Saturday, December 10, 2011

Country mired in unacceptable level of corruption

When the nation is gearing up to celebrate its 40th anniversary and pay respect to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to give birth to the country, it is rather disappointing to find out the degree to which the country is mired in corruption. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Saturday, a number of major development projects are not being implemented because of serious allegations of corruption. The case of the Padma Multipurpose Bridge is well known, where the World Bank, the largest lender in the project, suspended funding, alleging corruption involving the immediate-past communications minister. The minister’s private company allegedly coerced many bidders to hire them as paid ‘silent agent.’ Likewise, the 450MW Siddhirganj power project has been put out to fresh tender after the Electricity Generation Company of Bangladesh awarded the tender to a disqualified company, a client of the former communication minister’s company. The 200–300MW power plant at Ghorashal is also uncertain after two rounds of bidding as, once again, Abul Hossain’s client could not offer the lowest price. Furthermore, the water resources ministry had tried to give the job of manufacturing and supplying two sets of dredgers involving Tk 140 crore to a disqualified company before the cabinet committee rejected the proposal. Meanwhile, the Tk 904 crore project to widen the Dhaka–Mymensingh Highway has also become uncertain as one of the bidders, who obtained part of the job, turns out to have submitted forged documents.

Firstly, a note on Abul Hossain. The former communications minister, on his own, seems to have dipped his hands into half the corruption scandals the incumbents have been mired in, and why the minister had to be rehabilitated with a new portfolio, that of information and communications technology, defies all possible explanation. It may very well be a face-saving exercise to defiantly prop up the image of the government, or may be, the ruling party owes much in partisan favour to this lone lawmaker. Transferring the minister may remove him from the spotlight for now; the people of the country, however, deserve a thorough investigation and inquiry of each and every one of the allegations surrounding him and an explanation for the delay these allegations caused to nationally-important projects.

The former communications minister, however, is the current poster boy for a malaise that has been eating away at the Bangladeshi society for long. Starting from being ranked the most corrupt country in the corruption perception index of the Transparency International, to high rankings in the corruption perception surveys on the various agencies of the state, corruption has caused much ignominy to this nation on the eve of its 40th birthday. The onus now falls upon the ruling party, the Awami League, which also presided over the final throes of the liberation struggle against the Pakistanis, to rid the nation of the malaise which threatens to usurp the fruits of its liberty. And to do that, a thorough investigation into the allegations of corruption in such nationally-important projects, as well meting out exemplary punishment, is very much in order.  

Salda starts feeding national grid

The national grid has been augmented with a daily supply of 25 million cubic feet (CFT) of gas from a new dug well.

Chittagong's industries and fertiliser factories would get most of the gas, extracted from the well in Brahmanbaria's Salda gas field, Petrobangla chairman Hosain Mansur said on Saturday.

The addition to the grid is one-eighth the country's present gas production level. Before Salda began production the country's gas wells supplied 2 billion cubic feet against a demand of 2.5 billion CFT.

Locals of Kasba, where the gas field is located, have been demanding that the gas be supplied to their area.

But junior energy minister Enamul Haque had told that gas from Salda would be supplied through the national grid, and will be prioritised "on the basis of national demand".

He had said there was "no scope of considering the protesters' demands", while the protesters have vowed to continue their movement.

The state-owned Bapex started digging new wells in the field in July this year. With Salda in operation, there will be 80 active wells in the country.

A fourth well is being dug at the Fenchuganj gas field in Sylhet, Salda-Fenchuganj Gas-filed Development Project chief Mohammad Shabuddin said.

"That well may give us a 35-million cubic feet daily output," he said. 

Even 'crossfire' not this worse

Feel families of mysterious 'disappearance' victims.


Jesmin Akhter is still clueless about the fate of her father nearly six months after law enforcers reportedly picked him up from his house in Bagerhat. 

“Even a death in crossfire is better than disappearance, because the victim's family at least gets the body. But I do not even know whether my father is dead or alive,” 22-year-old Jesmin told The Daily Star yesterday.

Four policemen in uniform and some plain-clothes men picked up her father Habibul Hawlader, a fisherman, from his house at Morelganj in Bagerhat on June 6. Later, police denied arresting her father, she said.
“They were members of law enforcement agencies but they acted like robbers.”

