Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Troubled waters

                    A foreign-funded bridge is hostage to murky local politics.

THE biggest infrastructure project in South Asia to be paid for by foreign donors is a $3 billion bridge in Bangladesh intended to span the Padma river, which is what the main branch of the Ganges is called as it flows through its delta to the Bay of Bengal, receiving the flow from the vast Brahmaputra river for good measure.

The bridge is the stuff of donors’ dreams. Its point is to end the isolation of Bangladesh’s poor south-west, home to 30m people who are cut off by these vast waters from the capital, Dhaka, and the rest of the country. 

The region’s isolation is compounded, to the south-west, by a high-security fence along the border with the Indian state of West Bengal; and, to the south, by the tidal Sundarbans, where dense mangrove forests are home to tigers. The proposed 6km (3.8-mile) bridge could be a gateway to India, tying Dhaka to the great metropolis of Kolkata. It is also a crucial piece of an even more ambitious dream of connecting South Asia with South-East Asia, via Bangladesh and Myanmar. Official estimates say the bridge could raise Bangladesh’s annual growth rate by 1.2 percentage points.

The planned bridge, some 40km south-west of the capital, is designed to carry four lanes for traffic, as well as a freight railway and a gas pipeline. Complex works to channel the Padma’s flow are planned. Alas, it is easier to train the 5km-wide river than Bangladesh’s politicians to keep their hands out of the till. In June the World Bank cancelled a $1.2 billion loan, citing alleged corruption by Bangladeshi public servants. The World Bank has identified various officials as being unable to leave the money for the bridge alone. Sacking crooked-seeming officials has, for the World Bank, become a precondition for resuming lending. Bangladeshi newspapers have said that the prime minister’s chief economic adviser, Mashiur Rahman, is in the Bank’s sights. He says he has done nothing wrong and will only resign if the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, tells him to. Regardless of Mr Rahman’s case, Bangladesh has a culture of impunity. Only one senior politician has ever gone to jail under an elected government for corruption, and that was a former dictator.

The Asian Development Bank is more ready than the World Bank to be a cheerleader for the Bangladeshi government and is keen to resuscitate the project. Like the Japan International Co-operation Agency, another backer, it has kept the door open. However, more Bangladeshi officials will have to step down before the World Bank is prepared to return. Probably the government will come back to the table, but not without hectoring its perceived enemies first. Sheikh Hasina has accused Mohammad Yunus, a pioneer of microfinance and a Nobel peace laureate, of putting the World Bank up to walking off.

The Padma bridge project has been in the works for over a decade. Western governments do not want to see it snapped up by a state-backed Chinese company (in return, perhaps, for an equity stake and for economic influence, as has happened with ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan). India, with which Bangladesh has usually had good relations, would do its best to block a high-profile Chinese involvement in its neighbour’s economy.

Sheikh Hasina says Bangladesh will “not beg” from the World Bank. A sense of injured national pride has given rise to the unworkable notion that the bridge must now be built with Bangladesh’s “own resources”. The government is mulling a levy to help finance the bridge.

The only politician openly to reject Sheikh Hasina’s obsession with self-reliance is A.M.A. Muhith, the finance minister and a former World Bank official himself. Mr Muhith is too venerable to be required to call the prime minister “elder sister”. He knows that Bangladesh needs the multilateral agencies: only earlier this year the IMF helped out with a $1 billion loan. Bangladesh relies heavily on Western aid for a vast array of projects that otherwise would not exist. Without the Bank, there can be no bridge.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is livid enough that it will be unable to keep its election promise of building the bridge before the end of 2013. Yet it would be even more appalled if the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Sheikh Hasina’s arch-rival, Khaleda Zia, took office at the next election, bagging credit for the bridge. (That prospect is real: no elected government has won a second term.) And so, in the end, Sheikh Hasina has no strong incentive, other than the country’s best interests, to mollify the World Bank.

Where Shall We Go: No Light in the end of the Tunnel?

Mr. A B M Musa is one of the senior-most journalists in Bangladesh. In a recent gathering he advised everyone to shout “s/he is a thief” as soon as any one connected with the Government is sighted. I am sure that Mr Musa also knows very well that there are still some honest people in the country working for the Government. Apparently one would say that Mr. Musa should not have made such irresponsible utterances. But when you think more deeply you can understand how frustrated Mr. Musa felt with the present state of affairs.

Next day I read something very interesting. Mr. Musa writes about a shipwrecked person in an island full of snakes, crocodiles and other dangerous animals. Then he sees a ship passing-by and waves in desperation. God responded to his call when he found a boat coming from the ship. The man in the boat gave some recent newspapers and said “you should read them and decide if you want to go back Bangladesh or remain in the island”.

When a very respected and elderly journalist like Mr. Musa writes and speaks like that, it is time for us to look at things to its fullest context and think if there is a limit to it or will it go on endless. First let us talk about monetary corruption. I would not like to go on details but would just touch upon a few of them. By now there is hardly anyone in Bangladesh who has not heard about the case of Hallmark group. I understand they took well over four thousand crores of taka from the state-owned Sonali Bank and there is little hope that the bank can recover that money. Yet the finance minister calls it just a minor incident.

