Monday, August 27, 2012

Dipu wages propaganda war against Yunus

While one of the most talkative ministers of the current government, who suddenly got tamed since her grand flop in signing the Water Sharing Treaty with India, foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni despites series of her failures, which already is bringing unimaginable political and economic catastrophe for Bangladesh, her ministry has engaged into nasty diplomacy centering the issue of Grammen Bank founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Although the issue of this internationally acclaimed personality centering his removal from the post of managing director of Grameen Bank is already under international radar, Dr. Dipu has instructed her fellow officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for waging propaganda war against Yunus, ignoring the fact of his huge influence in the international arena. Working on the tip of the foreign minister, the officials at the ministry has already incorporated several materials right on the website of the foreign ministry titled 'Facts Relating to Professor Yunus & Grameen Bank'. As preface of the documents put on display at the website of the foreign ministry, it writes, "The Grameen Bank and Professor Muhammad Yunus have featured in the international and national media quite extensively over the past one year. The reports mostly portrayed a "conflict" between the Bangladesh Government and the Managing Director of Grameen Bank at the time, namely, Professor Muhammad Yunus. The Government feels it necessary to clear the air, especially in view of the misperception that these reports may have generated.

1.Initially, the publicity relating to Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus arose following the release of a documentary Film produced by a Danish journalist in the Norwegian media. The film highlighted the nature of Grameen Bank's activities, its modus operandi, the many complaints by its borrowers and falsehood of the myth that Grameen Bank's borrowers had succeeded in breaking the poverty barrier. No less significant was the unauthorised diversion and misuse of Norwegian donor funds intended for Grameen's borrowers in the rural areas, Professor Yunus's expressed desire to evade tax through such unauthorised diversion, and a series of other breaches of the law.

2.When the Government's attention was drawn to the wide publicity given to the documentary film, the Government of Bangladesh instituted, on 7 January, 2011, a high powered multi-disciplinary Review Committee to examine and investigate the activities of Grameen Bank.

3.Further, when the Government's attention was also drawn to the fact the Professor Muhammad Yunus's continuance in the office of Managing Director of Grameen Bank after 28 June, 2000, that is upon reaching the superannuation age of 60 years, was contrary to the governing law, namely the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983, the Service Rules made thereunder, the Constitution of Bangladesh and several statutes which defined the position of the Managing Director of Grameen Bank, a statutory public authority, as that of "public servant" or "public employee", Bangladesh Bank ( the Central Bank) informed Grameen Bank, and its Chairman, that Professor Muhammad Yunus had passed the age of superannuation and had ceased to function as Managing Director of Grameen Bank by operation of law.

4.Professor Yunus challenged the letter issued by Bangladesh Bank to the Chairman, Grameen Bank by moving a Writ Petition in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court and thereafter in multiple appeals before the apex Court. The Appellate Division upheld the decision of the High Court Division which rejected his Writ Petition, and Professor Yunus was deemed to have retired from the office of Managing Director of Grameen Bank on 28 June, 2000 upon reaching 60 years of age.

5.The high powered multi-disciplinary Review Committee submitted its report on 24 April, 2011."

The above five point clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been also followed by some links to few more statements and documents, which certainly are put together with the mission of dampening the ever-increasing global image of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Professor Muhammad Yunus turned a villain in the eyes of the top policymakers of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League led leftist-Islamist coalition government, when he harshly criticized limitless corruption of the politicians as well took an initiative of floating a political party named Nagorik Shakti [Citizen's Power], although his political ambition got flopped at the zero hour as he failed to get expected support either from the mass people or from the members of the civil society as well as politicians.

Simple reason behind such shameful consequence of his political ambition is, because though he attained grand success to build an international image being the founding father of Grameen Bank, the people at large in the country never anticipated him stepping into politics, nor they had any intention of extending any support to the initiatives of Nagorik Shakti in emerging as a political party, which surely would be an alternative to the existing mainstream political forces in Bangladesh. On the other hand, the timing of floating this party was wrong for Professor Yunus, as by that time, Bangladeshis at large were already fed up with the massive misrule, state level corruption and extortion as well as gross violation of human rights by the army backed interim government, which was headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, who had earlier served as the governor of Bangladesh Bank. At that point, people were seeing the flopped banker Fakhruddin in Professor Yunus, which stopped them from extending any support to his political ambition.

Professor Mohammad Yunus became highly ambitious of becoming the leader of Bangladesh seeing over-whelming excitement and celebration of the people of the country when he got the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time, right from the moment of declaration of his name as the recipient of this most prestigious prize, millions of Taka was spent by Grameen Phone as well as other enterprises of Grameen Bank in a massive public relations and propaganda hawk in favor of Yunus, which was later understood to have been initiated at the personal desire of the Nobel Prize laureate, as he already was seeing himself as the prospective leader of the country.

What Professor Yunus missed is, he did not remember, how the people of Bangladesh exploded into joys and celebration when country's cricket team got qualified to play international test matches. Seeing such huge excitement of the people, should any of the cricket players or even the captain of the team committed the same blunder of becoming a national leader, his or their consequences would be same as what has happened to Professor Yunus.

In my personal opinion, Professor Yunus could not absorb the shock [in positive sense] of getting the Nobel Peace Prize and from that moment, unfortunately he lost balance totally and had been behaving sometime as a mere kid while mostly as a senseless individual. Instead of expressing gratitude to the people of Bangladesh for their support and encouragements, Dr. Yunus rather tried to educate the people as well as the leaders, while he also made frantic bids of using local and international media in setting him almost at the same status of the great leaders of this country. No doubt such blunders were initiated, nurtured and finally put onto Yunus' head by none but his own younger brother Muhammad Jahangir, who had visibly been the second-in-command or next man to Mohammad Yunus into all affairs centering the then Grameen Bank boss. No doubt, Yunus got a good lesson from the people that his aspiration of riding into apex level of country's political power or floating a political party were not endorsed by the Bangladeshis at large.

For a person of his height, no doubt this very signal from the people was more than enough for Professor Yunus to swallow his political aspiration for good. But, leaders of Bangladesh Awami League could not anyway tolerate Mohammad Yunus anymore, as they started seeing a real ghost in him for no valid reason, and at the tips of some duffers, the pundits of Bangladesh Awami League started searching ways of down sizing Yunus both nationally and internationally. From that moment, an elected government turned into an open enemy of Professor Mohammad Yunus and initiated all out conspiracies in removing him from the post of Grameen Bank initially and finally pushing him inside prison with various charges. The first part of the agenda of the rulers had already been implemented and now the power elites are spending sleepless nights in seeing Yunus facing trials, ignoring the fact that such rudeness would surely put the entire nation into a huge crisis both political and economic.

BY : Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Microfinance pioneer Grameen Bank weakened by government meddling

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh seems bent on destroying the best elements of the Grameen Bank, whose loans to poor women inspired a global movement now enabling more than 135 million borrowers to become self-employed. More than a year ago, she engineered the spectacularly illogical dismissal of Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize-winning founder and managing director of Grameen Bank. 

