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Saturday, October 31, 2009

2 killed, 100 hurt as police fire into RMG workers in Bangladesh

Two people were killed as the police fired into garment factory workers rallying for pay unpaid for three months at Ershadnagar in Gazpur on Saturday. More than a hundred, including law enforcers, were injured.
The killing and the firing into the workers of the Nippon Garments Industry Limited, who had blocked the Dhaka–Mymensingh Road for about four hours, led to further clashes between the workers and the lawmen in the Tongi Industrial Area.
The Tongi police officer-in-charge, Tapan Chandra Saha, late Saturday night confirmed the death of two — a rickshaw-van puller and an unnamed pedestrian.
According to spot accounts, the police charged with truncheons at the workers who blocked the highway to push for their pay for three months in arrears. As the clash began, the lawmen fired gunshots, rubber bullets and teargas shells into the workers.
Vehicles remained stuck spanning 10 kilometres on both ends of the road stretch.
The workers, however, claimed four of their fellows were killed in the police firing. They alleged the police had taken away the bodies, but the local administration brushed aside any such allegation of taking away any bodies.
Witnesses said the deceased were rickshaw-van puller Mohammad Babul Sheikh, 35, and an unnamed pedestrian aged about 45 years.
Witnesses and local residents said several hundred workers of the garment factory, located near the Ershadnagar bus stand went to work about 7:30am, but the authorities with the help of the police stopped them from entering the factory.
The workers then went out on demonstrations and the authorities pasted a notice on the main gate announce a lay-off at the factory till November 29. The notice further said salaries would be paid on November 10.
The workers immediately took to the streets and blocked the Dhaka–Mymensingh Highway about 8:15am.
As the police charged at them with truncheons, the workers pelted the lawmen with stones, which led to a series of clashes.
They damaged the glasses and windowpanes of at least 50 vehicles stranded on both ends of the road stretch and set fire to a bus used to carry workers and a motorcycle parked in front of the factory.
The workers took control of the Nippon Garments Industry premises and kept clashing with the lawmen in several small groups.
The Gazipur police superintendent, Mahfuzul Haque Nuruzzaman, in the afternoon said, ‘We reinforced police deployment inside the factory Friday night as requested by the garment factory management.’
The workers alleged the owner had announced the lay-off after the police deployment without any notice and without paying their salary in arrears.
Rabeya, a worker of the factory, said, ‘The police beat us ruthlessly and assaulted female workers by confining them to the factory premises.’
The situation eased a bit at 11:30am after the deployment of additional police and Rapid Action Battalion personnel at the spot. But sporadic clashes continued as the rumour that four of the workers were killed in police firing spread.
Rokhsana Begum, a worker of the factory, said, ‘My husband was killed in the police firing. He was coming to take me back home from the factory after he heard of the clash.’
Several thousand workers then gathered again on the road and clashed with the police, deployed there from Friday night.
They became angry hearing that the police were trying to take away the bodies of the people killed in the firing.
Personnel of the police, Riot Police, Ansars and the Rapid Action Battalion again fired gunshots and teargas shells to disperse the workers.
Many were injured with the bullets and truncheons. A place inside the factory was stained with blood and there was a piece of brain, which the workers believed was of a worker who was killed the firing.
‘We fired gunshots to control the situation,’ said a policeman on the spot.
Once the situation calmed down, about 1:30pm, some people in the area started looking for people who they said had been missing since the clash began.
The injured were admitted to Gazipur General Hospital, Dhaka Medical College Hospital and other local clinics.
The inspector general of police, Nur Mohamamd, and the Rapid Action Battalion director general, Khandaker Hassan Mahmood, visited the spot.
Local lawmaker Zahid Hasan Russel and Tongi municipal mayor Azmatullah also visited the place.
A tense situation was prevailing in the area and a huge number of policemen were deployed in and outside the factory to stave of further troubles.
The incident took place a day before the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association holds Batexpo garment workers’ fair ’09 at the Bir Shreshtha Shaheed Sipahi Mohammad Mostafa Kamal Stadium at Kamalapur in Dhaka today.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Picture of the week

Power crisis, solar panels and CFLs

THE power crisis has been a sore point for past and incumbent governments. For, it is dealing a crippling blow to the economy and giving rise to serious resentment among all sections of the society. Entrepreneurs, local and foreign, are deciding against new investments, particularly in the manufacturing sector, because of power shortage. And the sufferings of the existing industrial units has reached its peak because of frequent load shedding. Many large and medium manufacturing and commercial units have installed their own captive power generators, leading to a rise in their cost of operations.
Since the incumbent government's coming to power, a flurry of activities has been noted in the power ministry to beef up power production. Side by side with efforts to woo foreign and local investors for building a good number of large power plants, the government has completed formalities required to invite bids for setting up a few rental power plants to, partially, manage the power shortage in the short-term. The power ministry, reportedly, is planning to organise road shows in some of the world's major cities with a view to attracting renowned international power companies to build, at least, five independent power plants at an estimated cost of US$ 1.0 billion and generate over 1300 megawatt of electricity.
There is no denying that the government is serious about resolving the nagging power crisis. Though there would be an option to run, at least, two of the proposed power plants with furnace oil, the large power plants would have to be fed by a cheap energy source, natural gas. So, without receiving a guarantee about uninterrupted supply of gas, not many foreign investors would be interested to put in their money in new power plants in Bangladesh. It remains a puzzle how the government would provide guarantee to this effect when many industries have gone out of operation because of the non-availability of gas. Failing to get adequate gas supply for the last six months, the management of the Monno Fabrics Ltd. in Manikganj, one of the largest textile units in the country, laid off its workers from October 22 last. However, there could be improvement in the supply situation if the Chevron's reassessment of the gas reserve of the Bibiyana field was found to be genuine. A foreign firm engaged by the Chevron has reported the existence of more than double the size of recoverable gas reserve estimated earlier. The Petrobangla is now reviewing the report.
While doing all the necessary exercises to generate more power using the conventional methods, the government does also need to explore the possibility of exploiting other renewable energy sources for power generation and saving the power now in use. Solar power though becoming popular in some selected rural areas of the country is yet to get the much-needed official patronisation. An adviser to the Prime Minister, last Sunday disclosed that all government buildings in Dhaka would be fitted with their own solar panels to help ease the power crisis. He, however, did not elaborate. If implemented, it would, surely, be a good move. But what is more important is the financial support from the government to those who are willing to set up solar panels at their homes and establishments.

For instance, China is now producing 820 megawatt using solar power and expects to reach 20 gigawatt (GW) by 2020. The Chinese government would be subsidising half of the total construction costs of solar power plants. The Indian government with support from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is providing cheap loans through banks to individuals installing solar panels on their rooftops. While extending similar support to ensure wider use of solar panels, the government should implement with due seriousness the distribution of 10 million energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) free of cost among the power users by February next. The World Bank-supported programme, designed to replace an equivalent number of incandescent lamps, is expected to save about 360 megawatt of power that would help meet additional demand for power during the coming Boro season.

