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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

Dhaka Diary: “Bangladesh is in the throes of change”

Rabindranath Trivedi from Dhaka, contributing for Asian Tribune

Dhaka, 15 October (Asiantribune.com): In the First Week of October 2007 - In view of the prevailing conditions in Bangladesh, particularly in the backdrop of the public's loss of confidence in politicians, it would be advisable to take the elections as only a first step on the road to a democratic setup while a body/bodies would continue to monitor the activities of the institutions that would sustain democracy in the long run.

It appears that Bangladesh is in the throes of change, and hopefully the changes would herald a new era for the country's people who have paid a dear price for the misadventures and shortcomings of their political leaders in the last three decades.

Bangladesh’s per capita GDP in 2005 in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms was just under US$2,000 compared to India's US$3,486, China's US$6,572 and Malaysia's US$10,843. This scenario can however change and will change if Bangladeshis can garner the necessary political will, have a committed political leadership and good governance.

It is a phase of correction in the country, which for years, had the reputation of being the most corrupt in the world, particularly that few of its political leaders bothered to hide the fact that they were in politics for what they could get out of it. The government said there is no reason for adverse effect on the market if India stops rice export, as there is comfortable stock as well imports in the pipeline. Besides, rice can be imported from Myanmar, Thailand or Vietnam, if necessary.

It is no exaggeration, according to Bangladeshis themselves, that the two women leaders of Awami League and BNP and particularly Khaleda Zia’s BNP led 4-party Alliance, was responsible for plunging the country's politics into a dirty cesspool of inefficient administration, gross abuse of power, corruption, nepotism, favouritism and whatever else contributed to it having earned the name of being among the worst countries in the world.

The head of Bangladesh’s military-backed interim government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, has dismissed the notion that the country is under a “dual rule” — by the military and the civilian administration — and refuted any political role for the armed forces in the government. “I don’t feel the existence of a dual rule”, he said in an interview with the BBC Bangla Service. Mr. Ahmed said, “The army is assisting the civilian government and playing an important role in curbing corruption, improving law and order, distributing flood relief. I don’t see the reflection of their political role through these activities.”

Credit goes to the military-backed caretaker government, which has pledged to spare no-one in its anti-graft drive ahead of elections to be held next year after assuming power in January this year. The latest move by the Anti-Corruption Commission was to file charges against Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman, his wife and mother-in-law on charges of acquiring their wealth illegally. Indeed, it is a matter to be left to the country's judiciary to decide whether the charges are true and could hold up in a court of law.

At the same time, it should not escape anyone' attention that Tarique Rahman served as the joint secretary general of his mother's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and was widely tipped to succeed her before his arrest and imprisonment in March on charges that he extorted $147,000 from a construction company.

This time around the charges are far more serious. He has been charged with amassing more than $700,000 that did not match his legally declared income. The case is described as part of the caretaker regime's "clean-up Bangladesh" campaign that has seen some 150 high-profile suspects -- including politicians, civil servants and business people -- being arrested on corruption charges since January. Khaleda denied charges against her of corruption in awaiting container-handling contacts to local company Gatco and said she gave her nod only after the cabinet purchase committee had approved the deal.

The world that has been watching the agony , soaring price of commodities particularly food stuff and suffering of the ordinary people of Bangladesh for more than three decades might even be ready to overlook charges that the caretaker regime does not always abide by conventions on human rights and consider the resulting charges as the pangs of positive change.

We still have many miles to go before we can really claim to be a responsible democracy. There are many unresolved issues that need to be addressed. In the meantime we should try to be positive and constructive. We, in our own way, should also assist the current Administration to arrive at just decisions (pertaining to criminal cases filed against important political and business personalities) according to due process of law writes Muhammad Zamir a former diplomat.

We have a Chief Adviser who has recently dismissed the notion that the country is presently under a dual rule format. It has also been made clear that, despite the continuing states of emergency, he does not perceive any political role for the Armed Forces. The senior leadership of our Armed Forces has also clearly indicated that they are not interested in the taking over of power, Muhammad Zamir opined in his column in the Daily star.

United Nations, Sept 28 (APP) Bangladesh told the General Assembly that democracy is a “dynamic and continual” process and that the international community can learn from the South Asian country’s efforts at consolidating stability.

“We have learned that democracy is not an event, it is an ongoing process,” Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed said at the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate. “It is not just about casting votes and changing governments; it is about social justice, accountability and empowerment of the people.”

Elections were scheduled in Bangladesh in late January, but following political violence, a state of emergency was declared that month. Since then, a non-party caretaker Government has run the country. Bangladesh has long been plagued by corruption which has severely undermined democracy, he said. Corruption spawned a “winner-takes-all electoral system where the spoils of electoral victory were so great and the stakes of winning so high that the political process became hopelessly polarized, leading to a paralysis in even ordinary governance.”

To allow the nation’s democratic spirit to flourish, “we must first free our politics from the clutches of corruption and violence,” Ahmed added. The challenges ¬ political violence, poor governance and corruption ¬ Bangladesh faces are not unique to developing countries, Ahmed pointed out, since in such nations, especially post-conflict ones, “democracy does not necessarily ensure good governance.” Therefore, the international community needs to deepen its understanding of both the problems and the efforts of the developing world to rebuild their political and social institutions, reports APP.

