December 2009


The recent controversy on Chevron deal and the follow up political rumblings surrounding the PM’s son and her energy advisor on one side and Amar Desh editor on the other side has captivated nation’s attention for the last few weeks. While we debate how freedom of speech is being used to trash political opponents, or how political thuggery is trying to gag free speech, the very important issue of a specific corruption allegation is getting crowded out.

 Let’s keep Mr Sajib Wajed or Mr Mahmudur Rahman out of the issue. Mahmudur rahman is making full use of the victimhood, and his showmanship on this issue is ugly. And Mr Wajed is also dragged in this issue unnecessarily or prematurely. It is an unfortunate fact of life for the children of politicians of Bangladesh and beyond that they are always under close scrutiny and often victim of rampant character assassination attempts.

 However, leaving these individuals aside, we are still left with a specific corruption allegation that has merit enough to demand further discussion and scrutiny. Amar Desh reports a specific corruption report with copies of leaked official correspondence.

The specifics of the corruption allegation are self revealing. A $52 million job was allocated to Chevron without required transparency that includes a tender process. And while protesting the report, PM’s energy advisor repeatedly misrepresented facts. While he said there was no bid in three tenders, the fact is that the Government cancelled earlier lowest bid from Korean Company Hyundai only to award the job to Chevron. He also lied about his agenda for the US trip.

Instead of relying on Amar Desh, let’s turn to the premiere newspaper of Bangladesh, the Daily Star.    The Daily Star printed at least seven reports on this specific issue. (Interestingly, while Amar Desh report is based on government documents, the Daily Star series report, as usual, is based on unnamed sources.  But let’s leave this aside, as no one would accuse the Daily Star of partisan hatred of the current government, or Mr Mahfuz Anam, its editor, of ugly showmanship.

On April 11 2009, the Daily Star warned that a compressor station for gas distribution pipeline was being planned to be awarded to Chevron which would “… unduly give Chevron the authority to control major chunk of the country’s gas distribution system. This will definitely create a number of serious legal complications over the authority and ownership of the compressor station and the distribution pipeline” .

Another follow up report published on June 21 2009 quotes a gas transmission expert: “Even if we accept the idea of pumping PSC investment in compressor, I say Muchai gets no priority for a compressor station now. Because of high volume of gas produced by Chevron, the gas pressure at Muchai and onwards is 1024 pressure per inch (PSI). This pressure will stay for a couple of years at this point. But we need a compressor at Ashuganj where the pressure drops to 700-800psi. A number of new plants are being set up close to the Ashuganj pipeline system. Then why prioritise Muchai now?”

The same report also quotes another official: “Petrobangla’s extreme reliance on foreign investment in the gas sector has already created a precarious situation for the national exchequer. The cost of gas is now very high because foreign companies are producing more gas than the national companies which have been denied adequate funds for their healthy growth”.

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A new Chief Justice has just sworn in. Justice Tofazzal Hossain took oath yesterday but will be at the helm of nations Judiciary for a relatively short term. Future will decide how well he served his role as nations chief judge. However, his promotion clearly breaches a promise made to the nation by this government. Criticizing previous BNP government for manipulation and politicization of judiciary, the current ruling party made a promise to the nation to stop any further manipulation and politicization of judiciary.

As we continue to see the glorious role being played by the high court judges in upholding human rights and rule of law, we also see the ever growing urge in ruling party to see a subservient judiciary.

Justice Tofazzal Hossain has been made chief Justice superseding Justice Fazlul Karim. The time honored tradition of promoting judges according to seniority has again been breached. Definitely the government has a standard which one has to fulfill before one is promoted to higher ranks.

Recent comments made by the full and half ministers for Law about a sitting judge reminds us of the standard government leadership expects.

