Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How are you, dear Bangladesh?

This is from October perception study by Election Worlking Group.

In terms of an overall subjective assessment of their situation, only one-quarter of respondents believe, taking all factors (social, political and economic) into account, that they are better off. One-third of respondents believe that their situation has worsened, while another third report that there has been no change.

Get the full report here:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oxford Analytica on Bangladesh: 9 January 2008

The military has expanded its political and institutional influence over the past year and there is a risk that as the bureaucrats in government struggle to handle serious economic and political challenges it could be tempted to assume direct rule.

Amnesty calls for Bangladesh 'truth commission'

DHAKA, Jan 10, 2008 (AFP) -

Amnesty International on Thursday called for Bangladesh's military-backed government to set up a "truth commission" to probe war crimes from the 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan.

The group's secretary general Irene Khan said the impunity with which law enforcers committed human rights abuses could be traced back to the war and the failure of subsequent governments to bring those responsible to justice.

Khan, a Bangladeshi, said she had raised the issue with the emergency government, which marks its first year in power on Friday.

"They all said that the establishment of a truth commission is important and necessary and indicated that they will be giving serious consideration to how they can do this," she said.

An unknown number of people died in the bloody nine-month independence war. Some Bangladeshis were accused of collaborating with the Pakistan army to carry out atrocities.

"This is a fresh call for justice... the best way to heal the wounds of this nation. This unelected government should have the courage to do what previous elected governments have failed to do," Khan said.

"This would be a symbol of the commitment by the government to the rule of law and an end to impunity," she added at the end of a week-long visit to Bangladesh.

She said human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings had been committed under all previous governments and acknowledged that, although abuses continued, there had been a reduction under the current regime.

"There is a culture of impunity and non-accountability that has persisted for decades and that must come to an end," she said.

The government has pledged to reinstate democracy later this year through elections after completing a major corruption crackdown.

It came to power after unrest over vote-rigging allegations led to elections scheduled for last January being cancelled.

ATN Discussion after four advisors' resignation

Courtesy of BBC

ATN Bangla television telecast its regular talk show programme "Annya Drishti" from Dhaka studio at 0430 gmt on 9 January. Words within double slant lines were originally spoken in English.

Programme: "Annya Drishti"

Duration: 30 minutes

Host: Shyamal Datta, editor of Bengali daily Bhorer Kagoj

Guests: Mozaffar Ahmed, economist and political analyst

Bazlur Rahman, editor of Bengali daily Sangbad

Discussion on Resignation of Four Advisers of Caretaker Govt

Datta starts the programme seeking Ahmed's views on the resignation of four advisers of the caretaker government, especially at a time when the government is going to celebrate its one year in office on 11 January. Ahmed says, "The context of resignation of the advisers of this government is different from that of the advisers of the previous caretaker government. They were not able to work on their own. But this time there was no such problem. As this caretaker government is staying for a long period, every adviser has to work hard. The four advisers who resigned from their posts got mired into controversies over their failure to perform up to the mark and making sarcastic and inconsistent remarks since taking oath of office a year ago. Such actions created an image crisis for the government. There were rumours over the last few days that the advisers - Mainul Hossein and Tapan Chowdhury - may have to go for their controversial statements and activities which embarrassed the government."

Datta asks whether the caretaker government will fall into a credibility crisis following the resignation. Ahmed says, "I do not think so. This government has no such problem. Moreover, the government will not change its course of action which might create a credibility problem. I think the government will continue with its set agenda."

Datta asks why the four advisers have resigned. Rahman says, "It was not actually a resignation. In fact, they were removed from their posts. It is clear that the four advisers were asked to resign, although it was not disclosed to the media. There has been growing resentment against these advisers for their work and words. Tapan Chowdhury, food and power adviser, could do nothing for resolving the power problem. In the last one year, he could not help generate a single unit of electricity. He instigated the price hike by saying the government has nothing to do with the increase in rice price. Mainul Hossein had made himself controversial from the very beginning by issuing statements against politicians and civil society leaders. And two other advisers also failed to carry out their responsibilities from the very beginning. But we have to think that the whole Advisory Council will have to shoulder the responsibility of the failure of the five of 10 advisers of the government [one more adviser had resigned earlier]."