Deep-seated discrimination and mistaken identity

It seems that all the difference has been due to the fact that Masum happens to be a journalist and not just another Joe on the street. Surely, the home minister would not have visited Masum in the hospital had he been simply another citizen of Bangladesh who might have suffered the same indignity and had worse injuries… it appears that the sense that some people are more equal than others has become entrenched the

Rapid Action Battalion reportedly stated that a marked criminal by the name of Kamrul Islam Bappi had died during a gunfight between the crime fighting unit and criminals. This Kamrul Islam Bappi who supposedly took bullet injuries during the skirmish was an abettor of the Jishan Gang, alleged the battalion on September 9. But Bappi’s family members were aghast when they came to know. Their Bappi, one Kaisar Mahmud Bappi, did not return home when he left home after iftar on the evening of September 9. According to a report in the Bangla daily Prothom Alo, as the entire family became worried later, Bappi’s friends called them saying they had seen their friend’s body in the morgue on television. It was there at the morgue during identification that the relatives found out that the name on the post mortem report was different. The police told them Kaisar Mahmud could well have been an alias used by Kamrul Islam, who alleged he was a notorious criminal and had died during a shootout with the battalion.
More than a month and a half later Bappi’s family held a press conference where his relatives said he was not the alleged criminal, the report said. Apparently, the dead Bappi had graduated in commerce and was looking for a job and did not have a criminal record. His relatives also showed his academic certificates to prove that his name was indeed different from the one that the Rapid Action Battalion had presumed it to be. Bappi’s mother reportedly lamented at the press conference that she could accept that her son had been killed, but now she would also have to reconcile with the fact that her family would now be branded as that of a criminal’s. There is clearly a very good chance of mistaken identity. The report also quotes the battalion chief saying that if there was indeed any wrongful act, there would certainly be action according to the law.
This shows that the elite crime fighting force could, in fact, take someone in custody without being sure of the identity. One should not allege that the battalion actually shot and killed Bappi because one cannot quite prove that. But ‘crossfire’ as they call them has come to be widely perceived as a synonym for ‘murder in custody’. And the perception is not quite baseless either. These deaths, and so far there have been hundreds, have all been preceded by uncannily unique and similar chain of events according to the official press releases that followed. The chances of such coincidence are so slim that they are quite impossible to happen in reality and thus the general perception that crossfire is synonymous to murder by the state.
Although a number of law enforcement agencies have engaged in such practices, the primary tool to carry out crossfire has been the Rapid Action Battalion, formed as a hybrid force drawing personnel from all the defence and security agencies including the police, military and paramilitary forces. So far, since July 2004 there have been 1,161 deaths in ‘crossfire’, 116 since the current government took office in January. Whether there were other cases of mistaken identity like that of Bappi is a matter of conjecture, and the answer to such a question from this elite crime fighting force would be similar to the one in the case of Bappi.
But this is not to say that it would have been alright to kill the other Bappi, who was allegedly a criminal, since his crime was not proven in a court of law. And the state minister for home affairs said as much when he tried to defend crossfire, saying that there were certain things that had to be done in this manner because of the overall situation of the country. However, extrajudicial killings cannot be termed as justice delivery simply because they were carried out by uniformed men hired by the state and not by a radical acting against the state. They are both committing murders. However, when the state provides a certain agency such a licence to kill, it begins to gain a sense of impunity and acts as if its actions are not within the ambit of the laws of the land. It would be a natural progression.
Thus, the Rapid Action Battalion’s officer was not at all acting out of character when he tortured FM Masum, a junior staff reporter of New Age. But this was no case of mistaken identity. His beatings continued well after Masum had been able to disclose his identity in between blows. The similarity with Bappi was probably that Masum happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It appears that is all the difference between life and ‘crossfire’, indignity and freedom. It is highly unlikely that this is the first time that any officer of the battalion has beaten up someone innocent for no reason and then detained that person without solid grounds for suspicion at the battalion’s offices for over ten hours. It is also very likely that this very officer has before this acted in a similar fashion that should have indicated an undesirable streak in him.
Perhaps quite like Bappi’s death, the previous incidents were overlooked as there was no hue and cry. There were no such press releases of rights groups at home and abroad demanding justice, the media had hardly paid attention on the previous occasion, and surely this would be one of the instances that the home minister and her state minister visited a torture victim.
But even there, when she visited the hospital, there were no assurance that the officer would be punished but only similar pronouncement that proper punishment would meted out if there has been any wrongdoing, as if she were not aware at that time that the Rapid Action Battalion itself had issued a statement regretting the incident and apologising for the untoward incident. When the institution itself has admitted its wrongdoing the minister still seems bent to stand by it. On the other hand, all that the battalion can do is withdraw the individual from active duty and send them back to their original unit where perpetrators of injustice would be able to continue with their jobs. That, however, is hardly any punishment for killing someone, or even beating up an innocent citizen.
It seems that all the difference at this instance has been due to the fact that Masum happens to be a journalist and not just another Joe on the street. Surely, the home minister would not have visited Masum in the hospital had he been simply another citizen of Bangladesh, who might have suffered the same indignity and had worse injuries. It is true that repression of journalists is considered a grave crime by a government that claims to have a democratic dispensation and so there is always much hue and cry. But it appears that the sense that some people are more equal than others has become entrenched. It has become so entrenched that even the victims do not question such open discrimination against an ordinary citizen and the topic is not even broached in any form. This Awami League government, however, is expected to usher in times of change. It is also expected to uphold the spirit of equality of every citizen. But the home minister would hardly be able to make time to visit Bappi’s family for instance. They are less equal.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not so Good

KEPZ couldn't start fully in 17 years Land transfer deed yet to be complete; row with DoE over clearance for developing industrial plots

Sharier Khan

Due to unexplainable hindrance from the government, the Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) in Chittagong could not launch full swing operations even 17 years after the initiative.
KEPZ officials said even though the government handed over land for the zone in 1999 and issued operational licence in 2007, it has not completed the deed of transfer of land. As a result, it cannot lease out industrial plots to potential investors.
On top of that, the Department of Environment (DoE) on January 22 halted land development in the hilly zone on the Karnaphuli saying that hill cutting violates the clearance DoE gave to KEPZ. In a notice in early February it said the land was not being developed as per the approval. It had approved hill “dressing” not hill cutting.
In reply, the KEPZ argued that the DoE clearance gave KEPZ a contour map allowing it to develop the 2,500 acres in different segments, by trimming the hills and filling up ditches. The KEPZ denies having violated any part of the clearance.
The KEPZ added that it was strictly following the DoE environmental clearance and if the DoE sees anything wrong then it was the clearance itself to blame, not KEPZ.
Upon hearing KEPZ's argument on March 7, the DoE took a few days' time to decide its next course of action. Sources said the DoE was considering deployment of a third party surveyor to see if KEPZ violated the clearance.
“Should we refrain from touching the hills, then all we can develop here is a cottage industry, not export-oriented industries,” says Adviser to KEPZ Mohammad Hasan Nasir drawing attention to the hilly landscape of the area.
The KEPZ is also troubled by National Revenue Board's withdrawal of 10-year tax holiday for all EPZs.
Korean company Youngone, which owns the KEPZ, is now running the first phase of a massive shoe factory on 3.72 lakh square foot area. Three more units of such size were being implemented.
It has developed 300 acres of industrial plots, 22km of internal road network, a dormitory for foreign investors and expatriate staff. Development of another 300 acres of industrial plots and 10km of roads were also underway.
“This hilly land was barren, dry and it used to be the den of smugglers and pirates,” noted Nasir.
After developing the area with a budget of $200 million, this same area has now become lush green with many lakes, which serve as the water source for the vegetation, he said. When fully operational, the KEPZ would have 500 industrial units, with $1 billion investment and employ around 100,000 people directly and another 200,000 indirectly.
But different governments coming up with hurdles were holding the KEPZ back, he said.
In 1995, the-then BNP government led by Khaleda Zia signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to set up the Korean Export Processing Zone. The following year, the then Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina framed a new law to allow operation of private EPZs. In 1999, the government handed over 2,500 acres of land to Korean company Youngone to develop the EPZ.
But Youngone could not open the zone as the BNP-led alliance government assuming power in 2001 declined to give it operating licence without mentioning any explicit reason. In September 2006, just before quitting power, the BNP government conditionally issued a licence, which the KEPZ authorities deemed unacceptable.
The last caretaker government re-issued the licence as per the private EPZ law. But even that did not end the ordeal KEPZ had to go through.
“For an EPZ to develop and become operational, it needs four essential clearances: operational licence, environment clearance, Customs SRO (Statutory Regulatory Order) and deed of transfer of land,” said KEPZ President Jahangir Sadat, adding, “Without solving these issues, the KEPZ cannot perform.”

The DoE suspended the KEPZ's development work on the grounds of violating its environment clearance. The DoE had issued the clearance after seven years of exercise.

The KEPZ had hired its own consultant to prepare an environment impact assessment study in 2002 and submitted the report to DoE in 2003. The DoE took a long time to review the study and in 2007 it dismissed the study and asked KEPZ to prepare a detailed study through the Centre for Environmental and Geographical Information Services (CEGIS) under the Water Resources Ministry.
Two years later, CEGIS completed the study and the government approved it in 2009. The study gave a land development plan in which the area would be developed in nine different elevations, ranging from six metres to 30 metres. The plan also showed areas where the original elevation would not be changed.
The development plan was used as a guide by the KEPZ authorities for the last two years to streamline the hills and ditches and convert certain areas suitable for industrial installations.
In January, the DoE suddenly stopped the development work saying that the KEPZ was cutting hills with excavators and had removed 40,000 cubic feet of earth from 40-50 foot high afforested hills, damaging the environment.
In the notice to the KEPZ (written in English), the DoE said, “There was no permission for cutting of hills in the first Environment Clearance Certificate issued by the DoE on 23-11-2009. There is permission only for dressing of hills.”
In response the KEPZ said the DoE's 2009 clearance, issued in Bangla, clearly stated that the KEPZ was allowed to remove or cut hills as per the land development plan in the environment impact assessment and forbids anything outside that plan. They were just following the plan, the KEPZ said.
The KEPZ officials also argued that the 2009 clearance used the Bangla word “mochon” in dealing with hills. The meaning of the word is unambiguously “removal”, but now the DoE is using the word “dressing”.
“We are now waiting for the DoE to clear this issue,” said Jahangir Sadat, adding, “We are not at fault because we were following the law. If there was anything wrong, then it has to be the environment clearance itself.” 

Source: The Daily Star, 25 March 2012

Help me Lion


Monday, October 26, 2009

Whither a 'strong Bangladesh' and the missing middle-class?

Mahfuz Kabir

In his State of the Union Address 2015, President Barack Obama urged building of a 'Strong America.' He affirmed: “This country does the best when everyone gets their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules. Everyone needs to contribute to the country's success.” His 'mantra' of middle class economics seemed to be working as per the statistics presented in the address. It is indeed a contradiction of Kuznets' hypothesis that the income inequality tends to decrease if income per capita increases. Indeed, global income inequality has been mounting in a never ending process that cannot be reversed automatically through increasing income; it has to be tamed through invigorating something like middle-class economics.
In a report titled “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More,” Oxfam mentioned that only 85 individuals possessed wealth equivalent to that of half of the world's population. Now, 1% of the world population has 48% of world income, which will be 50% by 2016 as per projection. Income gap between women and men has also been widening sharply. Such extreme economic inequality is a stumbling block in alleviation of global poverty.
Even though recent World Bank estimates provide conservative figures of income inequality, national reports paint a dismal picture. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reports Gini index of income inequality to be 45.8 in 2010, which was 46.7 in 2005. That means, annual rate of reduction of inequality was a minuscule 0.18 percentage point even though macroeconomic and development policies were claimed to be pro-poor in nature. With the same database the World Bank's conservative estimate of Gini index is only 32.1. If Bangladesh's estimate is taken as baseline, the distribution of global inequality would reveal a much worse scenario.
The gap between income group at the bottom (lowest 5%) and their richest counterpart (top 5%) is extremely high; the correspondent figures were 0.78 and 24.61%, respectively in 2010. Top 10% households had as high as 35.9%, while their corresponding bottom households had only 2% share in total income. World Bank had conservative estimates of these numbers too, but the huge disparity is quite vivid across the world. Even Sweden, one of the most equalising countries, could not bring income of top 10% households to 20%. The income of bottom 10% also does not make a difference as it is 3.8% of its total income.  
In response to Oxfam's report, Bill Gates responds quite correctly that market economy creates space for abnormal extraction of income ('high success,' in his words) of a few people. However, his solution to the problem is 'charity' as he believes that “philanthropy is part of how we deal with those inequities.” Now a million-dollar question to the multi-billionaire: what do statistics tell about this claim? They show that charitable spending is high in the countries with high inequality.
In his address, Obama emphasised that many corporations give low to no tax and he wanted to bring them in the tax net for spending on the middle-class. Areas of increased spending would be, among others, on helping middle-class families, childcare, schooling, retirement benefit, and community college from where 40% of the graduates would be from the US. At the same time he made a commitment to develop a competitive economy, promote smart leadership and invest on quality infrastructure. This is the essence of middle-class economics for a 'strong America.' Indeed, middle-class is the bearer of social values, creativity and strength of the society. They also have been instrumental in driving civilisations as Arnold Toynbee mentioned in A Study of History.
Is there a middle-class economics in Bangladesh? Do we have strong commitment of public spending on and redistributive priority for the middle-class? During his last visit to Bangladesh, Professor Nurul Islam urged crafting of a strong, educated and hardworking middle-class for intellectual development, creativity and driving the society. Bangladeshi middle-class has been struggling and decaying between 'ends and scarce means.' In the last decade, we promoted pro-poor growth; we changed it to inclusive growth and shared prosperity for this decade to become a middle-income country, maybe without adherence to the needs of the middle-class.
The dream of an American lies in the middle-class economics for a strong America. Conversely, the dream of a strong Bangladesh dries in the desert of diminishing middle-class aspirations. Indeed, the middle-class helped the formation of Bengali nationalism, and was at the forefront in the War of Liberation. They have been forgotten since the third five-year plan and thus have become a real 'missing middle.' The seventh five-year plan is currently being prepared. It is now imperative to place strategies and policy priorities for invigorating them again, fulfilling their hopes and desires.  
The writer is an Economist and Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).

