) some training for income-generation activities.”
His organisation is an implementation partner for PKSF-funded projects, whose progress is being closely monitored by PKSF officials, he added.
Selim Chowdhury, project coordinator for Samahar, an NGO that was allocated Tk 3 million to plant trees in the capital, said his organisation had previously carried out garbage management work in the city with the Dhaka City Corporation.
The TIB research team said this NGO had been selected for climate change funding because of political influence. Chowdhury denied this.
“It’s a very easy job - anyone, experienced or inexperienced, can do the work. We will plant trees on two sides of the roads in some areas of Dhaka,” he said.
NEED TO SHOW RIGOUR
Ainun Nishat, an environmentalist and vice chancellor of BRAC University in Dhaka, told Thomson Reuters Foundation the BCCTF is governed by a high-powered committee comprising several ministers, government secretaries and experts.
“But you can get nothing online about the NGO projects under the BCCTF, which does not reflect transparency and accountability,” said Nishat.
The PKSF is also helping select NGOs for the disbursement of 10 percent of the money in the donor-backed climate change resilience fund. In this case, information about the NGOs, selection criteria, project details and implementation progress are available online, Nishat added.
“No matter whether the funds come from donors or the government exchequer, transparency in the selection of NGOs and projects must be ensured,” he said.
Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, an NGO that works on sustainable development issues, said Bangladesh has attracted international sympathy for its vulnerability to climate change, as well as it efforts to tackle the problem.
“In the near future, there will be greater allocation from the global sources of funding. Bangladesh needs to demonstrate its capacity to absorb funds through technically sound projects which have a high degree of transparency and accountability,” he said.
“It is in our interest to build that capacity and rigour as soon as we can,” he added.
Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org