As Datta seeks comments from Ahmed whether the whole advisory council has failed, Ahmed says, "The government has come to power with two promises - one is to hold a credible election and second to eliminate corruption from politics. And to this end, the Election Commission [EC] has been reconstituted. The EC has announced a road map to hold the stalled ninth parliamentary elections. But we do not know exactly where we are on the road map. The way the EC has extended many programmes, I think the road map will not be implemented completely. On the other hand, the Anti-Corruption Commission [ACC] has started suffering jolts as it is facing difficulties to find evidence against the accused. Now it is thinking to launch a social movement against corruption. However, //the government cannot stop its journey//."

Rahman says, "The activities of the ACC are in question. It cannot work with full freedom. The ACC is only preparing documents against those who are caught by the task force [comprising joint forces]. The task force has become a more powerful organization than the ACC." Ahmed says, "The goal of forming the task force was to bring coordination in the drive against corruption, but with more power with the task force it has become difficult to cooperate." Rahman opines, "The task force will have to work under the supervision of the ACC."

Responding to a query, Ahmed says, "This is a unique form of government. We have no experience in running the country for two years by a caretaker government. For doing so, the government has to take some policy decisions. The new advisers should be competent and efficient, with a clean public image."

Rahman says, "The advisers will have to be non partisan as it is a non party caretaker government." In reply to a question, Rahman says, "Any non elected government running the country for a long period has to face manifold problems. You can run the country //for three months somehow, but not for over two years.//"

As Datta asks what are the main challenges for the government over the next "crucial" one year, as the political parties have already started mounting pressure on the government to hold an election soon, Ahmed says, "Now the first and foremost challenge for the government is to restore its acceptability and credibility among the people. The people should have the confidence that a credible election is possible under this government." Rahman comments, "The role of the government and its supporters [army] in forming and breaking the political parties has already put its credibility under doubt."

Datta wraps up the programme with the hope that the government will be able to hold a credible election dispelling all confusion already created in the political arena.

Source: ATN Bangla TV, Dhaka, in Bengali 0430gmt 10 Jan 08

Year of Bangladesh emergency rule hits economy: AFP

DHAKA, Jan 10, 2008 (AFP) -

When a state of emergency put an end to months of crippling strikes and street clashes a year ago, business leader Mir Nasir Hossain believed impoverished Bangladesh's economic prospects were about to improve.

"We were the first to greet the emergency because we thought it would boost up business," said Hossain, then president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

"We had been losing money every month. So when the emergency came, we thought the days of strikes and political unrest were finally over," he added.

The state of emergency was imposed on January 11, 2007, after elections planned for later that month were cancelled due to a bitter stand-off between the country's two main dynastic parties -- the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Khaleda Zia and the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

A military-backed interim government took power the next day pledging to clean up the country's graft-ridden politics.

But one year on, the arrest on corruption charges of many leading politicians with business links has left Hossain and other members of the business community with mixed feelings.

Business leaders say the caretaker government has curbed graft, implemented major tax and institutional reforms and improved infrastructure.

The emergency also put an end to the endless shutdowns, but the new government's corruption crackdown also created an atmosphere of fear causing investment to dry up, Hossain said.

At least 150 high-profile figures, including two former prime ministers -- Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia -- have been arrested on graft allegations.

The situation was compounded by summer floods and a deadly cyclone in November which pushed inflation to the highest level in a decade.

"Now, instead of targeting nine to 10 percent growth, we are happy with over five percent. Inflation has crossed 10 percent and business confidence has been dented for a while," said economist Zaid Bakht.

In the year before the emergency, Bangladesh had been growing at a record 6.6 percent.

In December, the caretaker government cut its seven percent growth projection to less than six, blaming natural disasters. Inflation meanwhile hit 10.11 percent in August, the highest in a decade.

"The government targeted too many businessmen. The crackdown has slowed down investment sharply since none was willing to take a risk in new ventures or expand existing units," said Hossain.

Analysts said the economy was now going through its toughest time in years.

"All government policies to control prices have failed. Two major natural disasters in four months, the anti-graft crackdown and record oil and commodity prices have all compounded our woes," said Bakht of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.

"It's a trying time for the Bangladesh economy. We have not been in such a tough time for years," he said.

Bakht said the country's economic fortunes would now largely depend on politics. The government has promised to return power to the political parties through fresh elections in late 2008.

Analysts, however, fear that any resumption of democratic politics will lead back to the same old problems.

They say last January's political stalemate occurred after corruption reached such proportions that neither party could afford to lose the election.

"The investors are sceptical about whether the election will be held in time or who is coming to power," said Bakht. "Uncertainty remains and that affects business confidence."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

3 Bangladesh Advisors Resign

UNB has reported that three Advisors have resigned en masse a short while ago. They are:

Barrister Mainul Hosein, Tapan Chowdhury and Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury.