Saturday, June 21, 2008

Polls to 4 city corporations, 9 municipalities Aug 4: Discussion.

Sunday, June 22, 2008 12:39 AM GMT+06:00

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Published On: 2008-06-21
Front Page
Polls to 4 city corporations, 9 municipalities Aug 4
EPR relaxed * 21 days for campaign * Nomination filing by July 3 * Last day for withdrawal July 13
Shakhawat Liton
Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda shows official announcement of the election schedule to journalists at the EC Secretariat yesterday. Photo: STARThe Election Commission (EC) yesterday announced that polls to four city corporations and nine municipalities will be held on August 4, while the caretaker government relaxed the Emergency Powers Rules (EPR) in respective areas allowing campaign processions and rallies.The city corporations of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet, and the municipalities of Manikganj Sadar, Chuadanga Sadar, Shariatpur Sadar, Naohata of Rajshahi, Dupchanchiya of Bogra, Sripur of Gazipur, Fulbaria of Mymensingh, Golapganj of Sylhet and Sitakunda of Chittagong will have the elections.According to the poll schedule published in an official gazette, the last date for submitting applications for candidacy is July 3, while July 6 and 7 are scheduled for scrutinising the applications, and the last date for withdrawing candidatures is July 13.The EC announced the election schedule after the home ministry earlier in the day issued a notification relaxing certain provisions of EPR which had slapped a ban on holding rallies and processions during the state of emergency. Asked about the majority of political parties' opposition to holding local government elections before the parliamentary poll, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda said the commission would not do anything that might hamper holding of the stalled ninth parliamentary poll. "The parliamentary election is our top priority. We are now more than confident…holding of local government polls will not have any adverse impact on the holding of parliamentary poll. Rather it will create an election atmosphere in the country," the CEC said during a news briefing in the EC Secretariat yesterday afternoon. Flanked by two election commissioners Muhammed Sohul Hussain and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain, CEC Huda also said opposing the local government polls is a political matter for the opposer."There is no politics in local government elections since those are non-partisan polls," stressed Huda, who has been leading the EC since it was reconstituted by the military backed caretaker government on February 14 last year.The relaxation of EPR aimed at facilitating electioneering, however, has a caveat that the campaign processions and rallies will be allowed only within the electoral areas during the stipulated campaign period in line with already promulgated new rules and code of conduct for city corporation and municipality elections.Candidates will have 21 days, from the day after the last date for withdrawal of candidatures, to carry out their election campaigns.Asked whether the EC is satisfied with the relaxation of EPR, the CEC replied, "Candidates will be allowed to carry out all types of electoral activities. If any body faces restrictions, we will look into the matter, and deal with the government," he assured. About the restrictions imposed on election campaigns by the new electoral rules, the CEC said the rules slapped a strict ban on brining out processions to show off strength at the time of filing applications for candidacy. It also prohibited indiscriminate pasting of posters and scrawling of graffiti on walls, he said. "A candidature will be cancelled if the candidate violates the restrictions," CEC Huda warned. The restrictions have been imposed to reduce election expenditure so honest and competent candidates may get a chance to contest in the polls, the election chief explained. After a break of over a year and a half, the EC is finally about to start holding elections again. The CEC also said the commission could have held the polls a month and a half ago. "We were fully prepared to do it. But the local government ministry could not finish framing the fresh laws for the local government system at that time," he said. The commission is trying to follow the electoral roadmap announced by itself on July 15 last year, which stipulated that local government polls will be held before the parliamentary poll, wherever voter lists will be ready, the CEC added. According to the roadmap, local government elections were supposed to start being held in January of this year."We are embarrassed of our failure to start holding local government elections according to the roadmap. But since we can start it now, why wouldn't we?" the CEC said. A prospective candidate must submit filled out official application forms of 14 pages providing a lot of personal information under the new electoral laws. About the lengthy application forms and the concomitant difficulties of filling those out, the CEC said the commission will organise workshops in respective city corporations and municipalities to assist candidacy seekers in filling out the forms. It already held a workshop in Sylhet City Corporation on June 18, he added. POLL OFFICIALSThrough another official gazette the EC appointed four divisional deputy election commissioners as returning officers (RO) for the respective four city corporations where the August 4 elections will be held. District election officers of the districts adjacent to the four city corporations were appointed as assistant returning officers (ARO) for respective corporations. Additional divisional commissioners (overall) of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet divisions were appointed as the electoral appellate authorities for respective city corporations for settling disputes and claims during scrutiny of applications for candidacy. The commission also appointed upazila executive officers, popularly known as UNOs, as ROs for six of the nine municipalities, excepting Shariatpur, Manikganj and Chuadanga for which additional deputy commissioners (general) of the respective districts were made ROs. Upazila election officers were appointed as AROs for the six municipalities, while district election officers were appointed as the AROs for Shariatpur, Manikganj and Chuadanga. Deputy commissioners of respective districts were appointed as the electoral appellate authorities for the nine municipalities.