The Daily Star, 27 January 2015

Short Story: Lovers' mistakes

I met her at a party. She was only eighteen, and had just started her first year at the university. I was a senior, a communications/journalism major, working two jobs to help pay the bills. I was staying with my parents in Uttora and while they paid for my tuition and books, all other expenses, including transportation, meals, and other incidentals, came out of my pocket. I did not have time to party much, but when my classmate Sharmila invited me to her birthday party, I accepted. It was there that I met Nora.
“Hey, Abu, I want you to meet Nora, my neighbor. She just started university and is fun to be with!” said Sharmila by way of introduction.
I stood there uncomfortably, trying not to look directly at Nora, while Sharmila did the introductions and then the two of them proceeded to engage in small talk. I felt awkward not knowing whether they were ignoring me, but I did not want to walk away from them without saying “Hello” to Nora. So I continued to pretend that I was part of their conversation and was enjoying their discussion of Hindi movies. I could sense that Nora was just as bemused, and I even imagined that she might be itching to break away from this long discussion about Hindi movies, which I knew was Sharmila's addiction, but she just had to go along with the flow in deference to the host. Finally, when Sharmila paused for a second, Nora turned to me and said, “Hi!”
“Kemon achho”, I said in Bengali. She had an innocent charm about her that was very appealing, and in her voice, I felt genuineness even when she first greeted me. We talked a little bit about school, her career interest, which happened to be diplomacy, and then music. I knew (or just guessed) that she was a singer, and she was. She went to Chhayanaut, and sang Nazrul Geeti. “Wow”, I said to myself. I knew nothing about Nazrul Geeti, except that some of them had a classical arrangement.
The party went on past 10 o'clock, and I stayed until the end. I ran into Nora a couple more times at the party that evening, and we even had a dance together. I was not much of a dancer but when I saw all my classmates were having a good time on the floor, I also waded in and found Nora who said yes when I asked her for a number.
Two days later, I saw Nora at the university, and this time I approached her as she was getting off the car at the front entrance.
“Hi, Nora. Do you remember me?”
“Of course, I do. You like Tagore songs and work as a journalist.” I was pleasantly surprised that she remembered those little details about me from a few minutes' encounter at Sharmila's party. However, I also felt thrilled that she had paid attention to my hobbies and interests and did not hesitate to let me know that she did not forget about things that I have shared with her at our first casual encounter.
She was wearing a shalwar kameez, and looked very different from the Nora I saw at the party. I felt a tug deep inside my heart, and knew that I had to show her that I was also interested. So, I said, a little hesitatingly,
“Do you mind if I walk you up to your class?” “Oh no, not at all,” she said in her sparkling voice. “And actually, my class does not start until another hour. So I am in no hurry.”

Her frankness put me at ease, and we decided to go to the canteen on the sixth floor. We found a corner table and talked about all sorts of things over coffee and sandwich.
I started enjoying the way she talked. She had a very rhythmic and musical tone, and an easygoing style. Unlike my other friends, she never disagreed with anything I said, either about pop culture, international affairs, social taboos, or what have you. I wasn't sure if she just was being polite, wanted to be nice to me, or that was her real nature. But I liked talking with her. Soon we were meeting on a regular basis before and after her classes, and hanging out together a lot. Even though we tried to meet at parks and other locations out of sight of our friends and classmates, pretty soon they knew about us and would leave us alone whenever they saw us chatting in the cafeteria corner.
Our best times were near the lake where I'd ask her to sing. She had the most beautiful voice, and I felt very thrilled that she was singing at my request. Her favorite song was Anjali Loho More, a Nazrul Geeti, and Amio Srabon Hoye, an old song from the 70s. I would just be floating with the clouds since not only did her voice soothe my nerves, but also knowing that I was with someone who was as passionate about music as I was, even if of different genres. My favourite singers were Srikanto, Jorasanko, and Subhomita. I'd sometimes hum their tunes, but often thought I had failed to impress Nora with my skills in the vocal department. Occasionally, she'd also tease me about my choice of songs and artistes, a ploy I later learned was often only to get me into a chatty mood. She once said,
“I don't know how you can worship Srikanto. I think he does not have the depth, and his voice is kind of flaky. If I get a chance to go and study at Shantiniketan, I'd like to sit down next to Aurobindo and learn from him.”
I try to stay calm knowing she was teasing me, and just played the game. “But did you hear Srikanto sing one of my favorites, ami chonchol hey? I bet if you listen to his rendition and compare it to Debobroto's or Mohiuzzaman's, you'll reconsider your low esteem for Srikanto's musical talents”.
Nevertheless, Nora liked it every time I sang amar praaner porey choley gelo ke. She'd just sit there motionless, without any comments, or any expression on her face, and allow me to finish the song, which took me a full five minutes. I never told her that it was my feeling that came out through that song. “A thousand flowers bloom when she comes” (phool phutiyey gelo shoto shoto). But that did not stop me from believing that she knew the song was written for me to express how I felt about her.
On my mp3 player, I'd carry some of these tunes and let her listen to them while we were together. But I failed to change her mind about these artistes and their repertoire. Basically, our quarrels always centered around our choices of artistes and songs. She'd interpret a song one way and I'd do it differently, and vice versa. And we did so endlessly, and she never seemed to get tired of our verbal swings at each other's favourites.
But these differences did not matter to me and I was in the seventh heaven. I was thinking about finishing my studies, and getting a full time job. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the road ahead clearly, and think about what I need to do to build a career.
Being with Nora made me feel good. My friends were constantly teasing me for going out with a first year student. Once my friend Shamim, trying to defend me, said, “Premey mojiley mone, kiba hari, kiba dome”. I took exception to this characterization, and jumped at him “Shala, is Nora a dome? I'll tell her what you think of her”. “Oh, no! Please don't, I can't face her wrath.”