Hasina rode roughshod over the bank’s own board’s decisions and bylaws in imposing a mandatory retirement on Professor Yunus, ostensibly because of his age. (She seems not to have been troubled by issuing that dictate through her minister of finance who, himself, was many years older than Yunus.)

But not content to have removed Yunus, whose worldwide fame seems both Bangladesh’s most notable asset and Prime Minister Hasina’s most aggravating cause of envy, she has now moved to gut the Grameen Bank’s fundamental premise of governance: that the women who comprise the bank’s clientele should have a controlling voice in its policies and programs. In a region not notable for women’s rights, this leadership position by the Grameen Bank has been salutary for the bank, a model for other institutions and an inspiration to all those seeking to advance the well-being of women and their families.

What exactly is Prime Minister Hasina’s latest plan? Very simple: Trash the Grameen Bank’s historically successful model of a borrower-dominated board that has the power to elect the managing director of this bank, in which the borrowers are the leading shareholders. And replace that process with what? Let’s see. 

What could be the most disempowering, backward, ham-handed, intrusive alternative one could imagine? 

Eureka! Have the government-appointed chair of the board summarily appoint the managing director! Forget about the decades-long organic evolution of women’s leadership in both governance and management at Grameen Bank. Just empower Hasina’s crony chair to install a managing director, who will reliably turn the bank into a compliant arm of the Hasina administration — an administration whose appreciation of this international treasure, if such appreciation exists, is no barrier to envy-driven decisions that simultaneously compromise both the bank’s all-important independence and the administration’s own already shabby reputation. 

It would be easy, and wrong, to dismiss this as a tempest in a teapot. Beyond its role in pioneering microfinance and poverty-reduction programs that have now been adopted worldwide, Grameen Bank is a shining global model of what it means to empower women — even, and especially, poor rural women. These women not only comprise 97 percent of the bank’s borrowers, but they actually own more than 95 percent of the equity in the bank. Accordingly and appropriately, women hold nine of the 12 seats on the board. And it is little noted but no small thing that the Nobel Peace Prize accepted by Muhammad Yunus was actually awarded to him and to those women — that is, to the bank itself, which they have built and, until Prime Minister Hasina butted in, have successfully controlled.

At this moment, a hand-picked Bangladeshi government commission is “studying” Grameen Bank to find ways to “improve and protect” it. Rodgers and Hammerstein captured this situation perfectly in “The King and I,” when the king, reflecting on foreign “allies” increasing their role in Siam, sings, “Might they not protect me out of all I own?” 

What can be done? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Dhaka in May to urge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni to take no action that would undermine Grameen Bank. In addition, the 17 women who currently serve in the U.S. Senate have sent a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Hasina. 

And this communiqué was issued by our State Department earlier this month:

“We call on the Government of Bangladesh to respect the integrity, effectiveness, and independence of Grameen Bank. We urge the Bangladeshi Government to ensure transparency in the selection of a new managing director who has unquestioned integrity, competence, and dedication to preserving Grameen Bank, its unique governance structure, and its effectiveness in bringing development and hope to 8.3 million of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable citizens, mostly women.”

It has seemingly always been the case that enlightened advances forged over decades by millions of dedicated people working together can be trashed with astounding finality by one misguided ‘leader.’ We owe it to those who created Grameen Bank, and to history, to show that such travesties are not inevitable. Citizens wishing to add their voices to this urgent call for preservation of a global treasure can sign on to a petition by searching ‘ Grameen Bank.’” 

This is not a futile exercise. The worldwide firestorm over the ousting of Muhammad Yunus still reverberates in Hasina-administration deliberations. A fresh onslaught of petitions on this new issue may give them some pause. And perhaps even more important, our loud protests can mobilize the voters of Bangladesh, who, ultimately, must decide if their democratically elected prime minister should be allowed to demolish their country’s most celebrated contribution to its own people and the global community.


The Assam clashes are about land and livelihood, not religion

Bertil Lintner
AS BERTIL LINTNER mentions in the introduction of Great Game East, the expression “Great Game” was originally used to denote the struggle between two western powers to wrest control of energy-rich Central Asia. Across the Himalayas, in the east, another great game has been on for some time now between the two Asian giants — India and China. The fight began over Tibet and now includes Northeast India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Indian Ocean. Lintner has even devoted one chapter to Indo-Bangladesh relations in his book. Here, he talks to Kunal Majumder about the ongoing violence in Assam and how the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), once a nationalist movement, ended up becoming a pawn in the great game.


Your book has an entire chapter on the relationship between Assam and Bangladesh. What is your reading of the ongoing situation in Assam?

TEHELKA described it quite well. It’s not religious. It’s not Muslims versus Hindus. It’s a struggle for land. There is a lot of pressure on land both because of increase in internal population and massive migration from Bangladesh. Naturally, people from Bangladesh are Muslims and that adds that dimension to it.

But certain interests in India are calling it a grand design to Islamise Assam. Do you find any credibility in such assumptions?

It is possible. But I’m not sure if it is the main reason people are moving from Bangladesh into India. Certainly, Islamic groups will want to take advantage of the situation. Migration to India, first from East Pakistan, and then Bangladesh has always been there. One reason this happens in Assam is votebank politics. If you look back at the Assam Agitation, it was a movement against the so-called foreigners moving into Assam. Not only Bangladeshis, Nepalis too were being evicted. It is not about religion, it is about land and livelihood.

Isn’t it ironical that the ULFA based its politics on an anti-Bangladeshi immigrant stance but eventually accepted Dhaka’s help to fight India?

The ultimate irony is that the movement began as an anti-foreigner movement — less Nepal, more Bangladesh — and they have been exiled in Bangladesh. Assamese militants I met in Bangladesh were not happy to be there but they thought they had no choice. They were being used by Bangladesh intelligence services to create trouble in India. The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), more than the Awami League, were behind this policy. Things shifted in Bangladesh depending on who was in power. If the Awami League was in power, the ULFA was sent to Thailand. When Sheikh Hasina came to power for the first time in the 1990s, the entire leadership arrived in Bangkok save Paresh Barua, who was too useful for the Bangladeshi security establishment. He was close to Pakistan’s ISI as well.

The ULFA has now split. Almost everyone in the top leadership is negotiating with the Government of India. Where does Paresh Barua’s future lie?

I first met Barua in 1985 in a Naga camp in northwestern Burma. The Burmese army attacked the camp. He was an excellent fighter, much better than any other Naga. Unlike Arabinda Rajkhowa, who was more intellectually motivated, Barua was the most militant of all ULFA leaders and more politically motivated. The second time I met Barua was in Bangkok. He had come from Singapore, where he revealed that the ISI were encouraging the ULFA to increase their activities in Assam because troops were being withdrawn from the Northeast for Kashmir. It was in Pakistan’s interest to reignite some kind of unrest in the region so that India could move its troops back from Kashmir. This was quite telling. I was quite surprised he was ready to tell me that. I met him for the third time in a safe house in Dhaka, escorted by two Bangladeshi intelligence officers, who were not particularly happy to see me around. Whether you sympathise with them or not but from being a nationalist movement, the ULFA became a pawn in the hands of the establishment of all countries.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bangladesh 'fixes' Grameen

Laboni Vhoumiks lingerie manufacturing unit in the Gopai village of Noakhali district, about 180 kilometers outside Dhaka, is a forceful argument in favor of the Grameen Bank microcredit model that fosters female entrepreneurship and relies on it. But the Grameen Bank is itself under threat of creeping government control that has kicked up a storm of protests by entities ranging from women's rights groups to the State Department of the United States.