Please let us know what you think about this schedule for Municipal and City Corporations election:

Friday, August 03, 2007

BD Flood Photos

Photo: AFP


Photo: Farzana Khan

Change Bangladesh Org, USA targets to raise US$10 Million for the flood victims

Tuesday July 31 2007 16:13:48 PM BDT
M. M. Chowdhury, USA

We have seen that so much effort and relentless hard work by our people in Bangladesh and Abroad to save the two leaders for not going to jail. I am thinking if they use their effort and money to save the disadvantage and incoming flood effected people in Bangladesh, quite a bit number of people will be saved.I will be observing what those so called party people do in the upcoming natural disaster (flood) situation in Bangladesh. They should prove that all human being are same, so they should exhort huge support to save millions of flood affected people in Bangladesh like they did to the two political leaders in Bangladesh.I will also urge those political party branches in USA, UK, CANADA, NEWZEALAND, and other countries to make a unified effort to help those flood affected people if they really care about Bangladesh.I will do as much as possible through Change Bangladesh Organization, USA ( to raise money for the flood victim. We have at least 5 lack Bangladeshi living in USA, if every body donate at least US$20 to the fund created by the Change Bangladesh Organization, we can send at least US$10 Million or 70 Crore BD Taka to Bangladesh to help those affected people. Change Bangladesh Organization, USA will pay for the administration cost to collect and send this money to various credential NGOs in Bangladesh. So all your contribution will be send directly to the victims. This is our promise and this is our goal.CTG should do the followings:

1) Form a unit within the Govt who will lead the operation.

2) Start the procurement of rice, dal, oil, drinking water and other necessary items and build up the storage now.

3) Allocate at least TK 500 Crore to this flood fund now.

4) If items need to be imported, start the negotiation with the foreign suppliers now.

5) Talk to UN and explain the coming flood situation in Bangladesh where at least projected 90 Million people will be affected. Ask UN to disburse some disaster fund to control the food and shelter crises in Bangladesh . UN has a budget to help in this kind of disaster situation.

6) Govt should start identifying the channels/persons how this disaster relief will be distributed. Develop master plan/strategies now.

7) Govt should do an assessment which areas will be affected most and how much relief to be distributed.

8) Govt should assess what they have and how long it can run with the stored items. This will not be exact to know but at least Govt should be in ball park estimate.

9) Govt should assess and identify the roads and communication channels. What will be difficult and what alternative or options they have to disburse the relief item to the affected people.

10) Govt should identify the shelter location and how many shelters should be around the country.

11) Govt should use its embassies around the world to talk to respectable countries to help in this dire situation.

12) Govt should identify the industries to be affected and what actions should be action to save those industries.We as individuals living abroad have a role to play in this disaster situation by setting up relief fund in respectable countries, get involve in the media to advertise the situation. As most of you know, when people know the disaster through media, public support pours (i.e. Pakistan got US$ 5 Billion for earthquake victims, Tsunami affected countries got US$7 billion dollars from the world community, etc).

Eng. M. M. Chowdhury, Atlanta, USA CEO, Amreteck LLC, USA
Director of Operation, Change Bangladesh Organization, USA (Portfolio: Foreign Investment, Economic Opportunity & Job Creation)
Web Link:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Flood Situation Worsens - Marooned people cry for drinking water

Flood-affected people of Ranigram in Sirajganj dismantle their homes and move to higher grounds yesterday as the flood situation in the district worsens. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain

Vol. 5 Num 1127
Wed. August 01, 2007

Front Page
Flood Situation WorsensMarooned people cry for drinking water

Star Report

The flood situation continued to deteriorate in most flood-affected districts yesterday while scarcity of drinking water has become a serious problem for the marooned people exposing them to various water-borne diseases.
Five people, including three children, died by drowning in floodwater in Ullapara and Sadar upazila of Sirajganj yesterday while another child died in Gaibandha.
Meanwhile, Chief Adviser to the Caretaker Government Fakhruddin Ahmed is to visit the flood-affected areas of Kurigram and Sirajganj today.
He will visit flood-affected areas and distribute relief materials to the destitute people, reports UNB. Fakhruddin, who will be accompanied by Food and Disaster Management Adviser Tapan Chowdhury, will return to Dhaka in the afternoon.
Many, mostly the poor, people who took shelter on higher lands and flood protection embankments, are running short of food and have became helpless due to loss of their livelihoods, reports The Daily Star correspondents Hasibur Rahman Bilu and Golam Mostafa Jibon from Sirajganj.
Women and children are bearing the brunt of this crisis as many mothers cannot breastfeed their children.
Syeda Begum, 20, one of over 12,000 people who took shelter on Ranigram embankment in Sirajganj, said she could not breastfeed her three-month-old boy, as she had nothing to eat for a day.
“We have no food left for tomorrow and we are drinking impure water as all the tube wells went under water," said Josna Begum, 60, of Khokshabari in Sirajganj Sadar upazila.
There are around 2,000 children, along with their mothers, on the Ranigram embankment where there are no toilets. "We are in real trouble here, there is nobody to help us," said Ankhi, 24, mother of a six-year-old.
Carpenter Jahurul Islam, 30 of Khokshabari upazila, said he has been borrowing rice to feed his seven-member family, as he could not find work for the last 12 days. "We require rice worth Tk 66 a day. I do not know how I will repay the debt," he said.
Lakshmi Bewa, 45, of Kawakhola char said the flood washed away her house, furniture and paddy on the field. "We took shelter on the western embankment of Jamuna. We managed to keep our children half-fed but the grownups are passing days without food."
The Sirajganj flood control room said it has asked the Department of Public Health and Engineering to provide water treatment systems in the flood-affected areas. Apart from one such treatment facility belonging to Unicef at Ranigram embankment, no such facilities were found in the district.
Neck-deep floodwater forced almost all shops, kitchen markets, clinics in Sirajganj Sadar to close, leaving the marooned people helpless. "I have never seen such devastating flood. The flood in 1988 was not so devastating," 65-year-old Hazrat Ali told The Daily Star.
Inundated by floodwater, communication between Kazipur and Sirajganj and Sirajganj and Bogra snapped. Power outage has also worsened as several electric poles were uprooted.
According to Water Development Board (WDB), at least four lakh people in nine upazilas of Sirajganj are marooned.
Roads and Highways Department officials said at least 120 roads in the district went under water and most of these were completely or partially damaged. District administration said it set up 200 shelter centres in different places where over 60,000 people are staying.
At least 173 tonnes of rice and Tk 4 lakh in cash have been allocated for relief.
Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) yesterday reported that water level of the Jamuna has started to fall upstream at Noonkhawa and Chilmari points while it continues to rise downstream at Bahadurabad, Sirajganj and Aricha.
The Jamuna was flowing 56cm, 75cm, 88cm, 112cm and 100cm above danger levels at Noonkhawa, Chilmari, Bahadurabad, Sirajganj and Aricha.
The water levels of the Dharla and the Teesta are falling but still flowing over the danger levels at Kurigram.
The flood situations in Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Rangpur, Netrakona, Sunamganj, Sylhet and Bogra are unlikely to aggravate and may even start improving within the next 24 hours. The situations in Jamalpur, Sirajganj, Pabna and Tangail are still deteriorating and expected to start improving within the next two days.
The water level of the Padma continued to rise at all points and was flowing 122cm and 78cm above danger levels at Goalundo and Bhagyakul. The river is likely to swell further in the next 24 hours.
More areas of Manikganj, Munshiganj, Faridpur, Rajbari, Madaripur, Shariatpur and Dohar and Nawabganj upazilas of Dhaka are likely to be inundated soon.
Small rivers surrounding Dhaka and Narayanganj continued to swell and are likely to approach danger levels in the next day or two. The Buriganga was flowing 82cm below danger level yesterday.
The Meghna at Bhairab Bazar continued to swell and was flowing 25cm above danger level yesterday. The Meghna is likely to rise even further inundating more low-lying areas of Narsingdi, Brahmanbaria and Narayanganj.
The flood situation in four upazilas of Gaibandha remained unchanged yesterday, but the Ghagot breached the 500-metre stretch of Gaibandha Town Protection Embankment at Konarpara, our Gaibandha correspondent reports.
A 12-year-old boy Jubayer of Purbopara was washed away by the raging floodwater at Falia.
Acute crisis of drinking water, food and fodder plagues the affected areas. Army personnel from the 17-Artillery Field Regiment are supplying drinking water to flood victims using their own water treatment equipment. Their equipment, however, is not designed to meet such high demand.
Road communication between Gaibandha and Balashighat remained snapped while one kilometre of railway line between Trimohoni and Balashighat went under water suspending rail communication.
At least 159 government primary schools were closed while cropland of 20 villages went under water. Flooding in the district has so far affected over 39,243 families.
Floods have disrupted road communication between Netrakona Sadar and Kalmakanda, Durgapur and Kendua upazilas, our correspondent in Netrakona reports.
Twenty-seven flood shelters were opened in the affected areas. Many of the marooned people who took shelters on higher lands and flood shelters are suffering from food and drinking water shortages.
The Someshwary, Kongsa and Dhanu devoured around 70 more dwellings and are threatening to breach the Dampara Embankment in Purbadhala upazila.
Fish in 10,000 ponds in the district worth around Tk 20 crore were washed away, Netrakona fishery office sources said.
The district administration distributed 18 tonnes of rice and dry food in Durgapur, Kalmakanda and Khaliajuri upazilas, Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) of Netrakona Mizanur Rahman said.
Nagarbari-Paturia ferry service is still out of commission as the Nagarbari ferry terminal went under floodwater several days ago, our correspondent in Manikganj reports.
The diversion road of the previously damaged Dotora Bridge at Ghior went under water yesterday snapping road communications between Manikganj, Dhaka and Ghior, Daulapur upazilas.
According to district Agriculture Extension Department, paddy on 10,7000 hectares and vegetables on 1,600 hectares went under water.
A part of the 200-foot Baruria Bridge on Tangail-Balla Road collapsed due to raging floodwater last evening snapping road link between Tangail and Kalihati, our correspondent in Tangail reports.
At least 10 villages of Tangail Sadar were flooded when a breach developed on a flood control embankment at Bir Nahali. Many new areas went under water when another embankment at Hatia was overpowered by floodwater Monday night.
A total of 61,675 families of Sadar upazila are marooned while crops on 26,591 acres of land were completely damaged, district administration sources said.
Ferry service at Elasin has stopped for the last two days as roads to pontoons went under water. Road communication between Tangail and Nagarpur remains snapped.
Our correspondent in Benapole reports: Floodwater inundated 15 villages, leaving the low-lying areas under two feet of water, as overflowing Damodar river of India flooded Bangladesh territory.
A correspondent from Munshiganj reports Srinagar-Mawa-Bhagyakul flood protection embankment developed a 20-foot breach yesterday inundating more areas. The local administration and the joint forces were working to repair it yesterday.
Flood-affected people of Ranigram in Sirajganj dismantle their homes and move to higher grounds yesterday as the flood situation in the district worsens. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hasina arrested, sent to sub-jail