Another company known as “Destiny” took money not only from banks but also from innocent public in general. Some of those involved have even run away from the country. By market manipulation some people also made quick money out of stock exchange and most of it has gone out of the country. BEXIMCO group took full advantage of the inflated price of their share to take a huge loan from the bank against shares as security. The price of those shares is now not even 1/10th of the negotiated deal. There is another very interesting case of a mortgaged ship being sold without any reference to the bank. Such things can only happen in Bangladesh.

Now let us talk about the most sensational case – Padma Bridge project. Some people were too eager to make quick money and on the assurances of various contracts took in advance a large sum of money. I believe the transactions took place in Canada. When the Canadian Police started investigating the matter, a young Bangladeshi (also Canadian national) couple slipped out of Canada and returned to Bangladesh. The World Bank who initially promised to finance most of the project withdrew from the project. The WB provided the Government some vital information relating to the corruption. The government initially tried to laugh it out by saying how could there be any corruption when contract have not been awarded. Then for a few days the Government kept on blaming Professor Yunus for the WB decision. Then slowly the cats started emerging out of the bag. One minister has already resigned and another adviser is on the verge of resignation. Perhaps the root of the corruption goes beyond that and it cannot be resolved so easily.

Corruption is now deep rooted at every level of the society. A minister’s APS was caught with a car full of money in sacks on way to minister’s house. The minister resigned. He was still kept in the cabinet as a minister without any portfolio. The Anti-corruption Commission gained full confidence of the government by declaring the minister innocent. The nation soon came to know the identity of two new patriots. They are none other than the ministers who resigned on charges of corruption. If you want to know how wide spread and deep rooted the corruption network is then you have to visit any of the government departments or agencies who are supposed to provide service to the people. Let us start with local police, hospital, port office, customs office, land registry and record office, and then go to relevant offices for gas, electricity, water and to primary school for admission of children. You will soon know that there is only one solution to your problems and that is money. The railway minister admitted his inability to recover railway lands because of the influence of very powerful elements. Similarly the rivers and canals are being filled up by influential people for their use.

We will now take a quick look at the law and order situation. Almost every day one or two dead bodies are recovered from rivers and drains. Police said to have identified the body of garment labour leader Aminul Islam like that. The young journalist couple were murdered in their own bedroom perhaps because they knew too much about government corruption. A BNP leader along with his driver was hijacked from his car never to be seen again. There are others who die in so-called “cross-fire” (extra judicial killing). Countless people die on the roads when a minister advocates for driving licence to be made easier.

But the present Government can be proud of some of its success. It took no time to change the name of the Dhaka Airport to remove the name of Zia from it. It successfully evicted Khaleda Zia from her cantonment house. It hanged most of those responsible for 1975 changes. It brought in the constitutional changes to hold election under the present government instead of a non-party care-taker government. However, their claimed success of dealing with BDR revolt is most debatable. Men in arms revolt is nothing short of sedition. There can be no negotiation or compromise with them. Call for surrender of arms and submit them to lawful authority. Everything else comes after that. The elite forces of the country are maintained to defend the country and they should have been allowed to take necessary action to restore normalcy. The so-called political negotiation with the mutineers resulted into a great loss for the country. One can become a politician overnight but it takes lot of tax-payers’ money, years of training, hard work and dedication to become a colonel or brigadier. The nation can never excuse those responsible for the massacre.

We also suffered in the hands of the opposition when they were in power. We do not know where is the end and where shall we go. 

BY :   F R Chowdhury, UK.

Dark Black clouds are moving around the Financial and Banking horizon of Bangladesh

The modern banking is called the blood line of a national economy. The bank officials are entrusted with that heroic task since its inception. So the heroes were being chosen very carefully, to speak the truth after a thorough surgery of themselves and their forefathers. That venture has ended up roughly over two or so decades ago. 

Actually regulations still are there but not following appropriately. As there is no existence of accountability in any sector of Bangladesh any more. So the word responsibility has taken a bay in the pages of dictionary for decades together. As a result asking for honest jobs and forbiddance for the dishonest jobs has been disappeared from the society of Bangladesh. Even generally no appraisal or appreciations for the noble jobs are being attributed to the due achievers. 

Everybody here is after money, luxury cars and houses. No matter how that was earned! Whoever could achieve those has become a member of the so-called cream of the society. Nomination, bank loans and even the girls are ready for them. So why anybody should be aloof from that when the finance Minister gives open license saying forty billion BTK (four thousand crore) is nothing where total investments are around 4400 billion BTK (four lac forty thousand crore). What a shame! It’s a great shame for whole of the nation. We could ignore it, if the explanation of saying so were okay. Oh salucus! 