Of course, I would not tell her. To shield her from my friends' jokes and other jabs, she and I would go out whenever I had the car, and sit beside the lake. Our favorite was always Ashulia, and Nora and I spent quite a few afternoons on a bench facing the vast expanse of open water. But we also spent a lot of time in empty classrooms or just talk on the phone.
She got me to use the SMS. At night, while I would be studying for an exam or hunched over the computer, she'd text me, “Don't study too hard”. Or, “please don't forget 10 oclock tmrw”. I had to work hard to learn her vocabulary.
As my final exams drew closer, I was spending more time in the library or at home studying, and could not meet with her as often. I was feeling envious of her friends and my friends who saw her more regularly than I, and going to movies or spending time together. I could not tell her that I was jealous. After all, even though we were close, nothing forbid her from seeing or talking with others, I reasoned. She knew that and sometimes I felt she was trying to make me jealous. When she'd talk about her young teachers or other friends in glowing terms, or praise their look or style, I always felt a little pain.
Soon, my final exams were over, and I was working on a couple of papers that I had sought an extension for. One evening, I went to a wedding. Some of my friends and I were hanging out at the entrance just chatting away and waiting for the groom's motorcade to arrive. I spotted Nora from a distance, and I had not seen her almost two weeks. My heart raced fast at her sight, and I was looking for an excuse to break away from my friends to go and talk to her. I could not take my eyes off of hershe was wearing a magenta saree with matching ornaments and accessories. She looked very mature, and, almost “dulhanish”, as if ready for her own transition along the path of matrimony. She finally spotted me with my friends and approached us.
“Hi Nora, look at you”, I said first.
“Look at you too! Why didn't you tell me that you were coming to this wedding?”
“How would I have known that you were coming here too?
“Well I thought you were too busy studying. Now I know what you were studying. Other girls!”
I was a little surprised that she decided to bring up other girls. I was not sure if she was just teasing or was showing jealousy. Soon the conversation turned to other things, and my friends joined in. Nora became the center of attraction and my friends were competing with each other to talk to her. Pretty soon, I felt left out, and every time I tried to rejoin the “chat room”, as it were, someone would cut me off, and try to grab her attention. I felt a little piqued and as the conversation drifted I was almost an observer. I was also feeing very empty inside, and could not reconcile that Nora, my steady girl friend, was giving all her attention to my friends, and almost ignoring me who had not seen her for more than two weeks. Soon the call for dinner came and we all split up and I just had my dinner and left.
The next day she texted, “Hi didn't see u after dinner. Where did u go”. Her text stirred up my bad feelings from last night and I did not text her back. She also left me a voice mail message and I ignored that too. I tried to bury myself in the papers that I had to finish. I ignored two more text messages from Nora the next day. One said, “Why are you ignoring me?” I could not tell her that I was too hurt to reply, or call back.

A month passed by and I was waiting for my final graduation. I had a job offer but was not sure whether to take that offer or look for more jobs. I also had filled out the forms for the Civil Service exams, and started getting mentally ready for it. But, I was missing Nora, and wanted to just hear her sing one last time.
It was a Sunday night and I had come back home from a concert by Saadi Muhammed. I had met Saadi Bhai when he had come to visit the University during our Cultural Week at the invitation of Shama Madam. During that visit, he offered two classes and we learned a few Tagore songs from him. During the concert, I requested him to sing “Amar praner porey” and soon as he started, I felt very lovesick. After the concert, we just stayed and chatted a little. It was past midnight. I came home and was just checking my emails when I saw some news about the University, and the beginning of a new semester. Nora was probably going back to school, I said to myself. I decided to pick up my mobile and texted,
“Hi Nora, r u going to U tmrw”
Within seconds came the reply, “At 10. r u coming”
“love 2”
“luv u”, was her reply in text.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local government financing and effective decentralisation

Mahfuz Kabir

Local government is one of most important but sensitive items in the policy and budget making arena in Bangladesh. Quite surprisingly, it has not been regarded as a core or building block for national development plans even though local development and service delivery are critically dependent on efficient and effective local government. As the local government institutions (LGI) remain at arm's length from the citizens, decentralised development planning and building administrative capacity of LGIs are essential not only for delivering services to the grassroots but also for improving effectiveness of the central government and ability of local administrative units.
In Bangladesh, it is widely believed that all the tiers of LGI have been suffering from resource deficiency to provide quality services despite immense potential of enabling them to be financially solvent. Currently, there is no scientific formula for financing all LGIs, but considerations like backwardness and population are used to allocate funds for some LGIs.
Keeping this in mind, some very important initiatives were taken by the government in the last six years. The most important ones were to introduce and modify the laws of critical LGIs to make them democratic in composition and function, and to specify the areas of revenue generation including financial support by the government to emerge as financially viable institutions. While the laws are now generally good with some scope for further improvement, the major issue is proper implementation of the law including the financial aspects.
In general, financing of LGIs has not had any particular pattern in recent years and for the foreseeable future projected by the Medium-Term Budget Framework (MTBF). There are oscillations in direct transfer of funds in all the LGIs in terms of both amount and rate of change. Rural LGIs are seen to experience more oscillation than the other types of LGIs. The aggregate direct allocation to the LGIs also shows frequent fluctuation of provisional and realised fund transfers. In the last fiscal year (2013-14) the share of central transfer to LGIs was only 1.52% of budget and 0.42% of GDP, which were 3.1% and 0.62%, respectively in 2010-11.
Undeniably, LGIs are heavily dependent on direct grants from the central government and shared tax revenue with the land department. The major sources of revenue are concentrated in quite a few sources. However, there is no general and predictable pattern of fund flow from the government, except for Union Parishads. The projections of allocation in the MTBF continue to witness significant change. For instance, the last fiscal year's MTBF (2013-14 to 2017-18) projected a growth of allocation for City Corporation by 233% and for Paurasabha by 495%. However, the realised allocation for the both the councils witnessed significant reduction and indeed negative growth in 2014-15 compared to 2013-14 as per the MTBF document of the current fiscal year (MTBF 2014-15 to 2016-17). It clearly contradicts one of the core premises of the MTBF that the realisation of projected allocation would not change significantly for the first year of projection but would start deviating afterwards.
This fact provides two strong messages for the policy makers and other actors in local government sector. First, the budgetary projections for LGIs in the MTBF are ineffective to a great extent. In other words, it indicates that there is no need for MTBF projection of budgetary allocation for LGIs if it turns out to be futile in the next year. Second, indication for financing LGIs is absent in the process of medium-term national development planning. Without specific and tangible commitment for allocation in the overarching national document like the outgoing Sixth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the MTBF documents cannot translate it into financial allocation and projections for the medium term. Indeed, there is no financial indication or directives for LGIs in the Sixth Five-Year plan. Therefore, it is necessary for comprehensive understanding of financial requirement of the LGIs for the Seventh Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). Then MTBF will convert it into the specific project-based and operational fund requirement for each of the LG tiers and conduct projection for the medium term.
Currently, there is no financial distribution policy for the LGIs in Bangladesh. This results in 'special' and discretionary allocation. Coupled with uneven distribution of shared immovable property transfer tax it again results in acute horizontal inequality of financing local government bodies. An index-based funding mechanism should be introduced for distributing fund among the LGIs as a scientific foundation for developing financial distribution policy.
The practices of index-based and discretionary funding coexist and work together harmoniously in India. Indeed, theories of fiscal federalism reveal that determining LGI funding transfers based on the political incentives leads to inefficient allocation of resources, distributive injustice and inequality across geographic regions. In order to overcome the negative consequences of political bias in LG funding, some countries established independent agencies (e.g., Central and State Finance Commissions of India) in distributing national resources.
The government can introduce an index-based financing distribution mechanism for reducing political bias. The index could be either simple or composite, but the sub-indices must have the indicators of financial performance, service delivery as per the law, and fund requirement depending on quantitative analysis of resource gap to provide desired services to the citizens.
The above-mentioned issues are some of the most critical aspects of financing and development of LGIs, which should be reflected in the upcoming Seventh Five-Year Plan. Effective decentralisation through inclusive and sensitive inter-governmental transfers as well as sensible resource sharing is a key to strengthening democratic LGIs and promoting services to the citizens, which has always been a challenging task for the central government. Therefore, tangible commitment is required in the Plan document so that it can be readily translated into predictable financial allocation for the next five years to help achieve the overarching national 'Vision 2021.'  
 The writer is an Economist and Senior Research Fellow at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).