Awami League President Sheikh Hasina being taken to Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in the capital yesterday. The court sent her to a sub-jail on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban premises. PHOTO: STAR

Hasina arrested, sent to sub-jail Over a thousand law enforcers raid her residence at dawn; she is charged with extorting Tk 3 croreStar Report

The joint forces yesterday arrested Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina at her Dhanmondi residence in the city at around daybreak and later a court sent her to jail on charges of extortion.
Hasina, also a former prime minister, had been detained several times in her 26 years at the helm of AL, all for campaigning against the autocratic regime in the '90s. This is the first time she has been arrested on a specific allegation of criminal offence.
Like it was the case during the rule of former military strongman HM Ershad, she is not entitled to bail under the Emergency Power Rules.
Sources close to her have told The Daily Star that she was bracing herself for what many consider was the inevitable.
Political observers see the arrest as a leap towards the "minus-two theory" that seeks to dethrone Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia who have reigned over the country's politics for years. As of last night, there was however no indication of a move to haul in Khaleda.
Only a day before, the Election Commission (EC) announced a roadmap for the next general election amid bickering in AL and BNP over intra-party reforms.
Insiders say the pro-reform leaders in both the organisations have been working to arrange the councils in a way so their party chiefs cannot attend those. Some analysts believe the arrest might be somehow linked to those plans that reportedly enjoy tacit support from the military-backed interim administration.
In April, the government had tried to force Hasina stay abroad by imposing a ban on her coming home from the UK. But in the face of criticism both at home and abroad, it withdrew the restrictions, leading to a triumphant return for her.
From the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's (CMM) Court, Dhaka, Hasina was taken to the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban complex where a two-storey house built for the deputy speaker has been declared a sub-jail.
At the court, she protested her innocence. She said, "I have done nothing wrong. The charges against me have been brought only to hold me back from the next general election."
On June 13, Managing Director of East Coast Trading Ltd Azam J Chowdhury filed the case at Gulshan Police Station, accusing her of extorting, with others, Tk 2.96 crore from him for the installation work of a 210-megawatt power plant at Siddhirganj.
Some 1,000 members of the joint forces mostly from the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and the police sealed off the Dhanmondi Road No 5 area round about 4:40am in driving rain.
A 30-member dog squad along with at least 100 members of Rab and police entered the Sudha Sadan premises at around 4:50am. Five minutes later, as they rapped on the door, Hasina asked her staff to let them in and tell them to wait on the ground floor.
She said she would see them but not before saying her morning prayers, a personal staffer of her told The Daily Star.
Immediately after gaining entrance, the forces snapped all land phone lines and seized the mobile phones.
Minutes later, Sheikh Hasina came downstairs with her husband. "Why are you here? What wrong do you think I have done?" the staff quoted her as asking the waiting security personnel.
In reply, one said, "We have specific charges against you and we are going to take you to a court."
The last ones to talk to Hasina over phone were her son Sajeeb Wajed Joy and her daughter Saima Wajed Putul, both from the United States, and also her sister Sheikh Rehana. But the conversations ended abruptly as the phone lines were cut.
Earlier on Sunday night, she returned from the Bangabandhu Memorial Bhaban at around 10 and told all her relatives and staff that she was going to be picked up shortly. She asked them not to panic.
At around 2:00am, her police protection was withdrawn. They were ordered to report back to the Rajarbagh Police Lines immediately.
During the two-and-a-half-hour raid, the law enforcers rummaged about all three floors of the building. They also sifted through her files and documents.
At that time, the former premier was accompanied by Wajed Miah and two of her relatives--Shamim and Tutul. Her personal staffers were asked to leave the house at around 5:00am.
The joint forces set up at least three barricades on the road leading to the Sudha Sadan. Hundreds of Rab and police men stood guard throughout a two-kilometre radius of the residence.
They began taking position at 4:40am. Soon around one hundred intelligence officials including those from the military were seen going inside the Sudha Sadan.
At 7:30 in the morning, the AL chief, a never-say-die spirit, was walked into a navy blue SUV with tinted glasses. A 20-vehicle convoy carried her straight to the CMM Court as the road was kept free of traffic.
A smiling and seemingly unwavering Hasina in a white sari and scarf around her head was waving at the TV cameras when she was brought to the court at 7:50am. She was escorted to the courtroom of Magistrate Kamrunnahar through a huge crowd.
There presented, she gave a rousing statement defending herself against the charges when hundreds of AL activists and supporters were chanting slogans outside.
At one stage, some of the party faithful came to blows with the on-duty policemen.
Besides, the AL-backed lawyers clamouring for access to the courtroom had heated arguments with law enforcement officers.
The hearing continued for over two hours. Lawyers spoke alternately for Hasina, but to no avail. The court rejected their plea for bail and set August 15 as the date for the next hearing.
Among others, AL leaders Motia Chowdhury, former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru, Kamrul Islam, Sahara Khatun, Dr Dipu Moni stood for Hasina.
As the proceedings ended, she was whisked off the court premises. But meantime thousands gathered outside as the law enforcers struggled to free the road. The slogans calling for Hasina's release echoed through the area.
As things began to get worse with the AL supporters trying to stop the car carrying Hasina, the police charged baton and fired three rounds of rubber bullet to disperse the angry mob.
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Awami League President Sheikh Hasina being taken to Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in the capital yesterday. The court sent her to a sub-jail on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban premises. PHOTO: STAR

