Where the country is heading to?
- Mohammad Amjad Hossain

The four-party alliance led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was voted to power by the people to get rid of corruption, lawlessness, terrorism, nepotism and extortion. The people, by and large, were desperate to do away with immediate past Awami League regime because the country was beset with the vices. The people turned out in large numbers to cast their votes to register their anger and indignation against the Awami League leadership to have a new government which could deliver goods.

But they got nothing. The leaders of the BNP in their election projection meetings declared in categorical terms to stop corruption, eliminate terrorism and ensure security for the lives of the country's citizens. The article 27 of the Constitution stipulated that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Therefore, the government should ensure security for the citizens. If the executive branch of the government fails to ensure minimum security and safety to the people, one wonders whether the government has moral justification to remain in power. From a glance through the columns of the newspapers for a period of one week beginning 1st of May, one gets the impression that killings, rape, snatching, dacoity in broad day light have increased manifold. Since the present coalition government assumed power the law and order situation coupled with price hike of essential commodities, and general maladministration have brought the country on the verge of ruination. Load shedding in energy sector every day has added further misery to the city dwellers in particular.

It is an irony that while the Prime Minister of the country was seen addressing world leaders at a special session of the United Nations on children wherein she urged upon all nations to join forces for creating an environment where children could live peacefully removing perils like child abuse, exploitation and violence against them, major newspapers of the country ran a story relating to gruesome killing of a 20-month old baby, Marisha Islam Naushin, in Dhaka city in broad day light. This is a slur on the administration. According to a letter writer to The Daily Star (dated 13 May 2002) only in April 2002 there have been 168 cases involving children. Where does government stand in view of such criminal acts on children? The same day the newspapers carried stories of murder of the newly elected ward commissioner Saidur Rahman Newton. This is not the end of the agony the people are passing through. Another minor girl of 12 years Shamsunnahar -- at Laximpur, who escaped rapist, was murdered.

On top of all these the Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, who is a retired Air Vice Marshal of Bangladesh Air Force -- a disciplined cadre force of the country -- had made a religious sermon at the death of the child Naushin by saying "Life or death is in the hands of Allah and none can do anything about it. Allah has taken back his creature." It would have been more appropriate had this sermon been delivered by a religious leader (kullu nafsin almaut). Being the Minister for Home Affairs whose duties and responsibilities are to ensure security of the people by curbing crimes, his comments at such tragic event would certainly encourage the criminals to conduct themselves at their whim as they did during Awami League regime. The Home Minister also reportedly further commented that "the baby was not the target. Bullets were fired from other side of the street. None thought the bullet would hit in such a way." How can a Home Minister make such a remark which in a way would defend the criminals? The way he has conducted himself at the recent tragic events at Rajshahi and Dhaka is unbecoming of the Minister for Home Affairs. It is a disgrace for a disciplined cadre force, too.

The electorate in this country never voted to allow criminals to have a free hand. The political manifesto of the BNP in particular made it clear that BNP was pledge bound to eradicate terrorism and corruption in order to build a prosperous Bangladesh. It also vowed to establish constitutional democratic system and rule of law. In a society where criminalisation process has been going on with the blessings of both the ruling and opposition political parties the comments by the Home Minister were most unfortunate. His comments raised wide criticism everywhere, apart from critical comments in the media. I found hardly an individual, who defended the Home Minister.

The people have become so upset at the spate of crimes that city petrol pump owners shut down their business on 11 May in protest against killing of Shahed Newaz Babla, a filling station proprietor and threatened to go for an indefinite strike if the killer was not caught within 72 hours.

Indiscipline in the administration and corruption are on the rampage which deters progress in the economic sector. Business community was hard hit because of corruption and extortion. In spite of SRO [supplementary revenue order], which exempts taxes on the imported machinery and spare parts for export oriented industries, custom officials at Chittagong sea port are insisting on realizing taxes on such items to meet the revenue target set aside by the Finance Minister. In this process custom officials are allegedly assured of gifts money to evade taxes by unscrupulous business houses. Elected representatives of the allied organizations of political party like Sramik Dal, Juba Dal and Workers Union in DESA and T&T are reportedly making money on transfers and new postings in collusion with the relevant ministries. Their living standard and accommodation facilities do not commensurate with their take-home salary. The innocent people have fallen prey to their insatiable last. In this connection, comments made by Peter Lysholt Hansen, Under Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark about the highest level corruption in the Ministry of Shipping which resulted withdrawal of US $45 million from the shipping sector earmarked for next five years, are unfortunate and uncalled for, but seem to bear relevance. Hansen is on record by saying that the parentless situation in governance halted the economic growth and there is hardly any action so far though six months already passed since the government took over.

Meanwhile, donors at Bangladesh development forum held in Paris on 13-15 March, 2002 called upon Bangladesh government for improving law and order and governance and curbing corruption. Economic assistance has been linked with the implementation of decisive reform programmes. This is how foreign donor countries are looking at the problems of Bangladesh. The government in power should identify the reasons of law and order situation and corruption immediately and ruthless steps should be taken ruthlessly to eradicate the menace for the sake of the image of the country and to bring about confidence of the people in the government. The people are frustrated. They demonstrated their anger by not participating in large numbers in the elections of the city corporation in Dhaka and Khulna. The government should realize the gravity of the situation. If necessary, the army should be called in to assist civilian administration to recover illegal arms and arrest listed criminals. The administration should also cancel the licences issued for arms and direct the owners to deposit their arms to the nearest police stations within 72 hours, till the drive of recovery of illegal arms and arrest of criminals are completed.

The great enemy of our political leaders are sycophants who are in most cases corrupt, dishonest and inefficient. If a national leader is encircled with these people, it pollutes administration, helps breed corruption and retards promotion of social welfare.

Love and affection has no place in politics. This should not be an exception in the context of Bangladesh. For a handful of corrupt politicians and terrorists, this should not be allowed to come to a pass which will bring about only weal and woes for the entire nation in the long run. Mohammad Amjad Hossain is a former diplomat. © The Daily Star 

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