Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bangladesh Clothes Factory Disaster Miracle Is Branded A Hoax By Colleague Of Woman Rescued

Sewing machinist Reshma Begum was pulled from the rubble 17 days after factory collapsed but now a fellow worker claims she escaped with him on the day of the disaster

The miracle rescue of a worker 17 days after the Bangladesh clothes factory disaster has been branded a HOAX.

Millions around the world reacted with joy as pictures showed sewing machinist Reshma Begum being lifted from the rubble in which 1,221 died.

But a Sunday Mirror investigation today reveals doubts over the “rescue” as a male colleague claims she got out with him on the day the nine-storey building collapsed in April.

The survivor, who says he was working alongside her on the third floor, declared: “We escaped together. We both walked away from the rubble.

“We spent two days in hospital but then she vanished. The next time I saw her was on TV 17 days later. They said it was a miracle. But it was a fake.”

The Sunday Mirror travelled to Bangladesh to meet anti-government campaigners who insist the rescue was staged by the authorities to combat the wave of bad publicity that engulfed the country’s £1billion-a-year garment industry after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Dhaka.

We were played a recording of the worker’s evidence. His name is being withheld because he has gone into hiding amid fear of reprisals.

His dramatic hoax claims have been investigated by journalists from Dhaka’s pro-opposition daily, Amar Desh.

Reporters there were also told by survivor Reshma’s landlady that she had escaped the collapse on the day it happened and had been treated at the nearby Enam hospital.

People who live on streets around the factory described how they were mysteriously forcibly evacuated from their homes the day before 19-year-old Reshma’s rescue and allowed back the next day with no explanation.

At the same time a 24-hour ban was imposed on the filming of the ongoing rescue operation.

Questions have also been raised over Reshma’s physical appearance when she was taken from the ruins as well as the condition of her clothes.

Investigative reporter Shishir Abdullah said: “She did not show any signs of having been trapped beneath tons of rubble for 17 days.

“She said she had to claw her way through bricks and debris to reach water in dead victims’ rucksacks, but her hands and fingernails did not show the marks you would expect.

“Also her eyes were wide open when they pulled her out and she did not appear to be sensitive to the bright sunlight. The sari she wore was not ripped or torn and appeared clean.

“People were suspicious but the government made a huge fuss of hailing it as a miracle. People were taken in. Everyone was fooled.”

A week ago, illiterate Reshma was paraded at a government press conference in a new job as an ambassador for a five-star Dhaka hotel, where she is being paid £600-a-month - 10 times the average salary.

She reacted angrily to suggestions of a hoax, saying: “Where I was, you were not there. So you have no idea.” Officials then banned further questions. It has been claimed Reshma was given the job after turning down the offer of a new life in the US.

On Friday we travelled to Rani Ganj, the remote village where Reshma grew up 300 miles north west of Dhaka, the country’s capital.

Speaking at her family home – a tiny, single-room mud shack with a straw roof – her mother Jobeda refuted the hoax claims, telling us: “Her escape IS the miracle everyone thinks it is.”

But she added: “We have lots of money now Reshma has her new job. We have a good future now.”

“After we heard the building had collapsed we were so worried. My husband and I travelled to Dhaka and waited with the other families for news. We prayed Reshma would be found but our prayers went unanswered.”

On May 10, the 17th day of the rescue operation, an announcement was made over a loudspeaker erected at the site to keep families informed.

“It said, ‘A woman has been found alive. Her name is Reshma’.”

Jobeda said: “I fainted. When I came round, people took me to the hospital to see her. She was awake and spoke to us. She told us she was happy.

“She had just minor marks on her arms but otherwise she was fine. I was overjoyed. I couldn’t believe how lucky she had been. The army were looking after her.

"When she was well enough, she left and was then given her new job at the hotel. She will send us money and we are expecting her to come home and visit us twice a year.”

The slum-dwelling victims of the collapse worked for just £1 a day making jeans for Primark in the UK and other stores around the world.

Their complaints of cracks in the factory’s walls in the days before the collapse on April 24 were ignored by the wealthy owners, who had added an extra three floors to the building without permission.

They are now under arrest and facing demands for the death penalty for flouting planning laws.

A survey by engineers in Bangladesh revealed earlier this month three fifths of the country’s garment factories are vulnerable to collapse.

When we put the hoax rescue claims to the Bangladesh army last night, spokesman Lieutenant Commander Nure Alam Siddique said: “We have no comment to make.”

Mirror :

ZIA: The thankless role in saving democracy in Bangladesh : 'Corruption and stealing threaten a once-vibrant nation'

Will 2013 be a watershed in U.S.-Bangladeshi relations? My country of 150 million people, located between India and Myanmar, has been independent since 1971, when the United States was one of the first nations to recognize our right to self-determination. Yet in the past year, relations have been strained to the point where the United States may be accused of standing idle while democracy in Bangladesh is undermined and its economic allegiance shifts toward other growing world powers.