In threatening and criticizing Justice nazrul Islam Chowdhury for the comments he made in a human rights related meeting, the state minister of law reportedly stated that, ” He was recruited by our government. Such a statement from him is unfortunate. ওই বিচারপতি ১৯৯৬ থেকে ২০০১ সালে আমাদের সরকারের সময়ে নিয়োগপ্রাপ্ত। তার কাছ থেকে এ ধরনের বক্তব্য আসা দুঃখজনক।”

Taking two sentences out of context from a long speech, both the ministers launched attack on Justice Nazrul Islam Chowdhury. In his long speech Justice Chowdhury discussed in detail on article 70 of our constitution which kind of make sour parliament not the perfect debate ground. At the end of his speech he also brought the issue of extra Judicial killing. He said,

… বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ড অবশ্যই বন্ধ করতে হবে। বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যা বিচার বিভাগের জন্য বড় ধরনের আঘাত। আমরা বিচারপতিরা জনগণের অধিকার রক্ষার শপথ নিয়েছি। কিন্তু আমাদের সামনেই যখন বিনা বিচারে কাউকে হত্যা করা হয়, তখন আমাদের জন্য সেটা আঘাতস্বরূপ। কোনো আইনশৃঙ্খলা রক্ষাকারী বাহিনীর সদস্যের হাতে কাউকে হত্যার দায়িত্ব তুলে দেয়া যায় না। এটা জাতির জন্য আত্মহত্যার শামিল। …যারা সংসদ সদস্য হবেন, তাদেরকে আইন প্রণয়নের বিষয়ে সম্যক ধারণা থাকতে হবে। সংসদ সদস্যদের দায়িত্ব হলো জনগণের মঙ্গলের জন্য আইন তৈরি করা। আইনের খুঁটিনাটি বিষয় নিয়ে বিতর্ক করা। আইনের একটি শব্দ, সেমিকোলন—এসব বিষয় নিয়ে দিনের পর দিন বিতর্ক হতে পারে। কেরানিরা আইনের ড্রাফট তৈরি করে আর সংসদ সদস্যরা সেটা হো হো করে তালি বাজিয়ে পাস করে দেবেন, এটা তাদের দায়িত্ব নয়। অনেক সংসদ সদস্য আইনের ড্রাফটটি অনেক সময় পড়েও দেখেন না। দলীয় লোক আইন উত্থাপন করেছেন, তাই এটা পাস।

…Extra Judicial Killing must stop. Extra Judicial Killing is a rude attack on the judiciary. We, the judges have taken oath to uphold the rights of people. But when someone is killed ( by the state) in front of us, it is a direct attack on us. No law enforcement agency can be given the right to take the life of a citizen. It is like a suicide for the nation. Members of Parliament must have comprehensive knowledge in drafting laws. It is the responsibility of the Members of Parliament to make laws those are beneficial for the people, debate on every nitty gritty of the proposed law. There can be debate day after day about one single word, a semi colon etc in  a proposed law. Parliament clerks will draft the laws and the Members of Parliament will approve it hand clapping and saying Ho Ho, ( without doing any debate)–it is not their job.  Many Members of Parliamen sometimes don’t even read the draft law. They only vote for it as the bill was brought in a member belonging to the same party…

While even we  the bloggers refrain from making harsh comments against a sitting judge, these two ministers did not shy away from making sweeping comments against a sitting judge. While one has threatened to unseat the judge by revoking supreme judicial council, the full minister of law made public statement saying the judge made those comments out of his own ignorance.

The comments of these two ministers make me worry about the future of our independent judiciary. The high court division has been doing great job in upholding the rights of the citizens of the country. The nation is proud of them and hope to remain proud of them.

A recent op-ed my Badruddin Umar also makes a strong case against the minister’s threats against the judge.

 Update 03/19/10: Sajeeb Wazed Joy accused of running illegal VOIP operations by Opposition Chief Whip Zoinul Abedin Faroque MP. Cases filed against Faroque all over the country; arrest warrant issued against him. Government launches anti-VOIP drive against private telephone operators. 

Update 12/21/09: Advisor Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury just muddied the waters, even further today, blatantly and categorically lying about his trip to the United States at the press conference.

When asked about his trip:

Dr. Chowdhury said that he did not do anything except for participate in an expatriate (BDI) conference.

However, this press release from the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington DC (page 15 of 18) shows that he came down to Washington DC the day after the conference closed, had meetings at the Department of Energy, and had lunch as the US Chamber of Commerce with, alongside others, officials from Chevron.

Original Post:

On 17th December, Amar Desh published a news report alleging that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, took bribes from Chevron, the US power giant, with Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury acting as the middleman. The report made these specific allegation:

1. This bribe was given in exchange for allowing Chevron to proceed with the installation of a $52 million compressor station. The installation of this compressor station was awarded to Chevron without inviting any tenders from competing bidders.

