Luxury at the expense of students’ cause | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 15, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:15 AM, December 15, 2019

Luxury at the expense of students’ cause

JU VC gets ritzy office with funds for student welfare, research, depts

The Jahangirnagar University authorities have spent more than Tk 84 lakh to decorate the new luxurious office of Vice Chancellor Prof Farzana Islam, taking the money from funds meant for student welfare, research and development of the departments.

In January this year, the JU authorities published a tender notice in two national dailies for decorating the VC office, mentioning the University Grants Commission (UGC) as the funding agency.

But UGC officials told this newspaper that the commission did not allocate any such funds, and that publication of this kind of notice using its name is inappropriate.

Shah Alam, director of the UGC’s Finance and Accounts Division, said, “I talked to the official concerned. No such fund was allocated for decoration at the JU.”

He said the university can spend money from its own sources but it was unethical to publish the tender notice in newspapers mentioning the UGC as the funding agency because it didn’t allocate the funds.

In November last year, the university authorities sought an allocation of Tk 80.63 lakh from the UGC for modification and renovation of the VC’s office.

But before getting the UGC’s response, they floated tender in January this year, and in March took Tk 84.45 lakh from two funds -- Tk 56.95 lakh from Evening MBA Programme funds and Tk 27.50 lakh from local resources funds.

According to its own guidelines, the university gets 30 to 40 percent of the earnings from Evening MBA programme to spend it for student welfare or research and infrastructural development of the departments.

“The earnings from these programmes would be spent on student welfare, research, departments’ infrastructural development and procurement of equipment,” read the guidelines.

Contacted, acting JU registrar Rohima Kaneez said they sent a letter to the UGC in November last year for allocation of funds for the decoration but are yet to get any response.

The new office of the VC has eight rooms, including a restroom for the VC, two rooms for VC’s secretary and personal assistant, and a kitchen, covering a 4,000-square-foot space on the second floor of the five-storey administrative building.

A 23-foot-long canopy was installed outside the new office for Tk 3.90 lakh to shield the reception room from rain.

Of the Tk 84 lakh, Tk 40.14 lakh was spent only on furniture and electronic devices.

The furniture includes 10 double-seater sofas with a price tag of Tk 42,000 each, a file cabinet for Tk 2.61 lakh, and a wooden cabinet for Tk 2.10 lakh.

The list does not end here.

A conference table was bought for Tk 1.90 lakh and another table for the VC’s room for Tk 80,000. Besides, Tk 2.60 lakh was spent on imported window curtains.

Such expenditure by the university authorities has raised many eyebrows as they have not yet been able to arrange a permanent classroom for the law and justice department since its inception eight years ago.

A total of 370 students from six batches of the department have been attending classes in two green rooms at Zahir Raihan Auditorium and two classrooms of the economics and the Urban and Regional Planning departments.

Talking to this correspondent, Prof Farzana said, “It’s a new office… You have to keep in mind that it’s the office of the vice chancellor.

“This expenditure is not for my room only but for the entire vice chancellor’s office.

“You say the amount is over Tk 84 lakh…it’s not enough. You can go and see other offices like the one at Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University or the UGC itself.

“I will not use this office forever. I will hold the post [of VC] for a maximum of two more years. Then another VC will use it.”

Mentioning that the standard of living in the country has improved a lot, the VC said,“Earlier, I had been given a car for official use with a price tag of Tk 67 lakh. I’m still using it. At that time, it was a good one. But now the two pro-VCs have been provided with two jeeps that cost Tk 94 lakh each.

“These [vehicles] are movable properties. But you are talking about an office, an immovable property… why are you intentionally going after me over this issue now? I don’t understand…”

About the tender notice, she claimed that the UGC gave them “assurance” that if it cannot provide them with the fund in the current fiscal year, they will get it in the next fiscal year.

“That’s why we borrowed money from the EMBA and local resources funds. That’s how many of the development projects are being implemented at the university. When we don’t have money in our own funds, we borrow from those.

“Do you think the EMBA fund is meant only for the department’s [Faculty of Business Studies] development? This fund is also for other departments and offices,” she added.

The VC has been in a tight spot since August over an allegation that she gave the university’s BCL unit Tk 1 crore as “Eid Salami” so that it doesn’t create obstacles to the ongoing Tk 1,445-crore mega project.

A faction of the BCL unit publicly admitted that it had received Tk 25 lakh as per a settlement reached at a meeting at the VC’s residence on August 9. However, no investigation into the allegation has been launched yet.

A section of teachers and students had been demonstrating on the university campus since August, demanding resignation of the VC over the corruption allegations.

The JU was shut on November 5 after BCL activists swooped on a group of agitating teachers and students who kept the VC confined to her residence for hours.

After a month-long shutdown, the university dormitories were opened on December 5 and classes resumed a couple of days later.

The agitating teachers and students under the platform “Jahangirnagar Against Corruption” on December 10 unveiled a book detailing the allegations of corruption against the VC.

HIGH PRICES

The Daily Star approached an interior decoration firm and asked it about the prices of some of the items mentioned in the JUtender documents. It said those were higher than the market prices.

Seeking anonymity, a director of the firm said, “Take the 10mm glass partition for example. It is quoted at Tk 1,450 per square foot. The total price is Tk 131,065 for 90.39 sft. Even if I use the best quality glass, the total price will be Tk 49,714 [Tk 550 per sft].”

The tender documents show that a 60-square-foot mirror with a wooden frame costs Tk 66,600.

“Tk 1,110 per sft for a mirror is too much. The market price of a very good quality mirror with a wooden frame is Tk 450 per sft,” added the director, also an interior designer.

Asked, acting JU comptroller Md Mosanul Kabir declined to comment on this.

Talking to this newspaper, Prof Anu Muhammad of economics department at the JU, said, “This is a clear example of irregularities and a lack of transparency ... The UGC can play an effective role in this regard by increasing supervision.

“A vice chancellor needs to be cautious about spending university funds … This post is not one of a business entity.”

Prof Kazi Saleh Ahmed, who was the JU VC from 1988 to 1993, said, “When I was vice chancellor, we often faced hurdles in implementing our initiatives due to fund shortage.”

About the expensive decoration at the JU VC’s new office, he said, “A vice chancellor should give priority to education and research over anything else.”

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