The Daily Star, 01 February 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No progress in economic freedom

Md Fazlur Rahman

Despite improvements in labour, corruption, and monetary indicators, Bangladesh remains stuck in the category of "mostly unfree" countries in an international survey on economic freedom.
The country's economic freedom score is 53.9, making its economy the 131st freest -- the same as last year's -- among 186 countries in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, an annual guide published yesterday by Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.
Bangladesh was ranked 132nd in 2013 and 130th the previous year.
Its position remains unchanged at 27 among 42 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The country's overall score eroded by 0.2 points since last year though it made improvements in labour freedom, freedom from corruption, and monetary freedom outweighed by notable declines in investment freedom and business freedom.
Launched in 1995, the Index evaluates countries in four broad areas of economic freedom: rule of law, regulatory efficiency, limited government and open markets.
Based on its aggregate score, each country graded in the Index is classified as “free” (combined scores of 80 or higher), “mostly free” (70-79.9), “moderately free” (60-69.9), “mostly unfree” (50-59.9) and “repressed” (under 50).
The Index covers 10 freedoms: property rights, freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, government spending, business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom and financial freedom.
Over the last five years, Bangladesh's economic freedom hovered around the lower end of the “mostly unfree” category, said the report.
Modest score improvements have occurred in just four of the 10 economic freedoms (financial freedom, labour freedom, freedom from corruption, and trade freedom), and overall policy reform appears to have stalled.
A general disregard for the rule of law, rampant corruption, and a judicial system that suffers from political interference provide a weak foundation for economic modernisation.
Lack of a national consensus on the direction of future policy changes has diminished the momentum for economic reforms, and deteriorating prospects for near-term improvements in economic freedom make it unlikely that the relatively high growth rates of recent years can be maintained.
Most data used in the 2015 Index covers the second half of 2013 through the first half of 2014.
Bangladesh scored 20 in property rights on a scale of 0-100 as it couldn't improve its position in the area. The score in freedom from corruption indicator is 27.
Institutional accountability is not well established in Bangladesh, and the judiciary is not clearly separated from the executive, according to the report.
“Government effectiveness is undermined by pervasive graft. Contract enforcement and dispute settlement procedures are inefficient. Antiquated real property laws and poor record-keeping systems complicate land and property transactions. Poor governance is one of the main barriers to foreign direct investment.”
Bangladesh has improved in the areas of labour and monetary freedom, scoring 63.7 and 67.7 points respectively. Business freedom, however, went down to 62.2 points.
The index said reform measures in recent years have streamlined the procedures for establishing a business, but other institutional deficiencies such as pervasive corruption and poor access to credit discourage start-ups. The labour market remains underdeveloped, and the enforcement of labour rules is ineffective.
Both trade and financial freedoms remained unchanged at 59 and 30 points, and investment freedom dipped to 45.
It said Bangladesh has a relatively high 13 percent average tariff rate.
“Efforts are underway to improve customs processes. Foreign investors face bureaucratic hurdles. The financial sector remains underdeveloped despite modernisation efforts. State-owned commercial banks account for over 30 percent of total banking system assets. Stock market capitalisation is low.”
The country scored 92 points in government spending indicator and 72.7 points in fiscal freedom.
Despite relatively high income and corporate tax rates (25 and 45 percent), the country's tax revenue remains low at around 10 percent of gross domestic product, said the index.
Public expenditures account for 16.3 percent of domestic economy, and public debt has grown to a level equal to about 40 percent of the GDP.
Globally, economic freedom has increased for the third year in a row, it said.
The Index, once again, demonstrates that countries with higher levels of economic freedom substantially outperform others in economic growth, per-capita incomes, health care, education, protection of the environment, reduction of poverty and overall well-being.
 Hong Kong has maintained its status as the world's freest economy, a distinction that it has achieved for 21 consecutive years.
Despite the global progress recorded since the Index's inception in 1995, the number of people living without economic freedom remains disturbingly high: 4.5 billion, or 65 percent of the world's population. And more than half of these people live in China and India.
While structural reforms in the two countries sometimes boosted growth, the governments have failed to institutionalise open environments that promote broad-based and sustained improvements in the economic well-being of the population as a whole.

The Daily Star, 29 January 2015

Indian Hindi Movie song


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Enam Chy leads delegation to China

Enam Chy leads delegation to China

On an invitation from the Chinese Association of Friendship and International Understanding (CAFIU), a good-will mission from Bangladesh, led by Enam Ahmed Chaudhury, leaves for Beijing today, says a press release.
Though at an unofficial level, the mission's visit is being given a great deal of importance, and it is expected that the visit will significantly contribute to the development of mutual understanding and amity in different areas deserving attention.
It may be noted here that Enam A Chaudhury was the first Bangladeshi government representative to have led a delegation to China in late 1974, before China's formal recognition of Bangladesh. At that time, he concluded 5 agreements with several Chinese governmental agencies for export and import of commercial items. This good-will mission will be received by the Chairman and the Secretary General of CAFIU, and they will have discussion with the leaders of the National Committee of the people's consultative conference and others on issues of mutual interest. They will hold a meeting with Bank of China representatives, and will particularly focus on strengthening unofficial financial, investment and commercial ties. This delegation, sponsored by the Bangladesh-China People's Friendship Association comprises Messrs Ehsanul Huq, Managing Director of Prime Bank, Imtiaz Hussain, former president of Dhaka Stock Exchange, Mustafizur Rahman, businessman and Syed M Rahman, industrialist with significant Chinese connections. Besides performing other responsibilities, Enam Chaudhury is the chief adviser of Dhakabashi organisation, and will explore avenues to strengthen cultural ties and exchanges.
The National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference chief Madam Wang Zhizen will host a dinner in honour of the delegation on October 20, at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing.
The delegation will return to Dhaka on October 25.

