Saturday, December 2, 2023

Bureaucratic tangles stall digital phone project

Bureaucratic tangles have reportedly delayed a Tk. 500 crore Japanese-funded project to digitalise the telecommunication sector.
The project, Telecommunications Sector Development, aims to save the country crores of Taka by cracking down on the illegal network of Voice over Protocol (VoIP) calls run by certain elements. Sources alleged that these elements, in cahoots with a section of unscrupulous officials of the Bangladesh Telecommu-nications Company Ltd (BTCL), are trying to block this vital project.The government has taken the project, which is funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to digitalise the telecommunications sector. As per agreement, JICA is providing Tk. 500 crore as soft loan with a minimum interest to complete the project by 2015.
But some unscrupulous officials of BTCL are delaying the final work order under different pretexts for the last six months, the sources alleged.“The government would lose several hundred crores of Taka if the project work is delayed, thus benefiting the VoIP call operators,” a BTCL source said.JICA has expressed resentment over the delay to BTCL, the source said, adding: “JICA has written to BTCL for starting the project within a short time, otherwise it will withdraw the loan.”Joint secretary to the telecommunications ministry, Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, said, “We have already taken opinions from the law ministry about the project. The law ministry has informed us that there will be no problem in implementing the project even though there had been a court injunction on one component of the project.”Project director Ashok Mandal said, “We have already received the opinion from the law ministry, clearing the project. A final decision will be taken on Wednesday at a BTCL board meeting.”
According to sources, BTCL had invited tenders for two components – Lot A and Lot B – for the development of the project. A court had suspended the work on Lot B following allegations of corruption. But, some BTCL officials with vested interests had been trying to stall work on Lot A as well by citing the court order which was only had bearing on Lot B, the sources said.No bidder had filed a complaint against Lot A with the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU) or the court, sources added.BTCL’s board of directors had sought an opinion from the law ministry on the court order. The law ministry had informed the BTCL board that the court order had no bearing on Lot A, and therefore it could go ahead with its work on this particular component of the project, the sources said.
The telecommunications ministry had written to BTCL on June 10 to pay the “successful bidder” as per JICA rules, the sources said.The JICA has approved the project’s bidder following a letter by BTCL stating that the bidder has fulfilled international standard as per procurement rules, the sources said.If Lot A is implemented, 50,000 phone lines in 35-year-old analogue exchange will be digitalised. Consequently, 1.80 lakh phone lines would be modernised due to digitalisation of the exchange, the sources further said.The international gateway system for receiving calls would be developed. Besides, the international incoming and outgoing calls capacity would be increased on completion of the project.
The sources said it would also help in development of the optical fibre network. Phone, internet, TV, audio, video and data transfer facilities would be operated through a single cable after implementation the Lot A project. The authorities concerned would be able to monitor all phones across the country as well as identify the crooks involved in illegal VoIP business after implementation of the project, the sources said.

-With The Independent input

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