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bangladesh Elections Minus “Three Begums”

Bangladesh Elections Minus “Three Begums”

Tuesday June 26 2007 13:59:53 PM BDT

Source: News from Bangladesh.


By Abdullah Dewan and Kawser Jamal, USA

After arriving in Dhaka on April 3, 2006, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, Patricia Butenis, gave her first major speech exactly 58 days later (June 1 2006) in the American Chamber of Commerce in Dhaka. The speech was written, structured, and delivered in a manner that suggests Ms. Butenis intends to play a prominent role in Bangladesh politics – more specifically, as the third “Begum” along side former Prime Ministers Begum Khaleda Zia and Begum Sheikh Hasina.

The 2202 word speech read like a developing country’s version of the US President’s annual “State of the Union Address” in the US congress in Capital Hill. She said, “Our overarching goal is to help Bangladesh achieve its full potential. As I look forward to the next few years, I intend to work with Bangladesh to strengthen democracy and governance, to support economic growth and development, and to combat the scourge of terrorism, wherever it seeks to take root. To build the future, we must make sure these foundations remain strong.”

As her speech progressed, Patricia spoke about elections, rule of law, human rights, training police and prosecutors, criminal trafficking of women and children, local governance, combating corruption and financial crimes and terrorists’ financing, foreign direct investment, infrastructure development, rising inflation, high fuel and commodity prices, customs and tax regimes, gas and electricity distribution system, family health and combating HIV/AIDS, education and the list goes on and on. Premise

The speech was obviously very uplifting for the impoverished Bengali nation. However, looking back, one finds that the envoy squandered her 14 months tenure by brokering for political reconciliations among the country’s most pigheaded and rancorous politickers.

The US envoy and to a much lesser degree all the EU diplomats- appear to operate under the premise that their diplomatic assignment is to meddle in the internal politics of a sovereign country. A cliché that is often tiptoed around is that being a development partner doesn’t make one a governing partner.

After the 1/11 state of emergency, all visiting foreign envoys and resident diplomats have been courting the favor of the beleaguered politicians by voicing their demands for lifting the emergency, restoring indoor politics and holding “election as soon as possible”, much to the detestation of the country’s intelligentsia and concerned citizens at home and abroad. Thanks to the army backed government for rebuffing all spurious pressures and continued with its focused mission.

In her June 12 farewell speech at the Gulshan Club, Dhaka, Begum Butenis acknowledged the expediency of institutional reforms and proclaimed that corruption is a “long overdue recognition of an insidious disease that saps the nation’s vitality and promise”. However, she failed to emphasize the dimensions of the effort and time that will be needed to pave the way for a free and fair election.