Girl's body recovered

Girl's body recovered

Oct 17 : Sadar thana police recovered the body of a schoolgirl of class two of BRAC school at Chandoni village in sadar upazila of the district on Tuesday at about 12 am. Police said, the victim was identified as Bina (8), daughter of Bishu Sheikh of the same village.
Family sources said, Bina was abducted on Tuesday last when she was returning home from her school. She was abducted by some local hoodlums at gun point.
Police recovered her decomposed body after getting information from under the earth.
A case was filed with sadar thana police station in this connection.

Police arrest owner of garment factory

Police arrest owner of garment factory

Police on Friday night arrested the owner of a sweater factory at Ashuliya on the outskirts of the city from his Gulshan residence on charge of non-payment of arrear wages to the workers.
Ashuliya police station rounded up Ziaul Amin, owner of Seejon Sweater Factory, on a charge filed against him for not clearing outstanding dues of the factory workers.
Ziaul Amin was produced before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) court in Dhaka yesterday (Saturday) with a prayer for seven days remand.
On October 7, a case was lodged against Ziaul Amin with Ashuliya police station in this connection.
Demanding three months unpaid salaries, hundreds of workers of the Seejon Sweater Factory gheraoed BGMEA (Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association) office at Kawranbazar on October 3 and 7. In the face of demonstration, Ziaul Amin promised to clear arrear salaries by October 11.
The agitated workers of the factory also gheraoed the Gulshan residence of Ziaul Amin on October 12.

Crisis of trust

A crisis of trust

Public trust in financial institutions, and in the authorities that are supposed to regulate them, was an early casualty of the financial crisis. That is hardly surprising, as previously revered firms revealed that they did not fully understand the very instruments they dealt in or the risks they assumed. It is difficult not to take some private pleasure in this comeuppance for the Masters of the Universe. But, unfortunately, if this loss of trust persists, it could be costly for us all. As Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, “Our distrust is very expensive.” The Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow made the point in economic terms almost 40 years ago: “It can be plausibly argued that much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by the lack of mutual confidence.”
Indeed, much economic research has demonstrated a powerful relationship between the level of trust in a community and its aggregate economic performance. Without mutual trust, economic activity is severely constrained. Even within Europe, there is powerful evidence that countries where mutual trust is higher achieve higher levels of investment, particularly through venture capital investment, and are prepared to use more flexible contracts, which are also beneficial for growth and investment. So if it is true that trust in financial institutions – and in the governments that oversee them – has been damaged by the crisis, we should care a lot, and we should be devising responses which seek to rebuild that trust. In fact, the evidence for a crisis of trust is rather difficult to interpret. In the United Kingdom, recent survey results are ambiguous. Surveys promoted by financial firms tend to show that trust in them has not diminished much, and that people continue to trust them even more than they do the National Health Service or the BBC. Surveys promoted by the BBC tend to show the reverse. Banks quote statistics to show that they are more trusted than supermarkets, whereas supermarkets cite evidence that the opposite is true, and are expanding into financial services in the belief that the public will trust them more than they trust the banks, which have had to be expensively bailed out by the government. The market will prove one side right before too long.
In the United States, there is now a more systematic, independent survey promoted by economists at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Their financial trust index, based on a large-scale survey of financial decision-makers in United States households, did show a sharp fall in trust in late 2008 and early 2009, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. That fall in confidence affected banks, the stock market, and the government and its regulators. Furthermore, the survey showed that declining trust was strongly correlated with financial behaviour. In other words, if your trust in the market and in the way it is regulated fell sharply, you were less likely to deposit money in banks or invest in stocks. So falling trust had real economic consequences.
Fortunately, the latest survey, published in July this year, shows that trust in banks and bankers has begun to recover, and quite sharply. This has been positive for the stock market. There is also a little more confidence in the government’s response and in financial regulation than there was at the end of last year. The latter point, which no doubt reflects the Obama administration’s attempts to reform the dysfunctional system it inherited, is particularly important, as the sharpest declines in investment intentions were among those who had lost confidence in the government’s ability to regulate. It would seem that rebuilding confidence in the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission is economically more important than rebuilding trust in Citibank or AIG. Continuing disputes in Congress about the precise details of reform could, therefore, have an economic cost if a perception that the system will not be overhauled gains ground.
All these data are at an aggregate level and reflect average views among voters and investors. Yet we also know that individual views are remarkably heterogeneous. Some people are very trusting of others, and of the firms and institutions with which they do business. Others are congenitally distrustful. Researchers at the European University Institute in Florence and UCLA recently demonstrated that there is a relationship between trust and individuals’ income. A pan-European opinion survey, which has been carried out for many years, allows us to relate the two. It asks simple but powerful questions about how far individuals are inclined to trust those with whom they deal. The data show, intriguingly, that those who show levels of trust well below the average for the country they live in are likely to have lower incomes. Is that just because low-income people feel that life is unfair and therefore distrust those around them? It would seem not, as it is also true that very trusting people also have lower incomes than the average.
In other words, if you diverge markedly from society’s average level of trust, you are likely to lose out, either because you are so distrustful of others that you miss out on opportunities for investment and mutually beneficial exchange, or because you are so trusting that you leave yourself open to being cheated and abused. When anyone I don’t know says “trust me” – an irritating conversational tic – I usually close my wallet. Perhaps most academics, who are at the lower end of the skill and qualification-adjusted income scale, do the same. Maybe we should trust each other more – but not too much.
(The writer, former Chairman, UK, Financial Services Authority and a former Deputy Governor, Bank of England, is currently Director, London School of Economics.)