Vhoumik, 36, started out in 2003 with nothing to commend her except tailoring skills. Today, she runs a production unit that employs 12 women and supplies quality undergarments to several major retailers in Noakhali and the adjacent districts.

Joining a local non-government organization (NGO), Noakhali Rural Development Services (NRDS), helped Vhoumik to borrow taka 4000 (then about US$45) to buy her first sewing machine.

"We counsel and offer free training to promote such small entrepreneurships. The idea is to ensure that the borrowed money is properly utilized," Mohammad Kaiser Alam, NRDS microcredit programme coordinator, told IPS.

Vhoumik now earns about US$238 a month, which is considered handsome in her village. She also has large savings and recently paid for some major repairing of her home. Her group of 65 members discusses social and family problems as well as members progress with their business or problems or outstanding loans.

Members rarely default as the group is responsible as guarantor for the loans. But this simple business model that has worked to lift thousands of Bangladeshi women out of poverty is now under threat because one of its pioneers, the Grameen Bank, is undergoing changes at the helm that will allow greater government control.

The government owns 3% of Grameen Bank, but by changing the Grameen Bank Ordinance a state-appointed chairman will be able to appoint its chief executive officer.

This represents a de facto imposition of government control of the bank; in other words, the poor women, who are also its owners, are being deprived of their right to manage their own bank and are being made powerless, says a statement issued by 60 of Bangladesh's leading civil society representatives.

Grameen Bank is unique in the world for being owned by impoverished women. Representatives of the 8.4 million women borrowers sit on the board of the bank and have participated over the years in its decision making, unlike any other bank in the world, the statement said.

Shireen Huq, one of the signatories to the statement, told IPS there is no reason to believe that the changes (to Grameen Bank) are being made with good intent.

Huq, a leading women's rights activist and founder of the NGO Naripokkho, said the proposed amendment to the Grameen Bank's constitution gives the chairman of the board the authority to form a three-member selection committee. In other words, the majority board members will in effect be disenfranchised.

The government's appointment of a person known for his animosity towards the bank's founder, Muhammad Yunus, as the chairman did not bode well for the institution, Huq told IPS.

A press statement on August 5 by Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy US State Department spokesman, said Washington was deeply concerned about recent actions the government of Bangladesh has taken to give the government-appointed chairman of the Grameen Bank board control over the selection of the bank's new managing director.

This move would diminish the role the largely female borrower-shareholders play in shaping the direction of an institution that has made a difference to millions of impoverished women in Bangladesh, and indeed around the world, the statement said.

"We are concerned that the latest actions by the government could threaten the future of the bank which was founded by Nobel peace prize laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus," Ventrell said.
The plan by the government to increase its role in Grameen Bank has sparked a furious debate in Bangladesh that has pitted economists who favor microcredit as a development tool against those who believe that it is not effective enough.

Professor Abul Barakat, who heads the economics department at Dhaka University, told IPS that microcredit reaches only a small portion of the poor people. "Hardcore poor who need most attention remain out of the reach of such services and are considered as having no potential of repaying loans."

Out of Bangladesh's 150 million population, 98.9 million are poor, 47 million are middle class and 4.1 million are rich people. Microcredit only reaches the upper 50% of the poor who are the potential target group of the NGOs," the economist said.

According to Barakat, economically the upper half of the poor (49.4 million) who get microcredit facilities "bounce in their own orbit" and they "neither come out of poverty nor slide down to the hardcore poor group."

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, another noted economist, told IPS that he has rarely seen poor people getting significant benefit from microcredit programs. "One of my own studies shows only 7% of the borrowers actually coming out of poverty from microcredit."

Ahmad, who chairs the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), said his 2008 study showed that fewer than 10% of the total 23 million borrowers in the country actually came out of poverty. This means that microcredit program are not always sustainable in poverty alleviation.

The PKSF itself was launched by the government in 1990 to build on the success of private players and now has over 250 partner organizations (small NGOs) and has 8.6 million borrowers.

Mohammad Hasan Ali, founder and executive director of Pally Bikash Kendra, an NGO that operates microcredit programmes in the northwestern districts, told IPS that the steady growth in borrowing and repayments showed the robustness of the model.

"Surely the poor are borrowing because they are getting some benefit in one way or another", Ali said.

What is important, most economists agree, is that the small borrowings made through NGOs have eliminated traditional village moneylenders who charged usuriously high rates of interest and increased the debt burden of the poor.

The real success of microcredit, economists say, lies in the fact that it integrates other programs involving health and hygiene, education, water and sanitation, social safety, legal aid, human rights and other basic issues with the lending process.

S M Ali Aslam, executive director of ADAMS, an NGO operating in the southwestern districts, told IPS, "There is no doubt that the NGOs took the leadership in providing financial security to the poor when the state failed to offer any secure economic program."

Aslam added that that foreign donors continue to support microcredit programmes in Bangladesh because they work. 


Tears for Humayun Ahmed: The Shakespeare of Bangladesh

Professor Humayun Ahmed, who earned a PhD in chemistry from North Dakota State University, and who was a scientist, writer, and a filmmaker, died aged 64 in the United States, after a nearly year-long battle against colon cancer. Every Bengali heart has grown heavier and heavier since his death.

Humayun was a custodian of the Bangladeshi literary culture whose contribution single-handedly shifted the capital of Bengali literature from Kolkata to Dhaka without any war or revolution. One of the remarkable things about Humayun's long and distinguished literary career is his influence. His writing is so influential that people not only get psychological pleasure from reading his books, but usually end up becoming fans of his fictional characters, such as Himu, Misir Ali, and Baker Bhai. His creations generate the smells, sounds, and vibrations of feelings and moods, which are more powerful than all the unused hydrogen bombs in the United States. However, in death, Humayun's celebrity status seems likely to exceed his popularity, even at the height of his fame. His funeral, which was held in Dhaka, became a Super Bowl-like event: millions of Bengalis from all walks of life flocked to the Central Shaheed Minar to say "Hasta la vista, Humayun Sir."

Humayun's death has proven that the tragic and completely unexpected passing of an icon familiar to millions can create an emotionally unifying experience for a nation. Bangladesh does not have oil, coal, or fossil fuel, but it's still more united than many countries, such as Pakistan, because it had Humayun Ahmed-whose influence was strong enough to unite all Bangladeshis with each other emotionally. What, then, is our assessment of Humayun's importance in world literature?

Humayun, who was known for his depiction of the tribulations of ordinary middle-class Bangladeshi life, reached the peak of his fame with the publication of Nondito Noroke (In Blissful Hell) in 1972, which remains one of his most famous works, winning admiration from literary critics, including Dr. Ahmed Sarif. He wrote over 200 fiction and non-fiction books-all of which were bestsellers in Bangladesh. This is something unheard of.

