From a recent article in the Press, we learnt that BTI stands for “bacillus thuringiensis israelensis”, which is a natural mosquito-larvae-killing bio-control agent. Appropriate quantities of this agent are incorporated into briquettes (or “dunks”) which are designed to float and gradually release the larvicidal agent into the water. The released “poison” is consumed by the mosquito larvae in the vicinity and they die before they become fully grown mosquitoes.
It appears that the Western Provincial Health Ministry had imported Rs386 Million of these dunks about one-and-a-half years ago for a pilot project in mosquito control in Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia, Kolonnawa and Biyagama. This material is reported to have an effective life of two years but the responsible (irresponsible?) authorities have only used about 10 per cent of the total quantity that was imported, which means that 90 per cent of this costly material, which is lying at the National Dengue Control Unit Stores, will not be of any use in another 6 months or less.
It had apparently been revealed to the journalist who had inquired into this matter, presumably by the persons charged with carrying out the pilot project, “that the dunks were not a very effective way of controlling dengue mosquitoes”. If so, the public has a right to know as to who carried out the preliminary investigations before deciding on placing an order for this material, and who gave the final approval to go ahead and commit so much money to what was to be only a “pilot project”? Would we be wrong to conclude that, like the vast number of expired foods and medicines that are imported with altered expiry dates, the dunks were known to have already become outdated when the order was placed, and that our procurement officers looked the other way for reasons best known to themselves, or were themselves primary movers in this unsavoury transaction?
There are innumerable precedents to lead one to infer that the real interest in the placing of the order for these dunks was the large total cost of the contract (and the associated secret commissions) and not whether any good would come of it. On the balance of probability, we are inclined to suspect that there was a dishonest politician behind this whole scandalous episode and that the officials concerned went along with his wishes. After all it is too soon to forget heroin packages in barrels of grease and misnamed ethanol imports!
The information given above raises several other questions – (a) Why was such large quantity imported when, eventually, the persons who placed the order were able to decide on the ineffectiveness of the dunks by deploying only Rs39 Million worth of the stuff? (b) Although it had been concluded by someone (who?) that the dunks are not “very effective”, could we infer that they were at least “a little effective”? (c) If so, why could not the balance 90% have been dumped into all the aggregations of stagnant water near the places where the most number of persons have been infected by the dengue mosquito? It could hardly have done any harm and might have done some good. Or, as in the case of outdated drugs, were the authorities aware right from the outset that this stuff was not going to work and that the test-dumping of Rs39 Million worth of the dunks was mere eyewash?