Sea Port of Bangladesh

Deep sea port authority soon

The government is going to form a 'Deep Sea Port Authority' soon to implement the much-awaited deep sea port project at Sonadia Island.
An additional secretary is likely to head the body, which would consist of experts from the related field and government officials of the ministry concerned and the Chittagong Port Authority.
The new body would be assigned to monitor the construction of the regional hub port through mobilizing Tk 10,500 crore, which is 70 per cent of the total project cost of Tk 15,000 crore.
According to the sources, the balance amount of Tk 4,500 crore will be provided by the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA).
A high official of the shipping ministry yesterday told The Independent that the ministry has prepared a proposal regarding the formation of the authority and it would be sent to the cabinet committee on economic affairs to be held on October 20.
"The Deep Sea Port Authority would be formed after getting nod from the committee. The authority will mobilise Tk 10,500 crore from the local capital market, bank loan and also from the foreign donor agencies as soft loan," he said.
"We will invite tender soon for preparing a detailed design to construct the proposed deep sea port," he added.
The grand-alliance government is yet to approve the five techno-economic feasibility study reports of Pacific Consultants International (PCI), a consultancy firm of Japan, the official told this reporter.
The PCI submitted the reports to the Shipping Ministry on construction of a deep seaport, on March 7, 2007 and they recommended the 'Sonadia Island' point, out of nine offshore points, as the most suitable site for construction of deep seaport in Bangladesh.
Acting secretary of shipping ministry Md Abdul Mannan Hawlader yesterday said that they would construct the port at any cost.
It will need five years to complete the construction work of the port.
Sources in the shipping ministry said Sonadia Island itself can act as a natural shelter for port basin and protection works against wave is minimal, required water depth of 14-mcd (meter cubic depth) is obtained by only three kilometre (km) long access channel and the 'capital dredging volume' is very high.
The study report proposed construction of the deep seaport as a regional hub to facilitate maritime trade with two provinces of China and seven states known as seven sisters of Eastern India, in addition to Nepal and Bhutan.
With the construction of the deep seaport, all other vessels calling at the Chittagong Port will take berth at the deep seaport jetties and will easily unload the cargo. Presently, the mother vessel cannot take berth at the existing CPA jetties situated on the bank of the river Karnaphuli, 10-km from the Bay of Bengal.
With the construction of the deep seaport, the annual container handling capacity would be nearly 30 lakh TEUs (ten equivalent units) and the cargo handling capacity would be more than 10 crore metric tons.
Similarly, annual revenue income of the Chittagong Port will also increase by more than Taka 2000 crore.

Democracy Bangladesh

Democracy, unity vital to fight poverty, says PM

Khaleda would have come, had it been a rally for loot, Hasina tells anti-poverty rally

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday stressed the need for vibrant democracy and national unity to ensure alleviation of poverty hoping that no vested quarter would hatch conspiracy to impede democratic process in the country.
"Without democracy and national unity, it will not possible to eliminate poverty. I hope no vested quarter would hatch conspiracy in order to impede democracy," the prime minister said while addressing a united anti-poverty rally at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city.
She said her government was always alert to people rights.
"We will have to ensure people's rights as they voted us to power. We are determined to do so," Hasina added.
The prime minister further said eradicating poverty, establishing rule of law, good governance, and ensuring accountability and transparency are a must.
"We are transparent about our success and failure," she added.
Hasina said that her government wanted to make the parliament effective and keeping this in mind they tried to bring the opposition BNP in the parliament in different ways.
"But they didn't respond to our call," she added in a frustrated tone.
Urging the opposition to attend the parliament and speak for the people she said, "I shall be very glad if leader of the opposition in parliament attend the rally to raise her voice against the poverty and say how Bangladesh can be made a poverty-free country".
Referring to the leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia's refusal to turn out in the programme, Prime minister said that since she (Khaleda Zia) did not bother for the betterment of the poor, she didn't attend the rally.
"The opposition leader didn't like to attend the anti-poverty rally but if it was a programme for looting people's asset, she might have turned up to make a fortune," the prime minister said.
She said that while her party was in opposition in the parliament, they had been given only five to six seats.
"We were 62 MPs in 2001 and the treasury bench had given us only five to six seats but we didn't raise any question about the issue," she added.
The prime minister further said the opposition was given double seats in the front row in the parliament, although BNP has only 27 MPs.
"We also had offered BNP the post of deputy speaker but the party didn't submit any application to the parliament for the post," Hasina added.
She said, "We have given seven posts of chairman of the parliamentary standing committee to the BNP. These seven chairmen are doing their work but refraining from attending the parliament session."
But they (opposition lawmakers) are visiting different foreign countries as parliamentary delegation members, she mentioned.
Hasina said when she was the leader of the opposition in the parliament her microphone had been switched off 72 times.
"But our speaker didn't switch off the microphone when leader of the opposition was speaking," she pointed out.
The prime minister warned that corruption and corrupt would not be tolerated any more.
"The corrupts, who looted orphanage's money and trafficked them outside the country, would be brought back in the country," she said.
She added Anticorruption Commission has been given authority to work independently.
"We have limited resources and assets. As a result, when a section of people start looting, other section become poor. But this trend would not be tolerated further as we want to ensure equal distribution of resources and wealth," she added.
She warned that stern action would be take against the persons involved in any crime or corruption whether he would be the member of the ruling party.
Hasina urged the people from all walks of life and all party affiliation to come forward in order to build national unity for eradication poverty from the country.
She said the government had started building the social safety net to ensure food security in the country. "As part of building social safety net, we introduced Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) cards among the poor. Simultaneously, shelter centres for the homeless people, will also be set up," the prime minister said.
Finance minister AMA Muhith, chief whip and chairperson, all party parliamentary group and co-chair of Anti-Poverty Campaign National Committee, vive-principal Abdus Shahid, Bangladesh Economic Association chairman Kazi Kholiquzzaman, Global director , United Nations Millennium Campaign Salil Shetty and secretary general all-party parliamentary group and member secretary, Anti-Poverty Campaign National Committee Shishir Shil also spoke on the occasion.
Abdul Hamid, speaker, Bangladesh parliament and chairperson Anti-Poverty Campaign National Committee presided over the programme.
Apart from them ministers, government high officials, foreign diplomats and the members of civil society also attended the function.
The UNDP has approved a budget of $ 1.28 lakh for the programme which will be spread over three days.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Politics of Bangladesh

Khaleda's absence in anti-poverty rally hurts Speaker, Ashraf

Speaker Md Abdul Hamid Advocate said the absence of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Khaleda Zia in the 'historic' anti-poverty rally has really hurt him, reports UNB.

His said this while addressing the 'anti-poverty rally throughout the country', marking the 'International Day for the Eradication of Poverty' at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre Saturday.

"This rally has been organised on behalf of the Jatiya Sangsad. This is neither a political rally nor any group's gathering. Here both head of the government and leader of the opposition have been invited as guests. Hence, the absence of the leader of the opposition has hurt me", he added.

He said when all preparations were completed and the whole nation was eagerly waiting to see the two leaders on the same dais to take an oath to work unitedly on all national issues, including poverty alleviation, the opposition leader abruptly disagreed to attend the function.

"As a matter of fact, I have had all preparations to hold such a historic rally after getting her due consent. The issues she has raised as reasons for not attending the event could have been mentioned even at this gathering. And the reaction of the government would have come up at the same time."

BSS adds: General secretary of Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam said Khaleda's stance for not joining the anti-poverty rally organised by APPG has frustrated the whole nation.

"Begum Zia, even being a responsible leader, has intentionally uttered many untrue remarks to justify her absence from the rally."

He said these while briefing reporters after a meeting of the secretariat body of the Awami League at party's Dhanmondi office Saturday.