Furthermore, Humayun made a huge contribution to the field of fine arts, especially in film. He is hailed as one of the most influential architects of television drama of all time, authoring landmark sitcoms, such as Ei Shob Din Ratri, Bohubrihi, Ayomoy, and Kothao Keu Nei, which featured a fictional character named Baker Bhai, who was wrongly convicted and executed. Baker Bhai became such a popular character that before the last episode was aired, thousands of people across the country urged Humayun to change the script just to save his life, the life of a fictional character. This made Humayun a household name, which allowed him a great deal of autonomy for his future projects, motion pictures. His films have covered many themes and genres-addressing such topics as the Bangladesh Liberation War, the middle class crisis, and socio-economic issues. His first film, Aguner Parashmoni, based on the history of the Bangladesh Liberation War, was a huge success-winning National Film Awards in eight categories, including Best Picture and Best Director. His film, Shyamal Chhaya, was submitted by Bangladesh as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. As with Satyajit Ray, Zahir Raihan, or Tareque Masud, it is difficult to calculate the full effect Humayun had on Bangla film. But he was indisputably the most talented Bengali filmmaker, more so than his three famous predecessors. In fact, I cannot name any other Bengali filmmaker who better illustrated the history of the country's independence through film the way Humayun did; he was ahead of his times. Had Humayun done nothing else, the creation of such films alone would have entitled him to be one of the greatest Bengalis of all time.

It is true that Bengali literature would have remained piteously incomplete, and even imperfect, without the works of Humayun. However, it is also quite apparent that without the works of Tagore or Nazrul, Bengali literature would have broken up into mutually unintelligible dialects. Hence, it is fair to place Humayun after Tagore and Nazrul. However, Humayun never compared himself to Shakespeare, and not even to Tagore and Nazrul. He did not regard himself as a great writer.

In fact, I am sure that if anyone conducted a survey to list the five greatest writers of Bengali literature, Humayun would be third, if not first or second. Furthermore, one should consider what other great people have said about Humayun. Several years ago, I asked Muhammad Yunus how he assessed Humayun's overall impact, and he replied, "Humayun's works are the most profound and most fruitful that literature has experienced since the time of Tagore and Nazrul." Al Mahmud, the poet laureate of Bangladesh, told me something similar: "One golden age of Bengali literature ended with Tagore and Nazrul and another began with Humayun." Fiction writer Imdadul Haq Milon considered him to be the almighty lord of his Bengali literature, controlling all their actions and thoughts. If so, he is a generous lord, who is great because he created immortal characters, such as Misir Ali and Himu, and they, on entering our memory, become more alive than the living. Misir Ali is basically a rational psychologist committed to unraveling the mysteries around him through logic. On the other hand, Himu, who works with anti-logic, appears to possess strong intuitive power, though he dismisses his intuitions that come true as mere coincidence. Misir Ali forces us to realize that logic is above emotion, and Himu forces us to understand within ourselves that the better side of our nature should always struggle for dominance with our subtle dark side.

Although Humayun created literary fever through his works, which spread all around Bangladesh, unfortunately he still remained one of the great unsung heroes of human progress to those who live outside of the Indian subcontinent. With that said, literature, of course, is not all about recognition. Still, the fact that Stockholm did not ultimately embrace Humayun Ahmed-a Nobel Prize, why not?-is unfortunate, as it probably would have meant a lot to him. In a time when hardly any of the roles (including Hasina, who is playing the role of Prime Minister) are being played correctly in Bangladesh, Humayun played the role that was assigned to him well: writer and filmmaker. As a result, his name has become synonymous with the greatness of Bengali literature. Hence, to a Bangladeshi, his loss is manifold. He made young people-especially students who had been bred to political passion-understand that there was something that is more important than politics: reading books, and appreciating the fine arts.

Rashidul Bari, a biographer of Muhammad Yunus, most recently authored the Grameen Social Business Model: A Manifesto for Proletariat Revolution.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Transparency International politically dirtied in Bangladesh

Internationally known anti-graft organization Transparency International has been accused of being fully influenced and polarized by members and activists of anti-West left wing political parties in Bangladesh. According to information, activities of Transparency International [TI] in Bangladesh continues under the cover of an organization named "Swacheton Nagorik Committee" [Conscious Citizen's Committee], which operates 45 branches of its working for TI through 45 committees throughout Bangladesh. Out of 625 members of these 45 committees, 314 directly belong to Bangladesh Awami League [which believes in socialist political method and opposes free market economy as well as the West] while rest belong to left-wing political parties and fronts such as Communist Party of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Socialist Party, Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal [National Socialist Party], Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal [Bangladesh Socialist Party] etc. There are 5 members of these committees who belong to Jatiyo Party, which is led by former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad and which believes in establishment of Sharia law in Bangladesh. 

Many of these 314 members of the "Swacheton Nagorik Committee" [Conscious Citizen's Committee] are actively involved in politics and are holding posts in various committees of Bangladesh Awami League.

There are also members of other political parties in the "Swacheton Nagorik Committee" [Conscious Citizen's Committee]. According to information, there are 44 members in "Swacheton Nagorik Committee", who belong to Bangladesh Nationalist Party or Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami as well as some of its Islamist alliances.

Most of the members of the Trustee Board of Transparency International in Bangladesh either are direct members of Bangladesh Awami League or had vehement supporter of this political party. Because of such situation, Transparency International in Bangladesh has been totally unable in providing accurate information to its global headquarters on the current state of high-profile corruption as well as spread of corruption in every sector in Bangladesh during current rule of Bangladesh Awami League led left alliance government. It may be mentioned here that, World Bank cancelled its earlier plan of financing Padma Bridge [the largest proposed bridge in Bangladesh] due to massive corruption during the preparatory stage. Following such strong allegation supported by evidences and documents, the communication minister in Bangladesh had to finally quit from his post in order to give opportunity to the ruling party is re-persuading the loan issue with the World Bank. 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