Her suggestion that “the USA among other interested parties and countries would hope to see the elections as soon as possible, not necessarily wait until the end of 2008” is not merely inappropriate—it’s also shortsighted and dangerously rash. Why can’t the US and other countries “necessarily wait until the end of 2008?” Tell us why? In this respect, the Canadian HC Barbara Richardson’s June 3 observation that “the people of Bangladesh would have to decide whether democracy and state of emergency could move together” appears more sensitive to our country’s government and its sovereignty.

At her Gulshan Club speech Begum Butenis made another insinuating statement: "I’m disappointed that I’m leaving Bangladesh with the ban still in place on all political party activity, a ban which doesn’t seem to apply to some behind-the-scenes activity promoting the concept of a new party."

As if that pointed jab at the government wasn’t undiplomatic enough, she continued to remind the government, "However, it’s also clear that a government that is seen to deny the people their fundamental and sovereign right to pick their leaders and determine their future does so at the risk of its legitimacy and legacy."

She gives an impression that she is a sympathizer of the country’s political parties now in dire disarray? We wonder if the US government sent her to Bangladesh to serve the interest of the corrupt politicians there or the interest of the US citizens. Are her statements and assertions propelled by her personal feelings and associations with corrupt politicians, or are they driven from pressures back home? She may have somehow overlooked the surveys which found that over 90% of the people want the reforms consummated before the 2008 elections?

After meeting with Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Ismali leader Matiur Rahman Nizami on June 12 the envoy said "Longer the ban is kept in place, the more difficult it would be to enact reforms, it’s as simple as that,” If it’s so simple why does she think the CTG and intelligentsias here don’t see it that way? Are the people in the government lesser intelligent in any way?Begum Butenis made a lot of friends here—unfortunately, many of them are corrupt politicians who are now languishing in prisons. One would like to know many intellectuals and common citizens she had conversed with and made friends during her 14 months as US envoy? On many occasions, she openly wined and dined with some of our most brazenly corrupt and criminal wrongdoers (e.g.,former state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar, who hosted her farewell party etc.).

What has she accomplished here as US ambassador other than capturing news headlines for meeting and criticizing politicians? Have there been any improvements in any of the issues listed in her virtual “State of the Bangladesh address” on June 1, 2006?

She claimed that her “biggest regret” was that she didn’t did not witness the free, fair and credible elections. What about other issues she so passionately spoke about? Her overreaching goal- which ostensibly was to serve the interests of the common people of Bangladesh, not its throngs of debauched politicians-- now seems nothing more than baldly rhetorical.

There will be a free and fair election in Bangladesh by the end of 2008, save any devastating natural disaster. We will concede that Begum Butenis was a significant player, largely self-imposed, on recent events.

The ‘minus two’ doctrine (two former Prime Ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina) is a politically astute policy and the government must succeed in debilitating the political wings of both Khaleda and Hasina. The planned election “minus the third Begum” the outgoing Begum Patricia Butenis” won’t change anything except that she may be missed from newspaper headlines.

On a personal note, ambassador Butenis said, "I know that some Bangladeshis believe that I was sometimes too outspoken," but rationalized that by suggesting that in a fast and complex world of diplomacy, "Ambassadors must be clear about their country's interests and viewpoints to avoid misunderstanding."

To judge objectively, there was no “misunderstanding” on our part and we find that she was not just “outspoken”- Ms. Butenis openly meddled, apparently beyond her mandated duty, in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and made it look like a client state of America.

Dr. Abdullah Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University and Kawser Jamal is an IT Professional at Little Rock, Arkansas (Board Members of E Mail :

Feel free to comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wall Street Journal and Emergency

The daily star, Bangladesh

Vol. 5 Num 1079

Thu. June 14, 2007


No NonsenseWall Street Journal and emergency

Dr. Abdullah A. Dewan

Yaroslav Trofimov's June 4 Wall Street Journal article, "Bullets and Ballots: Army Takeover in Bangladesh Stalls Key Muslim Democracy," convinced many of us that the article was intended to serve the interests of Bangladeshi politicians and their surrogates living overseas. Even the title of the article offers an exaggerated depiction of what really happened on 1/11.

No one heard an echo of a single bullet being fired, except Yaroslav. On the one hand, he wrote "army intervened to abort a flawed election," and on the other, asserted that democracy was stalled by an army backed government with sinister motives.
Instead of lauding the ongoing institutional reforms, he dismissed them as back-pedaling pretences intended to prolong this version of military rule. Lack of objectivity, and the negative tones of the article are evident in the following paragraph:

"But now the army-installed caretaker government is back-pedaling on its pledge to organize a quick, clean election, and then relinquish authority. And the once-bloodless coup is turning into something more sinister. Since January, an estimated 200,000 people, including hundreds of leading politicians and businessmen, have been jailed under emergency rules that suspend civil rights and outlaw all political activity. According to human-rights groups, scores of others seized by the troops in the middle of the night have been tortured to death or summarily executed."
Many of these statements such as "tortured to death or summarily executed" are indefensible fabrications. Was it a military coup, or intervention by the army to avert "blood letting" and "internal security" explode out of control? Isn't it the calling of the country's defense forces to respond to such an occasion?