Another woman Jharna Khanam said seven to eight people identifying themselves as law enforcers picked up her husband KM Shamim Akhter, former vice-president of Bangladesh Chhatra Union, from in front of his Purana Paltan residence on September 29.

“I went to the offices of all agencies and ministries concerned, and even to the National Human Rights Commission chairman, but all my efforts went in vein.”

“When my two little children ask about their father, I cannot give them any answer.” 

Like Jesmin and Jharna, family members and relatives of a number of missing people yesterday expressed their concern at an advocacy meeting on Accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance at Spectra Convention Centre in the capital's Gulshan area.

Saira Rahman Khan, founder member of human rights organisation Odhikar, said there have been reports of disappearance of at least 22 people in the last 11 months from January. Of them, 11 were picked up allegedly by Rab, two by police, six by personnel of the detective branch (DB) of police, and three by unidentified men.
In 2010, at least 18 people went missing. Fourteen of them were picked up allegedly by Rab, two by police and two others by DB personnel. 

BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told the meeting that his party had never supported any extra-judicial killings or forced disappearance.

If BNP comes to power again, it would stop extra-judicial killings and forced disappearance, he said.
The BNP leader, however, admitted that there had been crossfire incidents during the last BNP government's tenure between 2001 and 2006. But none of them were political, he claimed. 

Odhikar, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance, and International Federation for Human Rights jointly organised the meeting presided over by Odhikar President CR Abrar.

Marked war criminals' trial by 'next Dec'

Trial of all identified war criminals will be completed by December next year, state minister for liberation war affairs Capt A B Tajul Islam has said.

"A special tribunal has been set up to hold the war crimes trial," he said on Saturday. "It is (up to) the tribunal when it will complete the trial but trial of marked war criminals will be completed by next December."

Tajul Islam was addressing the inaugural session of a 15-day Muktijuddher Bijoy Mela (Liberation War Victory Fair) at Outer Stadium and MA Aziz Stadium premises here. The event commemorates the 40th anniversary of victory over then West Pakistan on Dec 16, 1971.

Asked whether Jamaat-e-Islami linchpin Ghulam Azam will be arrested in December, Tajul said the investigation panel is tasked with arresting war criminals. "If they (investigation panel members) think he needs to be arrested, then he will be arrested. The government will not interfere in the matter."

Ghulam Azam is accused of having lobbied against the recognition of newborn Bangladesh by foreign countries.

An investigation team started probing allegations of war crimes against Ghulam Azam on Aug 23. A three-member panel had visited Brahmanbaria's 'old' and 'new' prison facilities, the mass grave beside Kurulia Bridge and the Pairtala killing ground, and recorded accounts of several witnesses.

Tajul said BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia sided with Jamaat-e-Islami to save war criminals and her two "corrupt sons" -- Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman Coco.

"The trial of war criminals has long been a demand of the countrymen," he said. "Bangladeshis want to see war criminals in the execution dock."

He urged Awami League leaders to be united in presenting the spirit of Liberation War and its "real history" before the new generation.

Bijoy Mela parishad chairman and former mayor of the port city A B M Mohiuddin Chowdhury presided over the function. 

WB Must Prove Padma Graft Allegations: PM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina insisted Saturday that the World Bank must prove the corruption allegations related to the Padma bridge project. 

“The World Bank has to prove when and where the alleged corruptions took place and how much money was embezzled,” she said while addressing a press conference at her official Gono Bhaban residence.

The premier continued: “The World Bank has no obstacle now to investigate the corruption allegation as the communications minister (Syed Abul Hossain) has already been removed from the ministry.”

The premier said the government will not wait for foreign funding for big projects like Padma Bridge from now on rather the projects will be financed through public private partnership (PPP). 

She said the government will call foreign countries or any of their respective companies to implement projects as bill-operate-transfer (BOT) system. 

“I’ve already urged countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, Korea to construct the Padma Bridge and we will formally send them letters in this regard,” she said adding, “No big projects cannot be stopped due to delay in releasing funds by donor agencies.”

