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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 16:03 GMT
Satellite mapping fights corruption
Engineer using GPS device
Location of markets is checked by GPS
Alfred Hermida

Digital maps of Bangladesh are proving invaluable in the fight against sleaze in a country branded as one of the most corrupt in the world.

The maps are used together with a computerised national database to decide where new roads or schools should be built.

The aim is to ensure that tough decisions about development priorities and spending are governed by local needs rather than the whim of politicians.

"It has become an excellent planning tool to plan and identify priorities, said Quamrul Islam Siddique, who pioneered the scheme. "This information is open, transparent and available to all."

Political demands

Mr Siddique headed the Local Government Engineering Department for 18 years and oversaw the creation of the computer-based mapping system, called Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Muddy road in Bangladesh
Few of the roads are paved
GIS uses information that is stored on databases and places it on a map, making it clear to read and understand.

Now retired, Mr Siddique saw that the system could be used to fight corruption.

"Roads must connect the growth centres or local markets, not just a politician's house," he said.

"We can decide whether a request meets local requirements, rather than a politician's demands."


Corruption has plagued Bangladesh in the past. The country came top of the public sector corruption list for the second year running in a recent report by the lobby group Transparency International.

Former chief engineer, Quamrul Islam Siddique
Siddique: Pioneered the GIS system
Mr Siddique explained how political interference in the past had affected the development of Bangladesh's infrastructure.

He cited the example of a local power plant that was built in a politician's constituency, rather than close to a local river.

"The power station has been crippled forever as water needs to be brought from far away," he said.

Less chance of fraud

The computer-mapping system is designed to prevent any such abuses happening any more.

"The maps are available to everyone," explained Mr Siddique, who is president of the Institute of Engineers in Bangladesh.

LGED worker in Dhaka
Head office is completely wired
"They are not secret. Any group can get the information and lobby for a road or school."

This openness means that local councillors are fully informed about plans for their area and are thus better able to make sure they spend their budget wisely.

"People are encouraged by this. We are not stupid any more," said Khasimpur council leader Mohammed Kalimuddin.

"Now they have to show us whether they've done the road that we needed. The days when you could do whatever you wanted are over. You can't run away with the funds."

In the future, the digital maps will be available over the web to councils with an internet connection.

Local authorities see this as the next logical step.

"It will be helpful for us to know what work we have done and what works are pending," explained the Mirzapur council leader Abdul Latif.

"When we are doing these works, there will be less chance of fraud. We will always have a record."

GPS on bikes

Work on creating the first ever accurate digital map of Bangladesh started in 1991. By the time it was completed in 1996, it offered the most accurate and detailed geographic guide to the country.

Engineer with GPS device
Data updated by engineers on bikes
The maps were put together using satellite images bought commercially.

Every year they are updated by engineers who go around the country on motorbikes to check the information using handheld Global Positioning System devices.

At headquarters in Dhaka, staff can draw up maps of the country and superimpose information like the size of villages, location of schools or condition of roads.

The department is responsible for 200,000 kilometres of roads in the country where only one in six is paved.

"Our ultimate aim is to create better opportunities for people, to give services to people," explained the country's Chief Engineer, Shahidul Hassan.

"This tool is very important because if you don't have the basic data, how can you plan for improvement?"

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See also:

29 Aug 02 | Business
18 Jul 02 | South Asia
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