2. A $5 million bribe was taken from Chevron in exchange of this work-order.

3. Out of this amount, $2 milion was given to Sajeeb Wazed Joy by Dr. Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury on 14th October, 2009 at Texas.

4. The proposed compressor station is currently unnecessary.

5. The above allegation are made in a letter on Petobangla (state-run organization responsible for oil and gas exploration) stationery, which was sent to the Prime Minister’s office.

6. Subsequently, Petrobangla and the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Natural Resources exchanged letters about which organization should be the lead agency in investigating this matter.

The first thing to note about this report is that Amar Desh is not claiming to have found out this alleged corruption by themselves. Rather, they are claiming they have the copies of the specific documents that record these allegations and the subsequent exchange of letters between the two agencies (quiet understandable given the people involved). The allegations are extraordinarily detailed. They mention the project in which this alleged financial impropriety took place, the reason for the bribe, the amount of the bribe, and even the location where bribe was handed over. What is left unmentioned, but remains pertinent, is that Sheikh Hasina is the minister in charge of this ministry, and thus, bears direct responsibility for all activities and transactions in this ministry.

Now, had this been the end of the matter, the story would have died down in a couple of days. The editorial stance of Amar Desh is decidedly anti-government, and absent further developments, this story would have gone nowehere. However, this story was given further rleevance by the Awami League themselves.

At a discussion meeting held the day after this report was published, Awami League leaders roundly criticized this news report, and the newspaper publishing this report. The money quote would be from Jahangir Alam Nanak, Minister of State for Local Government and Rural Development, who addressed his comments directly to Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh: “Do not exceed the limits of our patience. If people get angry, you won’t be able to come out in public. You want to belittle Sajeeb Wazed Joy and rehabilitate Tareq Rahman? That will never happen.”

The over-the-top reaction from Awami League leaders was a fairly accurate representation of their tolerance of negative press. No one has the right to threaten a newspaper and its editor simply because a report containing an allegation of corruption is published. One suspects that with the negative news emanating from the Copenhagen where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasins is currently leading a high-profile delegation (although a final deal will definitely materialize), the stripping of Jatiyo Party MP Abul Kashem of his post by the High Court, the news about Jubo League men beating up two reporters in Bogra, the Supreme Court holding the appointment of the Law Secretary illegal, the fact that disqualified MP Jasimuddin is still drawing benefits from the Parliament Secretariat, and pressure mounting in the government to stop extra-judicial “crossfire” murders and bring RAB under accountability, the government and the ruling party was already buffeted by an extremely negative news cycle. Meanwhile, the opposition BNP appears rejuvenated after its successful council. The Amar Desh report was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

 Today, Amar Desh published the rejoinder that the government sent in, and its own response to the rejoinder. The government rejoinder does not address the main allegations raised in the news report. As Amar Desh’s response correctly notes, the newspaper is not pulling these facts out of thin air. They claim to have copies of the documents that detail this allegation and the subsequent bureaucratic hissy-fit. The governemnt’s rejoinder ignores the initial complaint sent from Petrobangla, and whether the accusations made in that letter were true.

Assuming that these allegations are completely false, it should be an easy matter to disprove them. They can be rebutted point-by-point. One hopes that that is the path the government takes; rather than resorting to jingoistic threats against journalistic independence. This is also a good point to remind ourselves that we are all innocent until proven guilty, and those who are proved innocent can then, in turn, bring their own claims in a court of law. Also, such allegations are rather a rather common occurrence in democracies. Factual inquiries should be met by facts, and facts alone. Along that path lies democratic maturity.

Rumi Ahmed : I am sincerely hoping to see Mirza Fakhrul Islam as the new Secretary General of BNP. But I am afraid we may end up seeing Khondokar Delwar Hossain as a status quo. . Mr. Delwar needs to move on. On record is all my praises and support for Delwar when he held BNP during its worst time. But now he needs to move on.

Jyoti Rahman:: The new Secretary General needs to be somebody who:
a. can project youth, vitality, and freshness
b. have a strong enough personality to impose his will on various factions (I presume Khaleda Zia endorsement is given)
c. Can stand up to Tarique Rahman if he repeats past mistakes
d. Doesn’t have personal ambition to challenge Tarique Rahman

tacit: I think BNP should stick with Khondokar Delwar Hossain. He is better than the alternatives (Khondokar Mosharraf, Nazmul Huda). Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is still too young and unseasoned, He needs to be given more administrative responsibility first.