THE MURDER OF ARAFAT : How the Israeli quintet indicted itself

“We have to get rid of Arafat”
~Israeli defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to Prime Minister Sharon caught on an open mic
Source: Daily Haaretz, Tel Aviv (Hebrew)
“We operated against Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi [two Palestinian leaders extra judicially assassinated by Israel] when we thought the time was suitable. On the matter of Arafat we’ll operate in the same way, when we find the convenient and suitable time. One needs to find the time and to do what has to be done.”
- Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to Ma’ariv newspaper
Source: The Guardian
Yasser Arafat may be dead, but for all intents and purposes he lives on and continues to be a thorn in Israel’s side. Earlier this month a Swiss doctor announced that high levels of toxic polonium-210 were found on some of Arafat’s belongings. Polonium-210 is a highly radioactive substance, one that would require a nuclear reactor and expertise to produce and handle. Israel, being a nuclear power and having publicly expressed a motive for Arafat’s “elimination,” fits the description.
Swiss doctor Francois Bochud, director of the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland, was quoted in the report on a nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera that “We have evidence there is too much polonium, but we also have hints from the medical records that this may not be the case. The only way to resolve this anomaly would be by testing the body.”
If exhumation and examination of Arafat’s body (currently reposing in its tomb, located a  half a kilometre from my home) seven years after his death reveals the presence of polonium-210, the question demanding an answer will be: who killed him and why?
It may seem a futile task to focus on a single person’s death when the region is engulfed in wholesale killing, until, that is, you realize that the killing of Arafat was meant to be an accelerator in the process of bringing about the wholesale demise of an entire indigenous people.
A Palestinian attorney in the Galilee has pointed the finger at those he believes are most likely responsible for the murder of former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. The accused are named and their histories cited; their own words indict them, and their acts of sustained violence speak volumes.
The charge sheet incriminates five of Israel’s top brass:
1.    Ariel Sharon, in his capacity as Prime Minister of the Government of Israel, 2001-2006 (currently reported as being clinically dead);
2.    Avi Dichter, as head of the Shin Bet (Israeli internal security), 2000-2005 (Member of Knesset for Kadima Party);
3.    Shaul Mofaz, in his capacity as Israeli Minister of Defense, 2003-2006 (now leader of the Kadima Party);
4.    Moshe Ya’alon, in his capacity as Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, 2003-2005 (now a Deputy Prime Minister of Israel);
5.    Meir Dagan, as Director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2011 (currently a leader of a movement called “Yesh Sikkui”).
The person who has made these accusations is Palestinian-Arab Israeli writer and lawyer, Sabri Jiryis, a graduate of the Hebrew University law faculty and a prominent Palestinian activist with Arafat’s political party, Fatah. For a long time, Mr. Jiryis served as Arafat’s adviser on Israeli affairs as well as serving as the director of the Palestine Research Centre in Lebanon and later in Cyprus. He was one of Arafat’s confidants for decades, until Arafat’s death.
Mr. Jiryis has just posted on his website a revealing analysis of the historic context leading up to Arafat’s assassination, entitled: Arafat’s Murder – The Crime and its Ramifications. The essay was posted in Arabic which may limit the non-Arabic-speaking world’s benefit from this insider’s exposé.
Bottom line: Mr. Jiryis meticulously assembles and presents hard evidence demonstrating why these five Israeli leaders, in particular, should be brought before a court of justice. His analysis offers no words of rage or revenge but rather a cold, clinical review of a systematic series of actions and statements by each of these Israeli leaders which would logically bring any objective observer to the conclusion that, if justice is to be served, these five persons should be charged with Arafat’s murder and put on trial.
Following the Al-Jazeera airing of their documentary concluding that Arafat may have been poisoned by radioactive polonium, Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, ordered an investigation into Arafat’s death. In reply, in Cairo, on July 17, 2012, the Arab League set up an independent committee to probe the death of the iconic former Palestinian leader.
As the independent investigation committee embarks on its mandate, Mr. Jiryis’ analysis can make an important contribution by putting Arafat’s murder into historical context. Israeli leaders have employed murder, assassination and mass slaughter ever since Israel’s founding, and before. The reins of power in Israel remain in the hands of those who seek to murder the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence. 
Meantime, when Arafat’s turn finally came, the trail of evidence left behind was so glaring that it would be an insult to humanity if those responsible are not brought to justice.
Whatever happens with this renewed effort to determine how Arafat died and who was behind his death, the Palestinian struggle for emancipation from 65 years of dispossession and 45 years of military occupation will not end. The idea that Palestinians are going to wake up one morning and decide to enjoy life under Israeli military occupation or as refugees is simply hallucinatory, as any thoughtful reading of world history would indicate.
Historic twists of fate are unpredictable, with many ironic overtones. Maybe, just maybe, the analysis by an Israeli-trained Palestinian attorney together with the clues to be found in Arafat’s dead body will usher in a long-overdue era of Israeli accountability for crimes against the Palestinian people.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant. He frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at 

Sheikh Hasina’s ‘Hard Talk’ with BBC World

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her Hard Talk interview with BBC World in London, broadcast four times on July 31, was patently hitting hard at her interviewer, hurling back questions in response to questions.

She simply stuck to her guns, unwavering about her expressed position, right or wrong, over her own versions of factual and statistical representation (or misrepresentation) of issues raised. Nevertheless, the interviewer Stephen Sackur, by dint of well-researched, polite and incisive questions, left the general impression that our poor country Bangladesh was in trouble, at the dire mercy of an illiberal ruler and a self-righteous blusterer.

As a sample, I quote hereunder a section of the interview wherein she evades a straight answer to why she was refusing to publish the World Bank’s letters about alleged corruption in the Padma Bridge project:

BBC: The World Bank sent a letter outlining their concerns, there were at least four different itemised concerns about corruption, now you have the opportunity to publish that letter to tell the Bangladeshi people exactly what the concerns were. You constantly refused to do that, why will you not publish that letter?

PM: You cannot do that because there is an embargo.

BBC: No, the World Bank is happy to do that.

PM: No it is not true. They cannot do it.

BBC: Of course they can, they say …

PM: Then ask them to publish.

BBC: But they say they cannot publish.

PM: Why not? Why not?

BBC: Because that’s how World Bank’s relationship with individual states work. You have the right, they do not.

PM: Listen, the letter doesn’t mean anything. They could not supply any substantial proof with that letter. Just a letter cannot prove there is corruption. Time and again we asked them [for proof].

BBC: The opposition says that the letter points at you and other senior figures of your government, is that true?

PM: Listen, you can point at anybody and the opposition can do it. It is the opposition’s job. My point is, our Anti-Corruption Commission is already investigating it and they asked the World Bank to send all the documents and they refused to send. Now my question is if they have substantial proof why they refused to send all the papers and documents they have? They are not giving [those], I personally want it. At first, they sent two letters to me that was not my government, not my ministers. I pointed out this was the previous government. So you give me the proof. Twice they did it but they could not prove. So, unnecessarily you cannot just accuse anyone without substantial proof ... that is important.

BBC: Prime Minister, let me put it this way. It seems a shame for the Bangladeshi people, many of them living in dire poverty that your relationship with the World Bank has soured so badly. It also seems a shame for the Bangladeshi people that your relationship with one of the most respected business leaders in your country, the Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus has also soured so badly.

Indeed, the suggestion that Sheikh Hasina’s own name came up on account of close family members who might have been implicated in a World Bank letter on Padma Bridge project appears to have been derived from wild speculations amongst white-collared Bangladeshis settled or in sojourn abroad. Rumour is rife in North America that a couple of her close relations came under investigation of Canadian Mounted Police who have already prosecuted two functionaries of a big consultancy company on charges of a bribery deal. The couple is said to have fled Canada. Their passports may have been impounded or cancelled in absentia. In Bangladesh also, BNP leader Barrister Moudud is said to have hinted in a television talk-show that he heard about close relations of the Prime Minister who have fled North America under the shadow of corruption investigations, and they now live in Bangladesh unable to go back.

