How many VIPs were in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's entourage during her just concluded visit to New York?
Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali was unable to give the number when reporters asked him about it at a press briefing on Tuesday at the Foreign Office. He shifted floor to the Foreign Secretary who also avoided a direct reply. Why should that remain a mystery?
Earlier at a press briefing prior to the PM's departure for New York to attend the 69th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Mahmood Ali said that the Prime Ministers entourage numbers 50 including ministers and secretaries, minus media persons, security personnel and business delegates.
However, several former ministers, state ministers, parliament members (MPs), bureaucrats, political leaders and journalists were in the entourage, official sources said. But many of them went there at their own cost - may be to visit relatives or friends "under cover of an official delegation."
"This enhances their prestige and image among families and folks back home, though they didn't attend all engagements of the Prime Minister," one source told The Daily Observer. The journalists, however, did send news of the Prime Minister in NY to their respective newspapers and TV channels.
The office of the Bangladesh Permanent Mission at United Nations claimed that the total number of VIPs on the PM's entourage was 150, including 75 business leaders led by Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FBCI) President Akram Uddin Ahmed.
Journalists at Tuesday's press briefing asked Mahmood Ali whether Rangpur district Awami League (AL) general secretary Rezaul Karim Razu, Feni AL president Abdur Rahman, Feni AL vice-president Khairul Bashar Majumder and Treasurer of Bangabandhu Museum Trust Siddique Hossain Chowdhury-who accompanied the Prime Minister to New York-were also part of her official entourage.
The Foreign Minister hesitated to reply and requested the Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque to respond.
"Normally when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attends the UNGA, different groups are included in the entourage for different sessions in the UN," the Foreign Secretary said.
There were 50 side events during the 5-day UNGA, most of the entourage members participated in the various programmes, he explained.
Shahidul Haque said respective ministries paid the bills of many officials who attended the UNGA while others sourced it from the organisations they represent.
According to Bangladesh Mission in UN, on the PM's entourage were Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Health Minister Mohammad Nasim (with spouse), Expatriates' Welfare Minister Engr Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali, Food Minister Advocate Qamrul Islam, Economic Adviser to PM Mashiur Rahman, Political Adviser to PM HT Imam, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, Foreign Affairs Standing Committee chairperson Dipu Moni, Mehzabin Khaled, MP, Razi Mohammad Fakrul, MP, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, Health Secretary Neaz Miah (with spouse), Environment and Forest Secretary, Labour Secretary, CHT Affairs Secretary, Shipping Secretary.
Planning Commission Member, former Industries Minister Dilip Barua, 16 officials of PMO, 25 officials of the Foreign Office (including diplomats of UN Permanent Mission and Bangladesh Embassy in Washington), 13 officials of different ministries, divisions and agencies, 20 officers of Special Security Force (SSF), 22 from PMO Media Wing and different state and private media representatives.