Three Years of AL Government
A 'cosmic' run up the hills, down the terrains
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina completes three years in her second consecutive five-year-term in power today with a mixed bag of successes and failures that also give her an updated direction for the future. She has been able to give Bangladesh a sustained spell of democracy spruced up through a 'controversial' election held in 2014, which the main opposition parties boycotted for reasons not really clear to the people but also to many in the opposition camps.
Politics in Bangladesh is largely governed by ego, whim and personal acrimony between top leaders of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League and ex-PM Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). More than half their time and energy is spent on squaring up words and actions against each other - something which is widely copied by the rank and file of both parties, which has set a unique example of political animosity in the country. Analysts tweaking in the lanes and by-lanes of politics are also confused and often puzzled as to what direction this small country with vast population is taking.
Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia matter most in politics of Bangladesh as the two leaders have ruled the country since the ouster of the last military dictator Hossain Mohammad Ershad at the end of 1990 (Hasina thrice and Khaleda twice - and a two-year-military-backed civilian rule in between). The AL and BNP have been engaged over the decades in a 'Tom and Jerry' game that sometimes takes the ordinary people almost to end of their patience - but as always they are helpless and have nothing to do but to wait for another turn to cast their ballots. Unfortunately, the bad faith and mistrust between the BNP and AL in the 2014 polls also deprived them of voting. More than half the legislators in the current parliament were elected uncontested from the ruling party.
No one finds reason to hope that this frustrating political culture will change in a while or in the near future as Bangladesh is now preparing for the next parliamentary election in 2019 with BNP-AL rivalry peaking again.
Leaving politics aside, we would like to make a scorecard for the present government in these three years gone by. As we have said, Sheikh Hasina has been able to foil series of bids by BNP and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami to thwart democracy and retard whatever progress the country has made since January 12, 2009 (when Sheikh Hasina took oath of office following her election in the December 2008 polls).
Bangladesh's economic indicators including GDP, remittances and exports have kept on increasing while the country has seen a bad patch in foreign investment because the investors were jittery about deteriorating law and order and industrial accidents in Bangladesh. The government, however, tried to address creeping concerns of international buyers of readymade garments - Bangladesh's principal export--but it is yet to reclaim the GSP facilities in the US market for our products.
The highest negative mark Bangladesh scored was for spreading militancy and terrorism in the country in recent years, with 2016 being the worst year. On July 1 last year, Bangladesh's worst terror attack on a Spanish eatery in Dhaka's posh and high-security Gulshan diplomatic zone left at least 22 people killed, including 17 Italians, Japanese and Indian guests. Several other terror activities occurred in the country throughout 2015 and 2016 which mainly targeted anti-Islamic bloggers, writers, teachers and publishers.
Responsibility for all or most of the attacks were claimed by the Middle-East based terror outfit Islamic State (IS) which also threatened further attacks in Bangladesh. Responding to the threats - although the government or law enforcers keep denying the presence or involvement of IS in Bangladesh - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared the 'zero tolerance' policy in combating the terrorists and extremists. This bore result quickly with the law enforcers having killed at least 35 terrorist and injured and arrested many more in a series of raids on their hideouts across the country. PM Hasina says the government is bent upon continuing the raids until the last terrorist would be wiped out. Her decision and actions have been widely applauded in and outside Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina unveiled a series of 'welfare' schemes for the state employees, the armed forces, freedom fighters, university teachers and the legislators - by doubling or tripling their salary and benefits. These the government did bypassing millions of others working people in various professions and vocations who feel deprived and anguished by the government's apathy towards redressing their woes. Among the deprived groups are the media people.
The huge burden of extra expenses on account of enhanced pay and benefits are to be borne by the state by squeezing out money from the ordinary people. The people are already bearing brunt of the government's 'secret or clandestine' methods of collecting money. Over the recent months, prices of all food items including rice, vegetables, fish, poultry and other consumables have gone up by up to 20-30 per cent in markets across the country. Farmers and other villagers are paying more for electricity as the Polli Bidyut (rural electrification authorities) are charging much higher bills from the users, even without notifying or explaining the reason for this.
In the absence of effective market control, people are being forced to eat all 'rubbish' and foods preserved with harmful chemicals at the risk of their health. They are falling sick and dying even not knowing what have caused their premature death. The government of Sheikh Hasina has largely ignored this very vital issue over the years.
Big or mega projects are coming up in the country, like the multi-purpose Padma Bridge, metro rail, four-lane highways and many others being built with domestic resources and foreign funding. But conditions of hundreds of kilometres of roads and highways outside Dhaka - known as LGED roads - are in extremely dilapidated conditions. They have not been maintained for years and it is feared that many of these roads will become totally unusable during the coming monsoon season. It seems there is no one in the government to look at the plight of the rural roads.
It is seen that the government allocates enough funds in annual budget for building and maintaining roads in the countryside, but instead of spending the money properly, this is stolen and the booty is shared among the LGED officials, engineers, local lawmakers, politicians and their chums. In this one sector the PM's administration has achieved more failure than success.
The country has been plagued by militancy, communal forces, administrative inefficiency and all-encompassing corruption starting from the ministers, lawmakers to officials at every level of the administration. Banks are being robbed, people's pension money being gobbled up and children being taught 'nonsense' in the name of imparting education. The 'dark' zone is already vast and expanding more due to the government's apparent negligence towards people's causes. They are now too busy trying to cling to power and keep their political opponents at bay at all costs.
In the process, sadly though, the people are made to pay the supreme cost - and become reduced to 'speechless' spectators. We, therefore, wish to draw the Prime Minister's personal attention to the endless scourge under the flashing light of ongoing development in the country and request for redressing the people's sufferings.r
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor, The Daily Observer