In North America, it is further rumoured that Bangladesh Prime Minister’s renewed moves to pin down Grameen Bank founder Professor Mohammad Yunus for financial irregularities are prompted by her desperation to find a quid pro quo bargaining chip for out-of-court “political” settlement of charges under investigation against her close relations. Her advisers are rumoured to have cited the example of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, who made “political bargains” with the USA to persuade the-then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to promulgate a law to condone and by state intervention halt the proceedings in a Swiss court against Zardari and Benazir Bhutto. Unfortunately, the rumours suggest, there is no political meat in the bargain purported to be sought by Sheikh Hasina, whereas clearance for Benazir-Zardari for return to power game in Pakistan in the context of America’s war in Afghanistan and a failing Musharraf in Pakistan was a weighty geopolitical choice, however unsavoury.

Bangladesh Prime Minister’s latest moves against Professor Yunus also appear to have stumbled on a false start. By cabinet decision, Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) were ordered to find out whether the earnings abroad of Prof. Yunus and foreign contributions obtained by him for Grameen Bank and other companies were regular and properly taxed. It transpired that Grameen Bank has been allowed tax-free status on all forms of income by the NBR up to December 2015. Capital inputs are not taxable any way. Under a gazette notification by the Internal Resources Division dated 13 July, 2004, all foreign earnings brought into Bangladesh was declared tax-free, irrespective of the beneficiary being resident or non-resident in Bangladesh. The Grameen Companies are registered with the Income Tax Department as regular tax-payers. The basis for investigation for possible tax-evasion therefore hardly holds.

The other investigation instituted by cabinet order is whether the salaries drawn by Professor Yunus as Managing Director, after he became age-barred under Bangladesh Bank regulation of age limit for Commercial Bank Managing Directors (Grameen Bank is not a commercial bank and was formed under a separate act), were illegally drawn. Professor Yunus obtained only due-remunerations for his services. If there was any irregularity in his continuing as Managing Director, the onus lied with the Board of Directors including government representatives who appointed him and insisted on his continuing in service, and with Bangladesh Bank which failed to raise any objection until 2010. The appointee cannot be held responsible for being duly remunerated for duties performed. The witch-hunt is therefore more for propaganda than for substance.

It is for propaganda without substance again that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made, in her BBC-World interview, a faux pas claiming that her government has reduced poverty by 10% in 3 years compared to meagre performance by Grameen Bank. Here is what she said:

BBC: Why did you call him (Prof. Mohammad Yunus) a bloodsucker of the poor?

PM: You go to Bangladesh, you see with your eyes, then you will see. But how could he say I said it? Did I mention his name? I didn’t. I said someone. But why it occurred in your mind …

BBC: Sorry, so let’s be clear about this. So are you now denying that you have said Mohammad Yunus is a bloodsucker of the poor?

PM: No, I am not denying anything. I am putting a question to you, why it occurred in your mind that it is him? Why?

BBC: I have been reading the Bangladeshi press, everybody it seems in the Bangladeshi media believes that you referred to him directly when you used this phrase “a bloodsucker of the poor.” If you want to retract or if you want to tell me you didn’t mean him, then that’s fine.

PM: Listen, listen, I am telling one thing. Taking interest 40%, 30% or 45% from these poor people—is it fair? It is not. How can these poor people stand by themselves? If you lend money and take 35 to 45% interest, it’s a shame.

BBC: So the entire model built by Grameen Bank and Mohammad Yunus which has been celebrated around the world as a way of lifting poor people out of poverty—you are saying you do not accept it, you do not want it.

PM: I want that there should be an enquiry [to know] how many people have come out from poverty because of that. If there’s one village, how many people? Poverty reduction has been done by my government. Within three years we reduced poverty by 10%. So it is our government. And about this Grameen Bank, it is a government statutory body ... it was established by government.

The Prime Minister conveniently forgot that over three decades, poor members of Grameen Bank had saved bit by bit to build 97% of the capital of Grameen, which is also their bank by existing statue, whereas the government failed to place reciprocal capital contribution after the initial share money, and was thereby reduced to 3% shareholding only. Her suggestion that Grameen is a Government bank comes from command economy mentality. If the Grameen Bank Act makes it a government body, then any Chamber of Commerce and Industry or any sectoral Association functioning under relevant statutes also becomes a government body. A private members’ club wherein government servants have special privileges and are registered under Societies’ Act also becomes a government body. They are not. They are simply government-recognised bodies.

Speaking about poverty reduction, citizenry in Bangladesh see it and know very well, even if the outside world may not, that in three years of Sheikh Hasina’s current rule, the poor have become poorer by sustained price spiral and crises in all sectors of production and employment. Small savers have been pauperised by chronic sickness of the share markets after repeated scams. Even the vulnerable group development or other welfare and relief programmes of the government have only nominally reached the poor after meeting heavy rent-seeking demands of government functionaries and ruling party spongers at various levels. On paper there is no real statistical evidence of poverty reduction either in the last three years. There is evidence of growth that fed fat racketeers and land grabbers, and bloated the black economy under government protection and beyond the reach of the poor.

The BBC interviewer Stephen Sackur saved his trump card in his HARD talk with Sheikh Hasina till near the end. He candidly suggested that perhaps it was time for Sheikh Hasina (and Khaleda Zia) to step down to allow “new” leadership to step in and run Bangladesh affairs. Here is the vainglorious rebuttal he obtained:

PM: We have the vision—Vision 2021. Already we have adopted our programmes, the sixth five-year plan for dynamic development. We have already started implementing it. And up to 2021, we have mission to develop the country and the long term programme. So I believe that I can bring change because my politics is for people. I do politics not only to bring changes to our politics but also I want to make sure that our people get their basic needs, fundamental rights, and through that way I am working. So I believe that only I can do it.

BBC: As you said this, another question popped up in my mind. “Only I can do this,” you said. In Bangladesh, there is a long struggle between you and Khaleda Zia. So the best thing for Bangladesh is introducing a different political view. So leave the stage for new.
PM: If people want.

BBC: You want to run the country again.

PM: Of course, I will do, if my party permits me. If my people permit me. I do politics for my people, for my party. I mean it is not “I”, it is my party. Actually, I should have used the word “our.”