This is not to say that the U.S. government, Congress or agencies they help lead have done nothing. Six months ago, the World Bank withdrew nearly $2 billion in funding for a four-mile bridge project, the largest single infrastructure project in Bangladesh for 40 years, and demanded an inquiry into ministerial corruption and misappropriation of funds.

At the same time, members of the U.S. congressional caucus on Bangladesh condemned the government — in particular Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — for removing Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus from his post as managing director of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh’s award-winning microfinance institution that has pulled millions out of poverty. The reason for his ouster? Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the honor was presented to the wrong person: “If anybody in Bangladesh deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, it is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”

Most Bangladeshis would disagree that Ms. Hasina has any claim on the prize. Just ask the families of some 300 people who have been registered as missing since 2009 at the hands of Ms. Hasina's Rapid Action Battalion — a paramilitary wing of the police. Or consider the family of murdered workers’ rights campaigner Aminul Islam, on whose behalf the AFL-CIO is campaigning to overturn U.S.-Bangladeshi trade preferences. Political leaders and their supporters who are being accused by a local war crimes tribunal of involvement in atrocities during the 1971 war of independence also would question Ms. Hasina’s right to the Nobel Prize.

The U.S. ambassador for war crimes has condemned Ms. Hasina’s government for trying only opponents of the regime. In December, the Economist published leaked emails and phone recordings revealing the complicity of the Hasina administration in these trials, and how they are abusing them to issue death sentences to Ms. Hasina’s political opponents.

The simple fact is that over the past five years, Bangladesh has been moving rapidly away from being one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies toward a single family taking over the levers of power. Now Ms. Hasina is attempting to remove from the constitution the need for a caretaker government — six months before the election. Indeed, she herself helped institute this rule, which calls for a nonpolitical government to take the reigns of power and oversee the electoral process unencumbered by political interference.

Having a caretaker government has been the insurance that elections are free and fair. If the voters decide to vote for a new government, then power must change hands. Despite millions joining in street protests against plans to ditch the caretaker government system before the general election this year, Ms. Hasina seems intent on pushing ahead, believing it will allow her to be re-elected despite popular opposition to her rule.

Bangladesh’s neighbor Burma is emerging from exile with the visit of President Obama in the aftermath of his re-election. India continues its growth as the world’s largest democracy. If Bangladesh succumbs to the rule of one family, it would be a major step backward for the region. Southeast Asia is now a region full of hope because of the freedoms America has helped foster. Under a caretaker government, the people of Bangladesh have the chance to express their will through the ballot box.

The United States and its allies, such as Great Britain, have the influence to insist that a caretaker government is instituted so the views of the voters are respected. To ensure this, their words and actions must be much stronger, to keep Bangladesh from slipping away from democracy. Congress and the British Parliament must continue to honor individuals such as Mr. Yunus for what he has achieved to alleviate poverty, while others such as Ms. Hasina have merely coveted recognition.

They also must explain to Ms. Hasina that general preferences for trade will be withdrawn if those who support workers’ rights and have political views opposed to those of the prime minister are not now allowed to express their beliefs. The Western powers should consider targeted travel and other sanctions against those in the regime who undermine democracy, freedom of speech and human rights. They should say and do these things publicly, for all our citizens to see and hear. This is how the United States can ensure that its mission to democratize the world continues.

It was once said, “There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience.” It is impossible to say in good conscience that democracy, justice and the alleviation of poverty in Bangladesh under Ms. Hasina are safe. Indeed, all are in grave danger. It is time for the world, led by America, to act and ensure that democracy is saved in Bangladesh.

Begum Khaleda Zia is former prime minister of Bangladesh and current leader of the opposition.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Deadly conspiracy of Destiny fraudsters in Bangladesh

After swindling billions of dollars from around seven million people, masterminds of fraudulent multi level marketing racket has undertaken a deadly plan of visibly blackmailing the government by mobilizing a few thousand cadres in going into violent actions on the streets of the capital city, demanding dropping of all charges against the absconding masterminds of Destiny Tree Plantation Limited and Destiny Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited. The absconding masterminds of the MLM fraud racket are Lt Gen [Retired] Harunur Rashid, Mohammad Rafiqul Amin, Alhaj Mohammad Hossain, Sayeedur Rahman, Gofranul Haque, Mesbah Uddin Swapan etc. Although they are absconding for almost two weeks, none of the law enforcement agencies in the country are showing any genuine willingness of arresting any of them as the fraudsters are backed by an influential advisor to the Prime Minister, who also is one of the share holders and beneficiaries of these huge fraudulent enterprises. It is learnt that, previously by using the influence of the advisor to the PM, Destiny masterminds managed bail from a lower court, which was later cancelled, as issuance of bail by the lower court into money laundering case was not permitted.