The jailing of 200,000 people is another indefensible exaggeration, since Bangladesh prisons do not have the capacity to hold one fourth of that number at one time. Knowing that the government is instituting long awaited reforms that'll facilitate a free and fair election by the end of 2008, but calling the process back-pedaling is deliberately deceptive.
He also quoted Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, who said that the government "is very quickly squandering the goodwill that it had at the beginning. At this point, it's quite clear that he army is running the country. And they're making it pretty clear they don't intend to leave anytime soon."

If the government wants to perpetuate its power, why would it reform the judiciary, the Election Commission, and the Anti-Corruption Commission, ensuring that these institutions will remain constitutionally independent of the executive?
The democracy that existed prior to 1/11 was classified as one of the 55 "flawed democracies," (ranked 75th out of 165 countries) in a global survey released by the Economist Intelligence Unit on November 24, 2006.
The survey identified only 28 full democracies. Hopefully, once the reforms are instituted and a free and fair election is held by December 2008, Bangladesh will emerge as a new member of the fraternity of full democracies.

Foreign journalists must desist from propagating tendentious rhetoric against a country struggling to scramble out of a near collapse. Why is it hard to see that the army isn't running the country? It is only backing the government in law enforcement and the all enveloping anti-corruption drives.

The army does not have the expertise to orchestrate the all encompassing institutional reforms that are underway. Besides, what's wrong if the army is backing the government? The country doesn't belong to the corrupt politicians alone -- it belongs to the army and the people as well.
Is there any other country where a state of emergency coexists with freedom of the media and basic civil rights, as it does in Bangladesh today? Which civil rights are being violated, save the prohibition of political violence, lock-outs, street protests, and industrial blockades?
Why not ask the people on the streets if they know what civil rights they're being denied? Although a moratorium has been enforced on political activities, no one has been detained for open political discourses on television talk shows, living room chats, restaurant meetings, or in newspaper columns.

Yaroslav referred to the concern of 15 US senators over the ongoing "state of emergency" and "custodial deaths" in the country. How seriously should we take these senators' concerns about Bangladesh politics when they are persuaded by lobbyists to react to partisan views? When was the last time these Senators took issue with the human rights (HR) violations in Iraq or in Palestine?

Any law enforcing government would imprison alleged and suspected criminals (terrorists, extortionist, drug traffickers, smugglers, illegal gun owners etc) to restore and maintain law and order and, thus, protect the HR of 145 million law abiding citizens.
When the criminals violate peoples' rights the HR watchdogs call it a law enforcement problem. When the law is enforced they call it HR violations; a classic Catch-22 dilemmas for the government.

There is no question that the government should be transparent about any human rights violations that may have occurred, and must prevent such violations at all cost. Interestingly though, after the 1/11 emergency and the arrests of corrupt politicians and wrong-doers, some HR watchdogs have popped up suddenly in the US. These hitherto invisible watchdogs are now clamouring that many of the arrested are innocent victims of the army's indiscriminate campaign to destroy the democratic process.

This bickering can be dismissed as being deliberately fabricated -- a deceitful campaign staged by political fixers in Bangladesh, and designed to distort the foreign media's perception of the reformist government.

The arrested politicians, government officials, and businessmen have no sympathizers except their beneficiaries -- some of whom were educated in the US. Many of these beneficiaries have now turned into internet bloggers and lobbyists, campaigning against the current reformist government to save these corrupt people from rotting in prisons. These lobbyists don't understand how the corrupt politicians exploited their own citizens, who elected them to serve their (the people's) interests.

When the politicians looted funds from development and poverty reduction projects they violated the human rights of 60 million people living in poverty.
When they traveled to neighbouring countries for medical treatment, with money looted from hospitals and health care projects, they violated the HR rights of the sick and the helpless who crowd the hallways and corridors of under-funded public hospitals.
When they educated their children overseas with looted funds, they violated the human rights of the country's children who spoiled their childhood in "child labour" instead of schoolwork.

To human rights watchdogs, these problems originated from a lack of good governance and a disregard for the rule of law. If that is so, then shouldn't we give the reforms initiatives a chance to succeed? Like everywhere else, people here also deserve good governance, and all indications are that the country is moving -- albeit slowly -- in that direction.