Hasina said if the WB’s fund for Padma Bridge is released it will be utilised for other development projects.
Referring to the Indian move to build the Tipaimukh dam on the common river Barak, Hasina, also the president of the ruling Awami League, said the government will never accept any projects that may harm the country.

On splitting the Dhaka city corporation, the premier said it has been done in a bid to ensure better service for the city dwellers. 

LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, Railways Minister Suranjit Sengupta, Communications Minister Obaidul Quader, Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni flanked the premier at the press conference organised to brief the media about the outcomes of the PM’s recent visit to Myanmar and Indonesia. 

'US must apologize for airspace violation'

The deputy head of Iran's Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff says the US government must apologize to the Islamic Republic for violating the country's airspace. 

"The US government must apologize for [committing] this illegal and hostile act," Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri said on Saturday.

On Sunday December 4, the Iranian Army's electronic warfare unit downed, with minimum damage, the US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft which was flying over the Iranian city of Kashmar, some 140 miles (225km) from the Afghan border.

One day later, two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the drone had been part of a CIA reconnaissance mission, involving the United State's intelligence community stationed in Afghanistan.

Jazayeri said Iran would not limit its defensive measure to the country's borders.

Jazayeri called for a more targeted and harsher response towards US actions which have "compromised the global security.”

On Thursday, Iran's Ambassador to UN Mohammad Khazaei sent a letter to United Nations, calling on the international body for "clear and effective measures to be taken to put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts in line with the United Nations' responsibilities.” 

Drone Crash Unmasks US spying Effort In Iran

The crash of a CIA drone in Iran has brought into the open what US intelligence agencies would prefer kept secret: intense spying efforts in a country where the United States has no official presence.

Iran on Thursday aired with great flourish footage of the captured drone, which appeared largely intact. Pentagon and CIA spokesmen would not comment on whether it was the missing US RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aircraft.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed that the drone that crashed was on a surveillance mission over Iran.

It is believed to have crashed because of a malfunction and not from being shot down or computer-hacked by the Iranians, a US official said on condition of anonymity.

Although there are risks that Iran could attempt to reverse engineer the technology, or sell it to other countries, like China, US officials believe that Iran will not be able to mine the drone's computer systems to learn details of the US surveillance mission.

US surveillance of Iran through various means has been going on for years, US officials and others with direct knowledge of the situation say.

A private US defence expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that when he visited the command centre at a US military base in the Gulf region in 2008, it was clear that the installation was receiving multiple feeds of electronic surveillance information from inside Iran.

Some of the information appeared to be transmitted from high-altitude aircraft and some from electronic sensors which the United States had somehow installed on the ground in Iran, the expert said.

The United States has no official presence in Iran so it is difficult to determine exactly what is going on inside its borders. One recent incident has yet to be fully unravelled.


On November 28, there were contradictory reports out of Iran on whether an explosion had occurred in the city of Isfahan, which is also home to a major nuclear site.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he has been studying imagery of that area and no damage was detected at the Isfahan nuclear site. But, he said, "it is credible there was an explosion, but not at the nuclear site."

He said it was puzzling that Iranians clearly said an explosion at a missile depot two weeks earlier had been an accident, but did not provide similar clarity about Isfahan. "We're trying to figure out what actually happened," he said.

"Explosions are happening in Iran, and Iran is not making a big deal out of them. They are either calling them accidents or saying they didn't happen, and therefore when these things continue to happen it could be because intelligence agencies are actually now playing sabotage," Albright said.

In the earlier November 12 incident, Iran said a massive blast at a military base west of Tehran killed 17 members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including the head of its missile program, in an accident while weapons were being moved.

When unexplained events occur that appear to be aimed against Iran's nuclear program, experts often question whether US and Israeli intelligence services were at work.

Iran also has had alleged covert operations against the West come to light. Recently, the United States arrested a man accused of being involved in a plot by Iranian agents to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington.

The US government also accuses Iran of arming and funding Iraqi militias responsible for attacking American troops in Iraq.

US officials do not appear to be the least bit disturbed about mishaps to Iran's nuclear and missile programs that include the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site.

"Whether it's due to technical difficulties, incompetence, or other reasons, some setbacks to Iran's activities are welcome," a US official said on condition of anonymity.