Cartoonist held

Meanwhile, the police arrested a young cartoonist of a popular Bengali daily on Wednesday. Police said the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, was arrested on charge drawing a cartoon that hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims. The arrest was made by an order of the government, saying that the cartoon published in the latest issue of Alpin, a supplement of the daily Prothom Alo, “has hurt the religious sentiments of the people”.

During last week of September, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has revealed the corrupt practices in NGO sector. “Over the past two decades Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have taken center stage all over the world in matters pertaining to good governance, functioning of democracy, and upholding of human rights and fundamental freedoms. They have also been at the forefront in the fight against corruption, political partisanship and abuse of familial connections writes Muhammad Zamir, former ambassador and secretary to the Bangladesh Government.

Some NGOs have grown an international character and their representations are present in many countries of the world. Some of them, like Bangladesh's "Grameen Bank," or United Kingdom's "Amnesty International" or France's "Medicines sans Frontier," have gained international acceptance, respect and recognition.

Their efforts have been mostly voluntary and have been facilitated through conviction and sincerity of purpose. They have helped in poverty reduction, in gender empowerment, in greater access to healthcare, in the creation of alternative avenues of employment and in the removing of the curse of illiteracy, Muhammad Zamir noted.

In Bangladesh, since the early seventies, NGOs have played a pivotal role. Over the years, they have supplemented the role of the government and helped in opening doors and windows all over the country, particularly in the vast rural hinterland. We have seen how the concept of micro-credit has strengthened credit extension potential for rural women and created self-employment opportunities.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has now stepped into the fray. Interested as they are in mis-governance and corruption, the TIB commissioned a study titled "Problems in good governance in the NGO sector." It has recently been made public, and as expected, unleashed a storm throughout the NGO landscape in Bangladesh. The study took into account the activities of 20 NGOs operating in different districts within the six divisions of Bangladesh. The composition of the NGOs covered included one international NGO, eight national NGOs (operating on a national scale), and eleven local NGOs. The research team came out with certain critical observations in their report.( the daily star,10 October 2007)

Concern over discrimination and attacks on minorities

The report, released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on Saturday,14 September 2007 said, Political discrimination and “attacks” on religious and ethnic minorities continue to be a problem in Bangladesh.

“Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities experienced discrimination and sometimes violence... Harassment of Ahmadiyyas continued along with protests demanding that Ahmadiyyas be declared non-Muslims,” the report said.

The report, said while there is the traditional inter-community amity and citizens were generally free to practise the religion of their choice, “government officials, including the police, were often ineffective in upholding law and order and were sometimes slow to assist religious minority victims of harassment and violence”.

However, the government generally acted in an effective manner to protect the Ahmadiyyas and their property, The period dealt with is that of the government of Khaleda Zia-led coalition that included a four-party Islamist conglomerate.

“Religion exerted a significant influence on politics, and the government was sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens,” said the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 in its Bangladesh chapter.

The report noted, “The government and many civil-society leaders stated that violence against religious minorities normally had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religion”.

It cited reports of what is dubbed as societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice during the period covered by this report.

In its US Government Policy, context, the report added:

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with officials at all levels of the Government as well as with political party leaders and representatives of religious and minority communities. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy emphasized the importance of free and fair elections in early 2007, with a goal of averting the violence religious minorities experienced in 2001. When the elections were postponed and the state of emergency was declared, the Embassy expressed its concern about the need to respect human rights, including the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. Embassy staff traveled to regions of the country investigating human rights cases, including some involving religious minorities, and met with civil society members, NGOs, local religious leaders, and other citizens to discuss concerns about violence during the next election and to encourage law enforcement to take proactive measures to protect the rights of religious minorities. Embassy and visiting U.S. government officials regularly visited members of minority communities to hear their concerns and demonstrate support.”

World Hindu Fed demands 15pc of JS seats for minorities

World Hindu Federation (WHF) Bangladesh chapter on Monday, October 8 called on the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to reserve 15 percent of the parliamentary seats for the minority community and ensure their enlistment in the voter list.

A seven-member delegation of the WHF, in a meeting with the CEC, also demanded that the EC reserve 33 percent of the parliamentary seats by phase for women.

“There are evidences that the minority, including the indigenous people, don't get enrolled in the voter list… Their enrollment and right to franchise should be ensured,” WHF (Bd-Ch) President Shiv Shankar Chakravarti told reporters following the meeting. Shiv Shankar alleged there were incidents of 'torture and repression' on the minority before and after the 2001 election. He said they asked the EC to ensure that such incidents do not take place again, reports Unb, Dhaka.

Leaders of Hindu community urged the Care Taker Government to provide sufficient security for celebrating the Durga Puja, biggest Hindu religious festival in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, beginning on October 17. This year around 20,000 puja mandaps have been erected through out Bangladesh including 153 puja pandels in Dhaka, the capital.(end)

Rabindranath Trivedi, a retired Addle Secretary and former Press Secretary to the President of Bangladesh., author and columnist.

- Asian Tribune -

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