Kaler Kantho: Women – outcasts in the Development Programmes

In this report, the newspaper Kaler Kantho looks into the gender balance of the project directors in the annual development programmes (ADP) in Bangladesh.

The women working in the programmes tackle an attitude from a majority of men who believes women are not capable of managing such projects. Follow Kaler Kantho’s investigation of the difficulties women meet in order to get promoted but also the struggle to keep the position once becoming a project director.

Original story here (in Bangla) >>

Women – Outcasts in the Development Programmes

Written by Arifur Rahman, Staff Reporter, Kaler Kantho

The annual development program (ADP) worth one hundred fifty thousand crore taka is effectively controlled by men. Women here are the outcasts. Male officers claim that it is not possible for the women to handle the troubles of running a project while lady officers questioned it by saying that they are neglected because they don’t accept such irregularities.

The ADP of the government is spent through different ministries and divisions in projects. The Kaler Kantho investigation finds, there are 1 368 projects running across the country currently. Of them only 45 got women are project directors (PD). That is 4 percent of the total percentage of PDs. And the rest have male PDs and they are all in all there. Even among the 15 projects of the Women and children affairs ministry, number of male PDs are 10. Moreover, a PD has been found, who is running seven projects simultaneously even though there are many skilled female officers are there to run the projects. For example, from the post of deputy secretary to additional secretary there are 486 officers in the administration who are eligible for the post of PD, but, there are only 15 women PDs right now.

If we analyse the situation in a different way, allocation for ADP in current fiscal year is one 153 000 crore taka. Female officers are in charge of only around nine thousand taka. It’s slightly over 6 percent of the total amount of money allocated for the ADP. The Kaler Kantho investigation suggests, the local government and division is running highest number of projects which stands 252. Of those only four PDs are women. The Roads and Highways division comes second considering number of projects and it is 142. It has got only one female PD. The Power Division has 113 projects, and its number of female PDs is two, while housing and public works ministry has three female PDs of its 113 projects.

This correspondent has talked to over hundred officers for filing this report. The top bosses of administration remarked that PDs work is `nasty’. It takes 24 hours a day, needs strict supervision over the contractors, even on holidays field visits are required. Women cannot bear such troublesome work. Women are not physically fit either. That’s why authorities do not want women in this position.

But, female officers also the high ups in the administration countered their male colleagues’ observation. If women can lead a country, ministries, the parliament, then why not a project? But, women are not preferred for the post. Female officers said, PDs have to meet various types of demands from different sectors. To be more specific while recruiting people temporarily, the high ups pressurize to employ candidates after their choice. Irregularities are also there in hiring vendors. Even the ministry very often takes money from the project for its own expenses.

The project has to arrange vehicles and oil for the minister and secretaries. If a new secretary takes office, the project has to pay the reception bill. To be precise, projects endorse such irregularities very often. Even the female officers wonder, how they manage the audit office and get the issues resolved after all these anomalies.

Female officers said, they are not able to accept such irregularities. And that is why women are not in PDs chair. Though the government has taken multifaceted initiatives for women empowerment, women are being left behind in participating the ADPs.

The Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division is the implementing authority of a project styled ‘strengthening IMED’ worth 150 crore taka. On investigation the Kaler Kantho finds out that the project is bearing all the cost ranging from buying flowers for the reception program of the new secretary, presenting vehicle, financing the picnic, decorating office, so on and so forth. Even the six vehicles those have been purchased from the project money are being used fancifully to woo the high ups. Habibul Islam is the PD of this project.

The executive engineer of the Local Government and Engineering Department Salma Shahid told the Kaler Kantho, “a female PD’s dedication and honesty is much ahead of his male counterpart. Female officer led projects are less corrupt and hardly any irregularity happens. But you will get the opposite picture in male-led projects.” Dr Namita Haldar, secretary of the Expatriates Welfare ministry said to the Kaler Kantho, `The PDs have to face various problems, also they need to compromise and negotiate. It is not possible for a woman.” The additional secretary of the ministry of Culture Roksana Malek told the Kaler Kantho, “I have never received any offer to work as a PD in the administration, though female officers have all the qualities required.”

But the male PDs have different opinion. Riaj Ahmed Zaber, PD, Dhaka-Sylhet four lane highway project and Dr. Mahmudul Haque, PD and additional secretary of the Secondary Education and Access Enhancement Project said, they heard about all those negotiation and compromise stories, but in reality, they haven’t experienced any. While selecting a PD gender should not come as a subject for consideration, they observed.
On investigation the Kaler Kantho discovers that, the 45 female PD led projects are smaller considering budget allocation. Allocation for all those projects are below thousand crore taka. Of them only two are big projects. One of them is the Sayedabad Water Treatment Plant (third phase) worth taka 4 657 crore. Kamrunnahar Laily is the PD of this project. She is also the superintendent engineer of Dhaka WASA. Another project is bridge construction project on the river Kotcha in Pirojepur. The allocation for this project is 1 850 crore taka. Salma Shahid, the executive engineer of LGED is the PD of this project.

On investigation it was revealed that, it’s really difficult to stay as PD if one fails to meet the undue demand of the high ups. A female PD was one of the victims who was later withdrawn. The deputy secretary of the ministry of Women and Children affairs Shabnam Mustari was made PD for the project, styled, `establishing 20 day care projects’. The ministry of Public Administration appointed her last November. But she could not sustain four months and was pulled out on March 28. The government has to follow certain rules and regulation for appointing and withdrawing PDs. According the Planning Ministry order, a PD cannot be removed before three years without strong valid cause. The proposal has to be sent to the committee first for such kind of decision. But this rule was violated in the case of Shabnam Mustari.

On condition of anonymity sources in the ministry of Public Administration said, an influential quarter was pressurizing to recruit candidates of their choice on ad hoc basis. Shabnam refused to do so since those candidates could not obtain pass marks in the written exam. That is why she was removed from her post. She got a posting at land reform board, and the new PD is now Abdur Rashed Khan from the land reform board.
The directives for appointing a PD also say, a PD in the case of projects worth over 50 crore taka must be appointed for full course of time. He must have proper experience about the project. An officer will be made PD for only one project. But allegations are there that ministries are not following such directives. Secretary of the ministry of Primary and Mass Education Asifuzzaman told the Kaler Kantho, “I have never thought of appointing a female PD before, if I get an opportunity in future, I will certainly go for a female PD.”

The Kaler Kantho investigation finds, PDs get appointed in two ways. Firstly, considering technicalities ministries appoint PDs for roads, bridges, power, and railway sector. Secondly, if any ministry needs PD it applies to the ministry of Public Administration. After evaluating the details of the projects, the ministry of Public Administration appoints a PD.

When asked, secretary general of the Bangladesh Civil Service Women Network and secretary Nasrin Akhter said, “Women are ready to take any challenge. It is proven that women can do anything. Women have the courage to take the responsibility of a PD, but they are not getting appointed there.”