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Incumbent's predicament: Poor governance takes a heavy toll
A.K. Faezul Huq

          WITH barely a year left for the next general elections, BNP's predicament pertaining to the continuous power crisis, spiralling prices of essentials and a limping law and order knows no bound. In the much publicized 'Pre-election discussion' at the Iftar party held last month, the grass-root leaders and workers who had assembled in Dhaka after months of wait, just blasted the top leadership of the party -- mostly the ministers -- for their failure in the three vital sectors. A total of 1300 delegates, mostly from the mid and lower echelon of the party attended the meeting, out of whom only 16 were allowed to speak out their hearts, and they did so with full vigour.
The aggrieved leaders who spoke, strongly recommended for taking positive steps to keep the prices of essentials within the buying capacity of the common people, resolving the intra-party feuds, bridging the undesirable and growing gap among the 'Jote' [alliance] partners, reducing diesel prices, implementation of election pledges and promises, introducing of 'palli' [rural] rationing system, combating the extremists and building up a rock-solid relationship between the leaders and workers at all levels of the party. They also urged the central leaders to take proper measures for proper presentation of the party's success story and list of achievements of the government during the last four years through the media.
It is reported that S. M. Ghaznavi of Borhanuddin Thana [from Bhola district] was furious. He wanted to know why nothing has been done so far to ensure proper supply and distribution of power throughout the country even after remaining in office for four years, when only 15 months are left for the next general elections, which is due in January 2007. "We won't be allowed to escape people's wrath if we fail in fulfilling the pledges and promises that we had made during the last elections. God forbid, if we are knocked out of power, then that would be our waterloo." Pointing his fingers towards the helpless lot of Ministers sitting in the front row he said: "You can stop us temporarily by shouting, but you cannot keep people's mouth shut at all times. People are criticising us for the price spiral of essentials."
Ghaznavi was absolutely bitter when he mentioned about some of the officials of Prime Minister's Office [PMO] whom he squarely blamed for their conspiratorial role that clearly hampered implementation of different power projects leading to eventual power crisis. Mujibur Rahman, a local leader from Munshiganj lamented the misuse of Tk: 12 billion subsidies in the agriculture sector [for fertilizers] which he said, "never reached its avowed destination due to sheer corruption." He made a strong plea for introduction of card system to distribute fertilizer among the farmers in the rural areas.
Rahman's master-piece was when he charged the ministers and senior BNP leaders of delivering contradictory speeches. "First you said there is nothing like Bangla Bhai. Later you announced a bounty to arrest him. Why this funny reversal?" he posed. "If Janajuddho men along with other criminals can be killed in cross-fire, then why not JMB men?" he wanted to know. Sarwar-e-Alam from Gournadi Thana [in Barisal district] questioned as to why the upazila system was not being revived. He was bitter and critical. He reminded the ministers and the top level BNP leaders sitting both on the dais and in the front rows that it was an election pledge and they would have to answer to the people for not reviving the system even after four clear years of being in office. And the best part of the meeting was, when some of the senior leaders joined the popular chorus. Choudhury Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui [Napolean], a senior, 'semi-disgruntled' member of the party's standing committee, while fully agreeing with the grass root leaders said that the unremitting price hike of essentials and continuous load-shedding would have a tremendous negative effect in the next general elections as far as the party was concerned. Tanvir Siddiqui was of the opinion that citing examples of price hike in other countries would not solve the problem as people do not want to hear any such explanation. He also reminded the meeting that minus the total holidays, only eight working months are left to put the house in order.
Jamalpur district BNP general secretary, Wares Ali, was of the opinion that many local religious leaders and workers are just leaving BNP to join the Jamaat-e-Islami because the Jatiyotabadi Ulema Dal [party] has become almost extinct. "Please infuse some life into the Ulema Dal, without any delay," he strongly pleaded. Like Wares Ali, many grass-root leaders felt that the BNP had given enough leverage to one of the alliance partners and they needed to be properly cut to size now. However, the bulk of the speakers were of the opinion that internal conflicts and feud at different levels was gradually making the party ineffective and therefore they recommended taking pragmatic steps to ease the situation. However, the ministers -- Saifur Rahman and Mannan Bhuiyan -- loudly sang the song of achievement and blamed international market, the Awami League and India [indirectly] for all the miseries in Bangladesh. He went on to compare the price of diesel, fertilizer and soybean with India and said that we were still better off with 6.7 per cent rate of inflation compared to 9.0 per cent in Pakistan and 11.7 in Sri Lanka. Similarly BNP's Secretary-General Mannan Bhuiyan, whose speech on the occasion was punctuated with applause and hailed as one of the best so far, [because he never falls within the category of good speakers], remained confined in putting all the blame on the opposition. He listed education, environment, health and poverty alleviation as total achievements of the government and bitterly criticised the main opposition Awami League for its continuous boycott of the Parliament.