BY :   Sadeq Khan.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

BOOK ON MOSSAD CONFIRMS Israel murdered Iranian nuclear scientists

Washington is attempting to redraw the political map of the entire Middle East. It threatens not only region-wide conflict but the involvement of the powers it is trying to exclude from this area of vital geostrategic concern, Russia and China.
It has worked with a motley collection of pseudo-liberals, Islamists and ex-regime loyalists to launch a NATO-led war against Libya and now to topple the Assad regime in Syria. In each case, the US is relying on political forces backed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Turkey.
Published on July 7, “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars” written by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, is a vivid history of Israel’s intelligence services led by Mossad. The book unequivocally states that Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, assassinated five of Iran’s top nuclear scientists over the last five years, as part of a broader campaign aimed at sabotaging the country’s nuclear programme.
It is already widely acknowledged that the Western powers are mounting a covert terrorist campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But new allegations – by authors Yossi Melman, a leading Israeli military and intelligence journalist who writes for Ha’aretz, and Dan Raviv, a CBS national political correspondent – reveal that the assassinations were all carried out by Mossad operatives who used “safe houses” maintained inside Iran since the Shah’s era.
These were not contract killings, but “blue and white” operations—a reference to the colour of Israel’s flag. Mossad operatives from Kidon, a unit responsible for assassinations and kidnappings, conducted the murders.
The authors of ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ are not left-wingers seeking to expose Mossad’s criminality.
 They glorify its services to Israel. Melman is on record as supporting an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, penning an article in Ha’aretz in April 2009 headlined, “I would advise Netanyahu to attack Iran—Such a move would serve the interests of the West and the Arab world, but they can ill afford to admit it”.
Iranian Jews, Wikileaks
The book suggests that most of the assassins were Israelis of Iranian origin who probably held dual nationality and an Iranian passport. Tens of thousands of Iranian Jews left Iran after the 1979 revolution, many moving to Israel. Mossad selected and trained a few of them or their Farsi-speaking children. These agents have been able to access Iran regularly by numerous routes, including the Kurdish region and some of the states in the Caspian Basin, such as Azerbaijan, with which Israel has close relations.
US State Department cables in 2007 released by Wikileaks indicate that Mossad had planned to use its established links with disaffected minority groups in Iran—Baluchi, Azeri and Kurdish minorities, including Islamist groups—to delay Iran’s nuclear project. Mossad chief Meir Dagan rejected subcontracting such sensitive missions as assassinations in Iran’s capital to mercenaries.
The book makes clear that Washington was well aware of Mossad’s campaign of “covert measures” and “counter-proliferation”, if not the timing and specific details, so that the White House could preserve deniability.
“Covert measures”
Last December, nuclear scientist Professor Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, was killed in a car bomb in Tehran after a motorcyclist was seen attaching a magnetic device to his car. The bomb killed Roshan’s bodyguard, who was driving the car, and wounded an 85-year-old passer-by. Roshan was a professor at a Tehran technical university and a supervisor at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. He had met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors days before he was assassinated.
In January 2010, a remote-controlled bomb killed Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a Tehran University nuclear scientist.
In November 2010, another car bomb blast killed Majid Shahriyari, a professor of nuclear engineering at Shahid Behest University.
An attempt to kill Feredeyoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the physics department at Imam Hossein University, failed because he jumped out of his car in time.
In July 2011, gunmen in Tehran shot physicist Dr. Darioush Rezai.
Another scientist died supposedly as a result of carbon monoxide from a heater in his home.
There have been a series of unexplained explosions at Iranian military sites. A November 12, 2011, explosion destroyed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard base at Bid Kaneh, killing 17 people. A massive blast in December 2011 destroyed much of a facility for enriching uranium in Isfahan, killing dozens. One of those who died was Revolutionary Guard Major General Hasan Moghadam, in charge of developing long-range missiles and responsible for liaison with Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Stuxnet virus, sanctions
Mossad’s other strategies included attempts to close down Iran’s international supply chain, shipping faulty components, planting a computer virus known as Stuxnet to disrupt the Siemens computerised system that runs centrifuges in Natanz, and two further cyber attacks, including another computer virus called Duqu.
Melman and Raviv recount how Israel’s determination to preserve its own monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region was behind its attack on September 6, 2007, on al-Kibar, in north-eastern Syria. Mossad believed it housed a nuclear reactor designed by North Korea, whose purpose was to produce plutonium as the fissile material for bombs.
The assassinations serve to intimidate scientists and their families. Mossad intelligence believed that some scientists left the programme and scientists from China, Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere turned down invitations to work in Iran.
The assassination and terror campaign is being waged alongside the imposition of a list of sanctions against Iran by the United States, Europe and other powers. Washington has dispatched aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, amid bellicose statements insisting that “all options” are on the table. There are constant threats from Israel that it will launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did against Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
The book also recounts some of Israel’s highly illegal efforts to develop its own nuclear weapons arsenal, believed to contain at least 200 warheads with the ability to deliver them by intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and aircraft. Israel has never been subject to inspections, as it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Tel Aviv, with Washington’s full backing, routinely denounces Iran as a “state sponsor” of terrorism for providing support to Hamas and Hezbollah, bourgeois nationalist movements that arose in response to Israeli aggression and expansionism, and the Syrian regime of President Assad.
No reliable evidence
Washington and Tel Aviv accuse Tehran of illegally producing enriched uranium that serves as fuel energy or components for medical uses for nuclear weapons, a much more complicated purification process, without citing any reliable evidence. At the same time, the US has approved India’s and Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons outside the framework of the international inspection regime.
For some years, Israel has maintained that Tehran is “just a year away” from being able to produce nuclear weapons. It carries out assassinations, bombings and sabotage campaigns, while the corporate media excuses these crimes and demonises their targets. This is entirely in line with the total silence on the criminal and reckless character of US policy in the region and its hypocrisy in waging a supposed “war on terror” while supporting terrorist actions against regimes it has targeted for removal. Much less will commentators explain the real reasons for the endless provocations against Tehran—US determination to secure its hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East and Caspian region.
Ever since the overthrow of the Shah’s regime in 1979, Washington has been determined to end Iran’s challenge to US strategic interests. Contrary to expectations, the war on Iraq has served to strengthen Iran’s position in the region. This, and the mass movement of the working class that brought down longstanding US allies Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, threatening to destabilise America’s allies in the Gulf, have led the US to pursue its agenda against Tehran ever more recklessly.

PADMA BRIDGE : Country approaching crash landing

“I  bow  my  head  and  apologize  for  causing  concern to  the  people  with  these  incidents “, South  Korea’s  President  Myung- Bak  said  in  a brief  televised  apology  to the  nation for  the  corruption cases  allegedly involving  his   elder  brother and  close  aides. “It breaks my heart that such regrettable things have happened among people close to me”, he added solemnly. His  predecessor  Roh  Moo  Hyun went  up the hill and shot himself  when allegations  of  graft  were  brought  against  him. Before  committing  suicide  he left  a  note which  read: “Too  many  people  suffered  because  of  me and  I  cannot  imagine  the  suffering  they  will  go  through  in  future”.
No  one  ever  apologizes  in  this  country “for  causing  concern  to  the  people”.  Regrettable  things  happening  among people  close to  the  rulers  never  break  their  hearts. People in  authority  consider  themselves  to  be  the  masters  of  the voting  public. Power  and  its  pursuit is  their  only  aim  and  they  are  there  to  wield  it using  the  coercive power  of  the  state  and  manipulating  public affairs.  