While the masterminds of the fraudulent Destiny Group are visibly allowed to be "absconders" by the law enforcing agencies, an investigating committee of the Ministry of Commerce found this MLM enterprise guilty of fund embezzlement and suggested that legal measures should be taken by the respective ministries to recover the amount. The committee submitted its 410-page report on October 9, 2012. It suggested that legal measures should be taken by individual ministries to recover the huge amount of money embezzled by the group through 'illegal banking, tree planting and selling sub-standard products. Formed in February, the probe body had submitted reports at least on three occasions, but those were sent back by commerce secretary Ghulam Hossain, who is rumored to have been heavily compensated by the masterminds of the Destiny Group.

According to the submitted report, Destiny Multipurpose Cooperatives Society Limited amassed savings from 4.7 million members and invested those in its other sister concerns in violation of the law of the cooperative society. The committee said it did not find any trace of an amount equivalent to US$ 500 million, which is believed to have been smuggled out of the country by the masterminds of the Destiny Group.

One of the members of the investigating committee told Weekly Blitz that, it sees no minimum hope for refund of investments of those millions of people, who invested money into various enterprises of Destiny Group as major portion of the collected fund had already been drained out of Bangladesh and landed in foreign bank accounts of the Destiny Group masterminds.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Azmal Khan: A whistleblower against corruption

Though there are a lot of good people available in Bangladesh, who are ready to tell the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government department or private company or organization, but the whistle blowing comment I am unable to bear the burden any longer, made by Azmal Khan, Suranjit Sengupta's ex-assistant personal secretary (APS) Omar Faruq Talukder, carried a very clear message.

What are the right things to do when there is violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption? The answer is not too hard. We have more than a moral imperative to step forward and expose those malfeasances.

Whistleblowers like Azam Khan are ordinary people who find themselves as observers of situation that force them into a decision of having to speak out. But the road to victory or justice is generally rocky and not without consequences for the whistleblowers. He/she can suffer ostracism, the loss of resources, income and a job, and depression. And the severe consequences would be the loss of life either of him/her or any one of his/her family.

Azam Khan's whistle blowing story began in the night of April 9, 2012, while he drove APS Faruq's microbus into Pilkhana, the headquarters of Border Guard Bangladesh, and blew the whistle that there was illegal money in the vehicle. According to the source of various news media at that time and also his recent appearance in a private TV channel in Bangladesh on October 04, 2012, Azam Kham dauntlessly said that the Tk 74 lakh stashed in their car was being taken to the then railway minister Suranjit Sengupta's house. Those bribe money had been collected from railway jobseekers.

That money was the small part of the whole recruitment business. Apart form APS Faruq, the syndicate was compiled with railway's the then general manager (east) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Dhaka division security commandant Enamul Huq to conduct the whole recruitment process to collect Tk. 10 crore for the minister from the recruitment business. Azam further said that one army officer was involved in the recruitment business and he wanted to appoint several hundred job seekers in a Tk. 3 crore recruitment deal.

Bangladesh earned the bad name -- 'the most corrupt country' -- for several years. The policymakers, particularly those among the politicians, have so far responded very little to bring about positive changes in this situation, as many of them are widely perceived to be involved in the process thereof. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh, and greed seems to be limitless. We are not saying that the corruptions only lie in Bangladesh.

Bradley Birkenfeld approached to the US Department of Justice in 2007, offering to reveal the inner workings of UBS's (the giant Union Bank of Switzerland) international private-banking division, where he had worked for five years. Some of the details that emerged raised eyebrows, including the revelation that bankers had used toothpaste tubes to smuggle diamonds across borders for clients. Having long turned a blind eye to these sorts of shenanigans, the America's government came down heavily on UBS. In 2009 the bank avoided criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay a $780m fine to the Internal Service Revenue of US (IRS).

Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois Governor in US, is now behind bars for serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges. He was convicted on 18 counts, including charges that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. FBI wiretaps revealed a fouled-mouth Blagojevich describing the opportunity to exchange an appointment to the seat for campaign cash or a top job as "f------ golden." The ruling was against him to bring unethical or illegal practices to the forefront and addressing them before they become fatal to an organization as well as to the whole system.

It is part of the moral complexity that whistles blowers presuppose that somewhere there is someone with appropriate authority who will appreciate the moral importance of the disclosure and will respond accordingly. Azam Khan appealed to the head of the government and expected that the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whom he believes is against the corruption, wouldn't go corrupted people unpunished.

In her recent speech in UN General Assembly in New York, Sheikh Hasina renewed her demand for reforming the United Nations, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions (IFIs). It is good to raise questions about their 60-year-old power equations functionalities. But the reform should start from home. Gross ethical violation in Bangladesh in different regime has been prevailing. Unscrupulous and corrupt personnel in every sphere of the society are creating violation of rules and regulations frequently.