Now, as the saying goes, the devil has to be given his due also, and accordingly it must be admitted that some good work has been accomplished in the education and the environment sectors no doubt, but the achievement in the health and the poverty alleviation sectors is an off beam claim and nothing else. The health sector alone would account for a major share in the overall corruption syndrome prevailing in the country, as irresponsible doctors, spurious medicines and money-making clinics thrive in abundance all around. It is, however, immaterial what the top government leaders say when people's sufferings knows no limits. First of all, price hike in International market is a 'bogey' which can be conveniently used at all times -- like 'Islam is in danger', and especially when the politicians are in dire trouble. In Bangladesh, most imports of essentials which are used by the common people come directly from India, Nepal or Bhutan and not USA or UK or any European country for that matter. Does onion, potato, chilly, spices, fish, eggs, pulses or other kitchen items considered essential, come from any of the advanced countries mentioned above? The answer is a big 'NO'. It is either through informal trade such as smuggling or through proper banking sources [i.e LCs]. Now, if one kg of onion is imported from India for say, Tk. 7 or 8 per kg through the land port at Chapai Nawabganj border, it has to invariably pass through innumerable barriers including extortions at 10 to 15 points on its way to Dhaka. Let us add, say Taka 1/- each at all the devil's point which then roughly comes to Takas 23 or so. Then add the middleman's commission and the overall profit of the whole-sellers and the retailers, making it finally available as an expensive kitchen item for Tk. 29 or 30. [Somehow I forgot to mention the additional extortion of the local 'mastans' and the policemen [women] on duty who are supposed to protect the public!]. How can we expect to get a kg of onion at a fair price of say, 10 or 12 Takas then with the present [accepted] system of extortion in vogue? And mind you, it is not only the BNP cadres who are involved in such heinous extortions. At the most appropriate time, all the 'birds of the same feather flock together'. Awami League cadres, Jatiyo party volunteers and even other party workers join the 'easy' business of extortion. You really don't need any investment for that---only muscles are needed! Has anyone protested so far or taken any concrete step/s to stop the nuisance? Then why do we mislead people and compare our price hike with other foreign countries and blame them for our miseries?
Similarly, the power crisis is our own make. We have patronised the so-called 'system loss' without any serious effort or action for years together in order to earn the unholy support of the CBA leaders and other trade union activists and workers. We have allowed unplanned growth and distribution of power units without taking into consideration our total resources. We have almost discouraged power plants in the private sector despite repeated warnings from the FBCCI and thousands of businessmen who, as it appears now, had a better anticipation and vision of the problem. What do we expect then? Miracle to happen? Obviously the problem has taken a malignant contour while the crux remains as it is. Unfortunately for all of us, the demand grows in leaps and bounds, while the supply is far, far behind. How can anyone, even descending from the heavens, solve the problem then? And as BNP leaders and workers have pointed out, certain officials in the PMO have seriously conspired to let down the government, despite all the sincerity. There is therefore only one solution left. And that is to import power from any of the neighbouring countries at a fairly negotiated rate---any country for that matter which has surplus electricity and is willing to export it to us, till we have a plethora of our own power plants operating in full swing.
And finally, the limping, floppy law and order situation which is presently breathing on an artificial apparatus and is anything but satisfactory. If we pull off the life-support, it will be gone! The RAB is certainly no satisfactory answer for any democratic country. It is like treatment of a patient with high dose antibiotics or keeping him alive by using artificial devises as I mentioned above, which again, as we all know, cannot be a permanent solution. If the RAB is to be withdrawn tomorrow morning for some ostensible reason, the law and order situation will completely collapse. The first and foremost solution therefore lies in de-linking the criminals from the present system of political patronage and treating them as mere criminals and nothing else. The police should have a free hand in dealing with the terrorists and their cohorts without any directives whatsoever from 'above' in any case. Only then can we get rid of the menace. Otherwise it is useless to even discuss the subject. The BNP leadership, with hardly enough time left for redressing the problems that it faces, should wake up, stop rhetoric of all sorts and give up the habit of shifting the blame for everything bad on the opposition. They should take the opposition as a challenge and not as an enemy. They must rectify their own house first before delivering sermons. The people are really fed up with the present mode of governance which they even did not dream. However the only piece of good news for the ruling party leaders is: The public is still not getting proper outlet or alternative, or else….!


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Leadership, corruption and poverty trap
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