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Sacking and hiring controversy drops Bapex in hot water

Ashraful Islam Raana
08 Feb 2023 00:00:33 | Update: 08 Feb 2023 00:05:28
Sacking and hiring controversy drops Bapex in hot water

Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company’s (Bapex) recent initiative to recruit new outsourced manpower under a two-year contract in place of all non-permanent employees is facing major corruption allegations.

Sacked employees and job candidates have claimed that Bapex Managing Director (MD) Mohammad Ali is leading some dishonest officials and outsourcing contractor Mandal Traders to embezzle massive amounts of money  through this process. The state-run company has already recruited 142 workers through outsourcing for the next two years. Each of them reportedly paid Tk 3-6 lakh to Mandal Traders, according to several protesting victims.

On January 1, Bapex laid off 63 outsourced workers, who were recruited in 2019, and 39 non-permanent employees (revenue), who were recruited over the last decade, to recruit 950 new outsourced employees under a two-year contract.

As a result, more than 400 existing non-permanent workers are now at risk of losing their jobs. But these matters at Bapex’s Dhaka and Chattogram offices have been at a deadlock for the past month due to protests by sacked employees, which is also not allowing the latest recruits to join their workplaces.

The protesters have been organising human chains, press conferences and submitting memorandums to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s office, demanding an immediate solution to the issue.

Several Bapex officials and sacked workers have alleged that Ali and three of his associates are getting a share of the obscene amount of money candidates are paying to Mandal Traders as bribes after being falsely assured of getting government jobs and their benefits.

Ali has rejected the allegations and claimed that he has only taken steps to reduce the state’s expenditure on manpower recruiting.

What’s going on at Bapex?

Until January 1, Bapex — which operates under Petrobangla — had around 950 employees, including 400 permanent, 477 non-permanent and 63 outsourced.

According to data, in the last 14 years, Bapex has recruited officers only and no other recruitment at the worker level took place. Worker positions were filled with non-permanent and outsourced employees.

In these 14 years, the company had around 600 non-permanent workers and 124 of them over the years became permanent employees after suing Bapex in court. On the other hand, 63 posts were filled with outsourced workers every two years.

Bapex recently signed an agreement with Mandal Traders for two years to hire 950 outsourced workers by dismissing all 477 non-permanent employees. Most of the senior Bapex officials were against this decision.

Multiple sources, including a deputy general manager, told The Business Post the disagreement happened because the opposing officials had argued that the existing non-permanent workers have become skilled and efficient at the field level after working there for a long time.

If untrained, unskilled and inefficient outsourced workers are hired, Bapex’s exploration works, technical activities and overall progress will lose momentum significantly, they said.

But with General Manager (Admin) Abul Bashar and two others backing him, Ali used his power to pass the decision to outsource all non-permanent workers at a board meeting and awarded the job to Mandal Traders because they want a big chunk of the bribe money, they alleged.

One opposing senior official was even transferred from Dhaka to the company’s Chattogram office because of the disagreement, sources said.

The official in question, requesting anonymity, declined to share the details behind the transfer, but only said, “He [Ali] is a very powerful man. It’s dangerous to say anything against him.”

Meanwhile, the sacked non–permanent and outsourced workers have been jointly demonstrating over the past few weeks in Dhaka and Chattogram over six demands.

This correspondent spoke to several workers and all of them alleged that Ali and his associates were involved in the outsourcing business to embezzle a large amount of money.

What Ali and Mandal say

Regarding the allegations, Bapex MD Ali told The Business Post that all companies under Petrobangla outsource staff. Their contract is for two years but they are now demanding to make their jobs permanent.

Regarding the sacking of non-permanent workers, he said, “They were not appointed through any circular. We have the authority to let them go if/when we want.”

“If the supplier is taking bribes from candidates, it’s not our concern,” he said and brushed off allegations that Mandal Traders is giving him and his associates a cut of said money.

Talking to The Business Post, one of the new 142 recruits, Taufiqul Islam from Gaibandha claimed he paid Mandal Traders Tk 3.5 lakh as they promised to get him a permanent government job.

“Now they are saying they will refund the money when my contract ends after two years,” said Taufiqul, who got hired by Bapex as office staff.

Several other recruits also claimed that each of them paid Tk 3-4 lakh to Mandal Traders with the promise that they will get permanent government jobs and enjoy their benefits. But it has recently come to light that their contractual employment period is two years.

However, talking to The Business Post, Mandal Traders Proprietor Firoz Mandal claimed they were not taking money from anyone against the promise of government jobs. “If anyone is claiming that, they are lying.”

He also claimed that no one has been given jobs on false promises. “In the employment letter, we have mentioned that it is an outsourcing job.”

Firoz also rejected the notion that Bapex MD has an ownership share in Mandal Traders. “A vested quarter had filed a case in High Court with many fake documents. We only got the job to supply workers after we fought and won the case. We have no direct ties to Mohammad Ali.”

One of the sacked outsourced workers, Madaripur’s Kamruzzaman said he got hired as a driver at Bapex in 2019 through the previous outsourcing contractor Salim Brothers after paying Tk 2 lakh as a bribe.

He said, “I and the others who got hired that way were told that we would become permanent government employees within three months. But most of us could not even earn the equal amount of money we paid as bribes before we were let go.”

Salim Brothers owner Salim Uddin claimed they did not take money from anyone back then. “But now money is being taken from jobseekers. The Bapex MD has created a syndicate with Mandal Traders and they are involved in major corruption.”