As far as reform is concerned, proper means'what we called the good beginnings are as necessary as worthy ends. We may not bear to be told to wait for good results, but we pine for good beginnings.

After signing and ratifying UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on February 27, 2008, Bangladesh entered into a legal obligation to put in place a framework of action plan to deal with a wide array of corrupt practices, develop national institutions to prevent corrupt practices, prosecute offenders, cooperate with other governments to recover stolen assets, and help each other through technical and financial assistance to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence and reinforce integrity.

Some people may believe that someone shouldn't bite the hand that feeds him/her and insist on staying on for the banquet. Supporters of Awami Legue may already start thinking Azam Khan as a rising threat to them, but whistle Blowers like him are considered as "saviors" who ultimately helps create important changes in the systems.

IRS in US agreed to pay former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld $104m for his role in exposing the giant Swiss bank's efforts illegal in America but not in its home country to help American taxpayers hide money in offshore accounts. Like Birkenfeld, Azam Khan may not end up with a heavy reward or a smooth exit deal from his opponents, but the situation he has addressed will encourage millions of people to stand against corruptions.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Women Hurting Women

ARE female leaders better for the world’s women? 

It would be nice to think that women who achieve power would want to help women at the bottom. But one continuing global drama underscores that women in power can be every bit as contemptible as men. 

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, is mounting a scorched-earth offensive against Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and champion of the economic empowerment of women around the world. Yunus, 72, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, focused on helping women lift their families out of poverty. 

Yet Sheikh Hasina’s government has already driven Yunus from his job as managing director of Grameen Bank. Worse, since last month, her government has tried to seize control of the bank from its 5.5 million small-time shareholders, almost all of them women, who collectively own more than 95 percent of the bank. 

What a topsy-turvy picture: We see a woman who has benefited from evolving gender norms using her government powers to destroy the life’s work of a man who has done as much for the world’s most vulnerable women as anybody on earth. 

The government has also started various investigations of Yunus and his finances and taxes, and his supporters fear that he might be arrested on some pretext or another. 

“It’s an insane situation,” Yunus told me a few days ago at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, sounding subdued instead of his normally exuberant self. “I just don’t know how to deal with it.” 

If the government succeeds in turning Grameen Bank into a government bank, Yunus said, “it is finished.” 

Sheikh Hasina, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, initially agreed to be interviewed by me in a suite at the Grand Hyatt. At the last minute she canceled and refused to reschedule. 

Perhaps none of this should be surprising. Metrics like girls’ education and maternal mortality don’t improve more when a nation is led by a woman. There is evidence that women matter as local leaders and on corporate boards, but that doesn’t seem to have been true at the national level, at least not for the first cohort of female leaders around the world. 

Bangladesh is actually a prime example of the returns from investing in women. When it separated from Pakistan in 1971, it was a wreck. But it invested in girls’ education, and today more than half of its high school students are female — an astonishing achievement for an impoverished Muslim country. 

All those educated women formed the basis for Bangladesh’s garment industry. They also had fewer births: the average Bangladeshi woman now has 2.2 children, down from 6 in 1980. Bringing women into the mainstream also seems to have soothed extremism, which is much less of a concern than in Pakistan (where female literacy in the tribal areas is only 3 percent). 

To her credit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken up for Yunus: “I highly respect Muhammad Yunus, and I highly respect the work that he has done, and I am hoping to see it continue without being in any way undermined or affected by any government action,” she said earlier this year. Two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, have also called on Sheikh Hasina to back off. 

She shows no sign of doing so. One theory is that she is paranoid and sees Yunus as a threat, especially since he made an abortive effort to enter politics in 2007. Another theory is that she is envious of his Nobel Peace Prize and resentful of his global renown. 

Sheikh Hasina is disappointing in other ways. She has turned a blind eye to murders widely attributed to the security services. My Times colleague Jim Yardley wrote just this month about a labor leader, Aminul Islam, who had been threatened by security officers and whose tortured body was found in a pauper’s grave. 

Yunus fans are signing a petition on his behalf, but I’d like to see more American officials and politicians speak up for him. President Obama, how about another photo op with Yunus? 

I still strongly believe that we need more women in leadership posts at home and around the world, from presidential palaces to corporate boards. The evidence suggests that diverse leadership leads to better decision making, and I think future generations of female leaders may be more attentive to women’s issues than the first. 

In any case, this painful episode in Bangladesh is a reminder that the struggle to achieve gender equality isn’t simply a battle between the sexes. 

It is far more subtle. Misogyny and indifference remain obstacles for women globally, but those are values that can be absorbed and transmitted by women as well as by men.