The recent Treasury bank scam appears to be the largest and unprecedented banking scams happened on the holy soil of Bangladesh. We all know that Sonali bank of Bangladesh is called the treasury bank of Bangladesh. Who are the makers of these scams, definitely the members of the top-level management of the bank in collaboration with the dealing officers (mere writers)? What are the accelerating agents? Bribery (original beneficiary’s interest), Board of Director’s interest, Primer’s adviser’s interest, Bank Management’s interest and Central bank monitoring team’s interest etc. If the makers did repel on it then it was quite impossible to go ahead with this huge scam. Because it is the bank Management who deals with the documents, (both export and import bills) knew the by-laws still were very much reluctant to act upon appropriately as honesty, responsibility and accountability are absent amongst them. 

We the people fought against the Pakistani tyrant in the year 1971, why and what for? Was it to empower some political thugs in all the public sectors to loot out all our assets, leaving behind bottomless baskets again in the name of Swadhinotar Ghosok/Announcer or Swadhinotar Poshok/Upholder. What a funny! These are verily the scroungers of the society. Independence, sovereignty nothing is safe in their hands. What are they think about it? Do they think people will remain silent generation after generations? Bear in mind this is the time of 21st century! Now people has got a very powerful tool called Media what they did not have even in the near pasts. 

Peoples are looking for solid leadership who can really defend our independence, our sovereignty and cater for peace to all irrespective of castes, creed and sex. Furthermore who can secure our hard earned assets, grooming through the vast manpower properly. 

With full honour and dignity to ex-caretaker Govt. adviser, Mr. Akbar Ali Khan, I would like to very categorically say “Big No” to his recent advice about the resolution of these scams. He said, “Privatization can save the government banks, no govt. could run these banks appropriately in the last 40 years”. Why I repel to his this statement are as follows: 

1. The whole nation did not fight for independence to create new, new giant scroungers. 

2. Since less than two percent holding the 90% of our wealth depriving 98% common people so if everything goes to their hands then 98% people will lose the last resort i.e. breathing place even. 

3. If so, they will have a monopoly type of banking where mass people will be undermined. 

4. Still there are facilities like agri-loans for the poor/day labourers in the nationalized banks. Moreover charges are within the reach of common peoples. Now-a-days banking service has been essential for even the low income groups due to gross structural change of the market economy. 

5. People want to see good governance that value majority people’s expectation and produce dynamic leadership who upholds honesty, sincerity, patriotism and accountability. 

6. During the last 40 years except only a few intermittent, newest tyrants and their evil-souls were in power so the government ventures were not running well. Since we could get free from Pakistani tyrant, inshAllah will be able to overcome this tyranny, motivating our huge manpower to pro-nation and provide them a new life with honesty, sincerity and patriotism by holding firm determination like 1971 again. 

Since I am a banking researcher, so I believe there could be much more small scale ‘Hallmarks.’ To find those out thorough auditing both external and internal is a must. Actually the banking sector has taken local bill purchasing as an alternative way of creating temporary over draft. In most cases, virtually transactions are not taking place. 

The potential banker and the genuine businessman are used to do it for obvious banking reasons. The scrupulous and honest banker will always monitor the total amount of local letter of credit (L/C) against a mother L/C and also verify the validity and originality of the L/C. But unfortunately so far I heard that the Sonali bank in their recently concerned cases did not take any cautionary measures rather allowed opening local L/Cs, even beyond the mother L/C values. What is a gross and planned mistake in collaboration with the unscrupulous directors! How 35.47 billion taka (3547 crore) could be loaned to a filthy company like ‘Hallmark’. Bankers’ duty is not only to scrutinize the documents only but also the net-worth position and back ground of the entrepreneur even their personal life. If any of the concern officials would pay attention to any of the above issues, these could not happen there. So the concerned bankers, directors and entrepreneurs should be taken to task with immediate effect forfeiting their stable and unstable properties. 

On the top of it very soon careful and potential audit team should engage with random auditing to detect other scams that we afraid of coming to light in near future. It is because the banks are the custody of people’s money and dependant on people’s money for their existence. 

On the contrary the Ministry of Finance, Banking Division should take careful steps in allowing recruitments for the banks at the top-level management, with special attention to committed and dynamic leadership qualities, in depth understanding in all area of banking, relevant educational background with analytical skills and potential record of integrity, sincerity and loyalty to people’s money. 

Now I would like to request the honourable civil society members to please get into producing a new generation who will uphold basic human values like honesty, sincerity, patriotism and accountability to the nation. Again obviously will not surrender to the conspirators of our independence and jeopardise our economy and let down our glories from our already proven sectors. 

People now would like to believe that some vested interested groups are working amongst ourselves who would like to blunt our economy (destroying our garments sector, share-market sector, banking sector, other productive industrial sectors and also removing money to secret foreign countries), massacre our glorified Universities, Medical and Engineering Institutes e.g. Dhaka University, Bango-bandhu Medical University and BUET etc. 

In view of the above facts, we would like to urge our various government authorities please look into the country’s interest first and strongly handle all the scams wherever be stumble upon and take them into tasks without any biasness for the sake of our country to bring forth a healthy nation. Peoples are with you. They will not hesitate to jump over the perverted leaders for the safeguard of our country and its long glorified heritage. Oh! Allah, help us and save the country. 

BY :  Borhan Ahmed, UK.