Sheikh Hasina pays tolls why govt officials are spared ?
Published : Sunday, 24 September, 2023 at 12:00 AM Count : 2236
M S Siddiqui
On June 25, 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid the toll at the Mawa End Toll Plaza before crossing the Padma Bridge for her car and entourages. The prime minister became the first person to cross the Padma Bridge by paying toll. The premier paid a toll of Tk750 for her car and Tk16,400 for the rest of her fleet. There were 18 vehicles in the Prime Minister's convoy. But unfortunately government officials misusing their power, have apparently been avoiding paying tolls on the roads exploiting a colonial era law.
As per the toll act 1851, The Government may cause such rates of toll, as it thinks fit, to be levied upon any road or bridge which has been, or shall hereafter be, made or repaired at the expense of the Government; and may place the collection of such tolls under the management of such persons as may appear to it proper: and all persons employed in the management and collection of such tolls shall be liable to the same responsibilities as would belong to them if employed in the collection of the land-revenue.
The Tolls Act, 1851 exempts "public servants travelling on duty" from paying tolls and this is also conditional. But reportedly all the vehicles carrying belong to government officials now refuse to pay tolls, irrespective of whether the officers are on duty or not. However, the Toll Policy-2014 stipulates that on-duty government officials will be exempted from paying tolls inside the area under their jurisdiction and their vehicles have to have government stickers.
Any other class of persons or things which may be exempted by order of the government according to the Toll act 1951. The law empowered the authority to hoist a table of the tolls authorized to be taken at any toll-gate or station shall be put up in a conspicuous place near such gate or station legibly written or printed in Bengali words and figures, to which shall be annexed, written or printed in like manner, a statement of the penalties for refusing to pay the tolls and for taking any unlawful toll. According to the law, at the June 12 meeting, with Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary in the chair, decided to hang banners at every toll booths displaying the message that no vehicles will get toll-free facility except those declared toll-free by the government.
However, all but the President will pay tolls for using Padma, Bangabandhu and Mukterpur bridges under the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA), an agency under the road transport and bridges ministry.Even the Toll Policy-2014 of the Road Transport and Highways Division does not allow toll-free movement of all government officials.In January 2023, Road Transport and Bridges Minister ObaidulQuader told reporters that only the president would be exempted from tolls on the Padma, Bangabandhu, and Mukterpur bridges. This the decision of the government as per the law.
Taking the undue benefit of a 172-year-old law, thousands of vehicles carrying government officials in private tours or official duties are not paying tolls on roads and bridges under the Roads and Highways Department (RHD), costing the state a huge amount of revenue. The courageous decision was made after the issue of non-payment of tolls was raised at the monthly coordination meeting of the Road Transport and Highways Division on June 12, 2023.
The Toll Policy, 2014 stipulates that on-duty government officials will be exempted from paying tolls inside the area under their jurisdiction and their vehicles have to have government stickers. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA), an agency under the road transport and bridges ministry, withdrew all toll exemption facilities on the Padma, Bangabandhu and Mukterpur bridges in March 2023. Government officials are also citizens of the country, and should be afforded equal treatment by the state.In January this year, Road Transport and Bridges Minister ObaidulQuader told reporters that only the president would be exempted from tolls on the Padma, Bangabandhu, and Mukterpur bridges.
The frustrated Road Transport and Highways Division has finally flagged it as an issue and decided to write to the Cabinet Division and the Prime Minister's Office, seeking further directives for officers of all government offices and agencies to pay tolls.
The state has lost a huge amount of revenue - according to a report by a daily newspaper. The government lost about Tk 27.37 lakh in May 2023 alone, as more than 24,000 vehicles carrying government officials did not pay tolls for the Dhaka-Bhanga Expressway and the Meghna and Ghumti bridges on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway. Moreover, government use to collect tolls on four roads and more than 50 bridges across the country, the loss is too substantialdue to non-payment by the government officials.
It has become an unfortunate norm in the country for anyone in a position of power to flaunt their authority and get undue advantages, often at the cost of the public and the state.The clearly stipulated that theexempted persons will useroads and bridges. The Roads and Highways department has taken such a decision that government officials will pay tolls. The honorable President is exempted from paying tolls. Unfortunately, the relevant department unable to collect tolls from mighty government officials. Now the authority is seeking direction from Prime Minister's office. It is surprising that while the Honorable Prime Minister herself paid the toll for her car and her entourage. The government officials did not feel like following the Prime Minister. Are they above the law like their forefather, the executives of East India Company during the British era?
The writer is Non-Government Adviser, Bangladesh Competition Commission