Dr. Abdullah A. Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University and also a board member of Change Bangladesh Initiative.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Budget 07-08

Eyes locked on immediate prioritiesTackling inflation, improving power generation, expanding social safety net get major attention in proposed budgetInam AhmedFinance Adviser Mirza Azizul Islam yesterday proposed a budget for the next fiscal year setting his eyes on the current development priorities--tackling inflation, spending on power and infrastructure, expanding the social safety net programme and supporting the agriculture.
He has prioritised power generation as a thrust action for the next three years and has sequenced the generation as 345MW in the first year, 900MW in the second year and 1,050MW in 2010 by when he aims to bring load shedding to nil.
However, industrialists will not find much to cheer about, except for retaining and increasing the current export subsidy to Tk 1,100 crore. Entrepreneurs will need to go through a more detailed work to understand whether the new harmonisation of duty slabs and supplementary duty and withdrawal of infrastructure development surcharge will gnaw away their protection and competitiveness. The textiles sector, which acts as the backward linkage for the main export sector readymade garment, will face a jolt as zero duty facility for textiles machinery import will be abolished.
Aziz has tried to be transparent in a number of areas. He has clearly shown, for the first time, what the nation buys with the resources mobilised--34.4 percent to be spent on physical infrastructure, 34.3 percent on social infrastructure and 19.3 percent on public administration. He has also internalised Tk 7,523 crore of the liabilities of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation, which from a macroeconomic point of view was the right thing to do to relieve the nationalised commercial banks from losses.
However, in meeting all these goals, Aziz had to go for an expanded budget for the next fiscal year with the expenditure increasing by 19 percent from the revised expenditure of the current fiscal year. The current year's budget was only 14 percent bigger than the previous year's revised budget.
Such huge expenditure crucially needs bigger revenue collection target and effort too. He plans a 15.82 percent higher revenue collection for the next fiscal year from this year's revised figure. This looks higher if one compares it with the poor revenue collection of this fiscal year, which until now clocked a piffling 9 percent growth. Especially, many would view with scepticism the tax revenue collection increase of 17 percent. But then compared to this year's growth projection--19 percent over the previous year's revised figure--one would tend to say that Aziz was more closer to reality in proposing his revenue collection target.
Sensing the enormity of facing the revenue collection challenge, Aziz has talked about expanding the tax base, strengthening tax collection procedures, transparency and accountability of tax administration and quality management in tax regime.
But a bulk of his financing the budget will come from borrowing--both domestic and foreign. He plans to borrow Tk 19,276 crore from domestic sources, up from Tk 10,031 crore of the current year's revised budget, and Tk 6,305 crore from foreign sources, again up from Tk 5,183 crore of the current revised budget. Such huge domestic borrowing, 2.2 percent of GDP, may pose the risk of crowding out effect on the private sector. The risk would even spike if the revenue collection effort falters, leading to more borrowing.
But the impact of the past borrowing was evident in the proposed non-development expenditure analysis as interest payment is projected to account for 20.5 percent of the outlay from the current year's 17.7 percent.
And his budget deficit target--4.8 percent of GDP--is quite high from this year's 3.3 percent. He may have the feeling that a lack of ADP implementation will automatically bring down the deficit. But if his vow to firm up ADP implementation process works, the macro indicator will remain bloated.
But the other good thing the budget proposes is the cut down on block allocation from 16 percent of this year's total development allocation to 5 percent.
Aziz has set a higher GDP growth of 7 percent for the next year, which will depend on the government's spending capacity, growth of the agriculture and industry. He also hopes his measures will bring down inflation to 6.5 percent next fiscal year.
As part of his anti-inflation measures, Aziz proposes strengthening sales of essentials through BDR-operated markets and import of commodities by the government to stabilise the market. He also plans a more productive agriculture through increased allocation for research.
Aziz has proposed setting up of an SME Foundation with an allocation of Tk 100 crore and another Tk 23 crore for a Trust Fund under Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation to give a fillip to the small industrial sector.
The finance adviser has gone quite a way to establish equality in the society. He has increased ADP outlay by 35 percent in Rajshahi, Khulna and Barisal divisions--areas that witness the worst income distribution. Education has received a big boost in his proposed budget with 15.2 percent of development allocation going in that direction with the idea that a better education mass will have better income. A huge number of teachers--15,000--will be recruited to better the teacher-student ratio, 55 lakh primary students will get stipend at the rate of Tk 100 each, classrooms will be built and income generating training will be given to the literate.
In his bid to heavily support the agriculture, Aziz has proposed 23 percent of total allocation to the sector. A Tk 350 crore endowment will help agriculture research and development. More than that, he proposes a Tk 750 crore allocation for diesel subsidy for farmers and Tk 1,500 crore as fertiliser subsidy.
The proposed budget sees an extended form of the current social safety net programmes like VGD, and allowances for the destitute women and a Tk 550 crore employment generation programme for the rural poor.