About  a  year ago, large  potholes  in the  roads  and  highways  and  cracks  in  the  bridges  rendered  the  country’s  road communication  network  almost  intractable. Outraged  people  took  to  the  streets demanding  resignation  of  the  communication  minister  whom   his  parliamentary  colleagues   censored  for  corruption  and inefficiency. Almost coincidentally  the  World  Bank put  him on the  dock for  his  involvement  in  the  alleged  corruption  conspiracy  in  the  bidding  process  of  the  construction  of  the  Padma bridge . For  long  nine  months  the  agency  kept  on  pressing  the  government   to  take  the  remedial  measures  which  included  removal  of  the  minister as  a  precondition  to  the   disbursement  of  the  soft term credit  repayable in 40  years  with  10  year moratorium. Ultimately  the obstinacy of the  minister  and   foolhardiness  of  the  government  resulted  in scraping   the  credit  agreement, bringing ‘disgrace’, ‘humiliation’, and ‘insult’ to  the  entire  nation.    
The  government, instead  of  apologizing to  the  people   for   its  ineptness and  vulnerability  which  caused  the  national  disgrace, humiliation  and  insult  reacted  in  the  most  intemperate  manner  hurling  counter  accusations and  abuses  at  the International  Bank  for  Reconstruction  and  Development (WB) which  having  reconstructed  the   war  ravaged  western  Europe  and  Japan  dedicated itself  to  the  task  of  creating  a  poverty  free  world. The  outgoing  president  of  the world  organization  became  the  singular  target  of  attack  and the US – the world’s  only  superpower – was dragged  into  the  controversy as a  country  which , according to  the PM and  some cabinet  ministers,  was never  a  friend  of  Bangladesh.  A  cabinet  meeting  was  called  in  indecent  haste  where  it  was decided  that  the  government  would  make  no  further  request to  the  World  Bank  resolving  conclusively  that the  bridge  would  be  built with the  country’s  own  resources. Two bank accounts   were opened to collect the funds. Ministers  donated  a  day’s pay and  kids  in  the primary  schools  agreed  to  donate  their  Tiffin  money. 
One  economist came  up  with  the  device  by  which  an  astronomical  amount  of 90,000 cr taka  can  be  collected  and  with  that  not  one  but  five  bridges  can  be  built. The chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) said in  a  press  conference  on  July  25 that  the  revenue  authority  was  actively  considering imposition  of a  new surcharge to  raise  funds for  the  project. “We  are  working  on  implementing the  cabinet  decision”, he  said and added “The NBR may consider a 10 percent tax rebate on donations to the two bank accounts.”
The  nation  was  shocked  when  a   student of  Rajshahi  university was killed in a scuffle over the sharing of the toll  collected  in the name of the bridge. Earlier the Deputy Leader of the House authorized the student front of the ruling party to collect the tolls. Thereupon the students activists of the party went on a rampage   and  the  situation  came  to  such  a  pass  that  the  Finance  Minister  had  to  issue a statement asking  the public to beat up the  toll  collectors.  Things went beyond control and the Education  Minister Promptly  issued  a  handout warning  stern  action  if any  institution, person  or  teacher  collected  money  in  the  name  of  the  bridge. A  show  cause notice  was  also  served  on  Monipur  school  and  college  in  the  capital  city for  collecting  tolls  for  the construction of the $3.0 billion  bridge over  the mighty river Padma.
All  these  incidents  and  the  government’s  mishandling  of  the  entire  matter  caused  huge  public  uproar  and  the  defiant  minister  who  has  a  track  record  of  passport  forgery  which  is  a  criminal  offence, finally  surrendered  to  the  national  and  international  pressure and  on  24  July   resigned  in  utter  disgrace.  The  country  suffered  loss  of  face  before  the   international  community   and  no apology  was  offered  to  the  people  by  anyone  in  government  for  having  caused  so much  concern  and  indignity. The  Prime  Minister, on  the other hand, praised  the minister as a patriot, stepping up her stinging attacks on  the World  Bank  and  told  her  party men in  London  that it  is  possible  to  build  the  bridge without  foreign  assistance. 
Funnily, her  Finance  Minister  has  been  tracking  in  a  totally  different  terrain. On  24   July  he  came  out with  four  options  on  the  bridge  funding. Under the  first  option, he said, the  government  would  look  to  revive  the  deal  on   the  $2.9 billion  credit  offered  by  four  development  partners, namely  the  WB, ADB, JICA and IDB. The second option would be to form new consortium comprising ADB, JICA and IDB. The third option would be the Malaysian offer. “Building  the  bridge  with  our  own  financing is our fourth and last option, which will be undertaken  only  after  failure  of  the  first  three  options”, he  told  the  reporters.  
“The  JICA  president  is  now  in  Washington  to  have a  meeting  with  the  World  Bank  President”, he  said  adding  that  he  had  requested  the  JICA  chief  to  discuss  the  Padma  bridge issue  with  the  World  Bank  president. The  incumbent  communication  minister  surprised  all  when, on July  27  he  said, “It  is  now  more  important than  the  construction  of  the  Padma  bridge  to  make  the  roads  fit  for  a  smooth  journey”. 
In  the situation, it  is  clear that  people  with  diverse  temperament  have  been  placed  in  positions  of  responsibility where  they  can  indulge  every  whim. Some  pundits  close  to the  ivory  tower  have  suggested  issuing  bonds to  raise  money. It  means  nothing  but  simply  borrowing  money  to  be  repaid  from  future  tax  revenues. These   bonds  are  indeed  an  unmanageable  debt  which  will  be  crushing  as  the  total  national  income remains  static  over time .
The  ruling  class  has  been  behaving  like  a  reckless  driver who  has  lost   control of  his  wheels  in  traffic  jam  and  the  country is  approaching  a crash landing. Inability  to  govern  the  country and  loss  of  popular  support  have  created  a  stress  factor verging  on  recklessness leading  to  insanity . They  are  now  prone  to  give  a  free  play  to  their  prejudices  devoid  of  any  sense  of  reality .  
This  country  has  certain  unique  traits  which  must  be  perceived  in  the  light of  reality  before  going  for  wild  goose  chase. Eighty  percent  of  the  people  here  live  in  the  village  and thirty  percent  live  below poverty  level. The government lives beyond means spending money without regard to accountability.
Expenditure  in  the  revised  budget  is  fatter  and  the  development  budget  thinner. Subsidy represents 18 percent of the total outlay in the budget. In  the   current fiscal  year  there  is  a 14.5  percent  jump  in  subsidy. The reason is soaring price of petroleum and increased fuel consumption by rental power plant. More  than  three-fourth  of  the tax  revenue  comes  from  indirect  tax  which  include the  tax  collected  at  source. Budget allocation for Annual Development Program is 550 billion taka.  By  the  same  coin, the  budget  shows  an  estimated  deficit  of 521 billion  taka. Tax-payer provided   subsidies  for  goods  and  services  are  said  to  be  justified  because  otherwise  the  poor  would  be  unable  to  obtain  those.  But  such  subsidies  are  used  to  finance  things  seldom  used  by the  poor.
Not  everyone  is  equally  efficient  in  building  6.2 kilometre  bridges  over a mighty  river  and not  everyone’s  circumstances  offer  equal  opportunity  to  achieve lower  costs. Padma  bridge  must  be  built  but  it  must  be  cost  effective  providing  proper  service. At  this  stage  empirical  questions  must  be  asked, if  we  are  really  interested  in the  well-being  of  our  people rather  than  an  excitement, perhaps  the  most  important  distinction is  between  what  sounds  good  and works. The  former  may  be  sufficient  for  the purposes  of  politics   but  not  for  economic  advancement of  the people.
BY :  Abu Hena.