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Probing Orissa Health System Development Project Scam: Attempt to fool the Public

"Threatened by the World Bank, Orissa Government ordered for a vigilance enquiry of the matter. It also didn’t question the World Bank about the consultants who were placed to monitor and guide the project team. The way enquiry was made and charge sheet was submitted against a few specific officials, it became clear that government investigating agency worked with a preset objective of finding some scapegoats to safeguard the key people involved in it."

Basudev Mahapatra : July 20, 2008

The Orissa health system development project scam hinted by a World Bank team in its report questioned the credentials and honesty of the bank in monitoring and supporting various development projects in third world countries, as the report disagrees to the previous reports submitted by consultants appointed by it.

Orissa Health System Development Project – A Case in Hand

Take the case of recent furore over a possible scam in the Orissa State Health System Development Project (OSHSDP) that was implemented in the state of Orissa in 1998 at an estimated project cost of 415 Cr Rupees. The project was meant to upgrade the faculties and technical infrastructure of 156 hospitals in Orissa. Because the project was funded by World Bank, there was specific condition to follow the World Bank guidelines in implementation of the project and any kind of purchase and procurement.

As the state government had insufficient human resources, it hired outside agencies and professionals to properly implement the project and monitor it. The expenditure incurred in hiring outside professionals and agencies is about 18 Cr rupees. Few officials and contractual staff members at a comparatively low payment were put in the project office from the government side.

In order to scrutinise and finalise tenders for procurement and purchase, government of Orissa did set its own agency ELMARK that was suggesting about parties to be entertained in the process.

As per the guidelines, any purchase below One Cr rupees is to be made on approval of the State government and finance department; purchases above one Cr are to be done on World Bank approval and certification. Following the norms, all purchases are made by the project office either on approval of the Government and World Bank. The then consultants appointed by World Bank gave their certificates about norms of guideline being properly followed in all equipment and machinery purchases. But, astonishingly, a team deputed by the World Bank suddenly found irregularities in the purchases and reported it to the World Bank. Immediately the issue was taken up seriously and World Bank threatened Orissa Government to stop all grants if the case is not properly probed and action is not taken.

Afraid of the threat from World Bank, Government of Orissa promptly ordered for a vigilance probe, picked some names and filed charge sheet against them. It seemed, Orissa Government had least commitment to investigate the matter and find out the real culprits than simply using some officials as scapegoats to satisfy the World Bank.

World Bank – Supporter, facilitator or Arbitrator?

The way World Bank supports various projects and imposes its own conditions to be followed, it clearly seems that World Bank is nothing less than an arbitrator. It claims itself to be right even though it deviates its own words. The same thing has happened in case of OSHSDP. World bank supported the project and placed some consultant with high payment conditions. There expenses during visit were borne by the state government from the funds allocated for the project. As per some ex-project staff, World Bank consultants get privileges that even our senior most officers were not entitled to. The irony is that, all those were spent from the project money. If one calculates the expenditure incurred for the hospitality and other expenses of World Bank consultants would not be less than 20% of the realised project cost.

In case of OSHSDP, the highly paid consultants used to verify and certify whether norms were properly followed and transparency maintained in the procurement and purchase deals. Here the consultant team has certified that, transparency is maintained in the purchase deals. All the major purchase decisions are made only on approval of World Bank. Still, the team that visited few hospitals found irregularities in the implementation of project and the procurements made for this.

In such a situation, whom World Bank should question first? To the project officials or the consultants it appointed at a much higher salary to monitor the implementation and track whether transparency is maintained throughout? Even till date, World Bank has not questioned the honesty and commitment of the consultants it appointed but put all the blames on Orissa government and the people working in the project office. And forced the government to have a probe into the matter and take action.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story

 

Vigilance enquiry by Orissa Government - An attempt to find scapegoats and safeguard the key people

Threatened by the World Bank, Orissa Government ordered for a vigilance enquiry of the matter. It also didn’t question the World Bank about the consultants who were placed to monitor and guide the project team. The way enquiry was made and charge sheet was submitted against a few specific officials, it became clear that government investigating agency worked with a preset objective of finding some scapegoats to safeguard the key people involved in it.

The time government declared for the investigation the primary consultant agency ELMARK formed by the state government was already closed. Most of the documents lying in the ELMARK office building were not taken into investigation to get a clear picture about how and under what circumstances the purchase decisions were taken.

Secondly, if there is any irregularity or non-transparency found in the deals, how the final decision taking authorities remained out of the investigation net? As almost all the decisions were taken on approval of the state government, means the secretary and minister, how the Secretary and Minister are clean and only the down line officials who simply carried out the decisions were found guilty in the whole affair? If the executors of decisions are found guilty, the people who approved the decisions are also guilty. Why names of the key peoples involved in taking decisions are not there in the charge sheet?

It clearly indicates that the investigation was made not to find out the culprits but to safeguard few powerful people in the government who have a greater involvement in the scam.

The funniest thing about the charge sheet submitted is that, no specific charge has been made in the charge sheet against the people who are charge sheeted by the investigating agency. It means, this is just a temporary exercise to fool the public.

People's Expectation

Since the issue has been hyped as a big scam, people want a fair and thorough investigation into the matter. Role of everyone including Minister, Officers in Health and Finance Departments, all consultant agencies hired by Orissa Government, Officials heading and working in key positions of ELMARK, technical and professional experts involved as members in various panels, Key Officials in the project office and the consultants appointed by World Bank directly to monitor and supervise the project should be examined, and action should be involved against all officials who have any direct and indirect link with the scam. People desire some kind of exemplary action on the people involved in the scam so that such kind of irregularities can be checked in all future projects.

 

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