Rumi Ahmed: : tacit, most of previous BNP Secretary Generals were not seasoned politicians. B Chowdhury was a political novice, so was Col Mostafizur Rahman. But when Khaleda Zia herself was a novice, she needed a seasoned politician, hence KM Obaidur Rahman did the job fairly well in helping her rebuild the party. And after that all the Secretary Generals came up from mid rank and file. Salam Talukder, Abdul Manan Bhuiyan are examples. I heard none of the names until they became Scretary General. Mannan Bhuiyan was Krishak Dal president before becoming Secretray General. So is Mr Mirza Alamgir now.

You need a Purnaiya Pandit ( seasoned politician) if the leader in novice. But Khaleda Zia is no longer novice, rather she is one of the most seasoned living politicians in Bangladesh now. She needs someone like young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of 1950s. Someone young and charismatic, energetic with good negotiating skill, who will keep travelling from thana to thana and organize. He would prevent incidents like that in Chittagong council from happening, he will hardball with Dhaka city committee leaders/ Manikganj district leaders into a consensus committee.

If you ask me, I would have said, Khondokar Delwar Hossain deserved the newly created post of vcxzt senior vice Chairman. Tarique Rahman should have been Joint Secretary for a total of 16 years ( Like all the current Joint SGs are).

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Wool coat with Faux Fur Hood = $ 250.00

Round-trip ticket from Dhaka to Sweden = $ 1670.00

Cost of solar panel installed on the roof of State Minister for Forest and Environment Dr. Hasan Mahmud’s residence = $ 533.33

Comments made in cabinet meetings such as “”The prime minister in the meeting gave directives to stop felling of trees.” = $ 0

A Prime Minister who can stop Awami League MPs from denuding the forest in our coastal regions and building brick-fields in the middle of forests = Priceless

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of two major political parties of Bangladesh just held it’s 5th council. Although mandated to be held every two years, the last council took place 16 years ago. It may be premature to analyze the positive and negative sides of the council, but it is definitely the good time to start the deliberation.

The Good:

Fairy speaking, this is the only real council attempt by a major party in this tour. Awami League’s council was a Dhaka based eyewash. Contrary to AL’s public event, BNP tried to come from bottom up and do a real council. Starting with Thana level then district/ metropolitan level and then central level. Although BNP could successfully elect a committee in 49 out of 75 district level committees and some council including that of Chittagong, Rajbari etc got foiled due to infighting on committee positions, the whole process paints a positive tone on BNP’s politics. First of all it shows the energy and potential of BNP grassroots, especially in a time after a major political and electoral debacle. Additionally BNP can showcase all these as the ‘unpaved roads of democracy’. Committees were not centrally assigned to Dhaka based lackeys, rather people in villages- unions-upazillas- Zillas took the ownership and raised enough hue and cry to see a committee of their liking.

Other positive features of the council definitely would include unprecedented organizational excellence in arranging such a political event, especially by an opposition political party. Khaleda Zia’s speech was good, inclusive and with adequate respect for the timely issues like spirit of 1971. Also very heartening was a conciliatory tone both from the ruling party and the opposition. BNP published 8 fairly good quality books. This was definitely a much needed front for BNP to start working on. And in general, the media covered the event with a positive attitude. This is definitely unprecedented for any event related to BNP.


The Bad:

Not a single major political party council since inception of Bangladesh in 1971 could elect its committee during the council. BNP failed to come out as an exception. Also failing to break with tradition, the council was nothing but formalities, colorful stage events of courtesy speeches. Totally missing was any substance. Council means councilors will speak their mind ad libitum, criticize failings, wrong decisions. Also missing was any policy discussion. How BNP should look like in 10, 20 or 50 years; how BNP will face issues like Tipaimukh- PIlkhana-transit-Jamaat, how to reach out to newer generations etc —- were the kinds of discussions a council is for. Another very odd feature of BNP’s 2009 council was total absence of centrist, leftists, progressive, political outlets and civic society groups. They completely failed to attract any outlet politically to the left of BNP. Only attended and spoke were leaders of rightist outfits such as Jamaat, Nezam e islami, Khelafat, JAGPA, BJP. Khaleda Zia herself wrote in an op-ed several months ago that BNP is a party, which stays right of the left and left of the rightists’ parties. Nation failed to see anything on the left of BNP during the council opening session.

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