Allegations of irregularities in RAB armored vehicle purchases

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Bangladesh, RAB, Rapid Action Battalion

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of Bangladesh, a specialized anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit, is currently embroiled in a significant controversy regarding the procurement of armored vehicles. Allegations have surfaced pointing to widespread irregularities, including violations of tender rules and substantial overpricing, casting a shadow over the integrity of the purchasing process. The allegations center around the purchase of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) under a project initiated in 2018, aimed at increasing RAB’s operational capacity.

In 2018, the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved a project titled “Increase in Combat Capability of RAB Forces,” with a budget of BDT 10,339,840,000 (approximately US$92.4 million). The project included the acquisition of 1,375 different types of vehicles, among which 26 were to be APCs. Four of these APCs have already been delivered, and an application has been made to purchase an additional 10 APCs. However, the acquisition process has raised serious concerns.

The project initially priced each APC at BDT 20 million (approximately US$179,000). However, the vehicles were purchased at BDT 60 million BDT (approximately US$537,000) each, reflecting a 300 percent markup. This discrepancy suggests that at least 300 percent more money was spent than the market rate, leading to an over-expenditure of BDT 240 million (approximately US$2.05 million) for the four APCs procured so far. If the remaining 22 APCs are purchased at this inflated price, the total loss to the state could reach nearly BDT 1.00 billion.

The pricing committee for the project was constituted after the project’s approval to ensure that the vehicles were purchased at fair market prices. According to the minutes from a meeting held on November 30, 2022, the project encompassed 1,375 vehicles, including six watercrafts. The purchase price for 735 of these vehicles was proposed as per rates set by the Ministry of Finance, while the prices for the remaining 624 vehicles were based on market rates. The APCs were priced at BDT 60 million each.

RAB initially proposed the procurement of 26 APCs but decided to start with four. On December 13, 2022, Syed Mahbub Khan, Additional Secretary of the Cabinet Division, confirmed the release of funds for the APCs, noting that Intel Age and Corporation would supply them. The APCs were delivered to RAB headquarters from Chittagong port on May 17, 2023, and were inaugurated the following day.

Investigations revealed that the APCs were procured through direct procurement (DPM) rather than the mandated International Competitive Tendering (ICT). The provision to give work orders to government agencies or experienced entities in direct procurement was also not followed. This procedural violation is a significant point of contention, as the project’s DPP explicitly instructed the purchase of APCs through ICT, making DPM procurement irregular.

The rapid approval and procurement processes have raised suspicions. Typically, converting an ICT process to DPM requires approvals from multiple ministries, including the Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Public Administration, and Ministry of Home Affairs. This process usually takes five to six months. However, in the case of the APCs, all approvals were obtained within just one month.

This expedited process was allegedly facilitated by Khaledur Rahman Shakeel, who introduced himself as the niece and son-in-law of an influential minister. Shakeel’s involvement has come under scrutiny as he was present at the APCs’ inauguration, and his company, Intel Age and Corporation, received the contract. Shakeel reportedly leveraged his connections with senior officials in various ministries to expedite the approval process.

Intel Age and Corporation, established in 2022, had a minimal online presence and lacked verifiable credentials. Despite this, the company was awarded the contract to supply the APCs. A direct search and online investigation did not yield any credible information about Intel Age and Corporation. However, a Facebook page for a similarly named Intel Edge, created in March 2022, claimed the company was registered as a commissioning agent and supplier of defense-related products to the Government of Bangladesh. Though the Facebook page provided a website address (www.inteledgeltd.com), it actually is inactive.

Intel Age reportedly purchased the APCs from Dubai-based Strait Group, which supplies military equipment globally. A tender submitted by Strait Group to RAB headquarters, now in the media’s hands, showed APC prices ranging from US$120,000 to US$250,000. At the prevailing exchange rate of BDT 110 per, this translates to BDT 13.2 million to BDT 27.5 million per APC. Despite this, RAB paid approximately BDT 60 million (approximately US$537,000) per vehicle.

The overpricing and procedural violations have drawn sharp criticism. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has called for accountability, emphasizing the need for transparency in RAB’s operations. TIB’s Executive Director, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, highlighted that spending public money on overpriced equipment is a significant irregularity and waste of state resources. He stressed that those involved in these irregularities should be brought to justice to restore public trust in RAB.

Talking to media, former RAB DGM Khurshid Hossain defended the procurement, citing fluctuations in dollar rates and additional customizations as reasons for the higher prices. However, these justifications have not alleviated concerns about the procedural violations and financial misconduct.

The allegations of irregularities in RAB’s armored vehicle procurement underscore systemic issues in government procurement processes. The involvement of newly established and unverified companies, rapid approval processes facilitated by influential connections, and substantial overpricing highlight the need for thorough investigations and reforms. Ensuring transparency and accountability is crucial to maintaining public trust in law enforcement agencies and safeguarding state resources. The RAB armored vehicle procurement controversy serves as a critical reminder of the importance of adherence to procurement rules and the necessity of vigilance against corruption.

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