Food Minister Quamrul Islam remains in denial mode about the quality of the wheat recently imported from Brazil. He has informed citizens through the media that the entire issue has been the result of someone showing the prime minister some bad portions of the grain which inevitably led to her expression of displeasure. As if that were not enough, the minister told the country that a fresh new consignment of wheat from Brazil had been sent back because the quality was not good. That puts the minister in a difficult situation of his own making. On the one hand, he goes on defending the wheat that has already caused so much of uproar in the country. On the other, he speaks of a second consignment being below standard and therefore unacceptable.
Clearly, the food minister has compromised himself. Media reports on the purported dissatisfaction of police and BGB personnel over the quality of the Brazilian wheat, once they spilled over into the public domain, should have sent out an unambiguous message to the minister: it was time to acknowledge the scandal instead of trying to convince citizens that what was rotten was in fact edible. The moral course for Minister Quamrul Islam should have been to take responsibility for the scam and get out of the cabinet through submitting his resignation to the prime minister. He has done neither, which means the government continues to reel from the ramifications of the wheat scam. Scandals do not die off easily.
There is then the embarrassment being caused to the government and the country at large by the continued presence of Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya in the government despite the recent judicial pronouncement on his corruption-related case. While from a strictly legal standpoint Maya may not feel he has to resign because final judgment has not yet been served on him, there yet remains the morality question. With the Supreme Court reversing the acquittal of the minister by the High Court in a corruption case, the minister's moral standing in the government has unquestionably been jeopardised. And we say that because the minister's reputation has in the past many months already taken a beating over the alleged involvement of his son-in-law, an officer of the Rapid Action Battalion, in the seven-murder case in Narayanganj. It was expected at the time that Minister Maya would voluntarily leave the cabinet in light of his family getting entangled in the crime. He chose to stay on, in lame duck manner. And now, despite the SC pronouncement, he refuses to go.
Once again, it is the government that has been left red in the face. The reluctance of the minister to resign and equally the unwillingness of the government to ask him to go disseminate a rather negative message to the country, which is that the powerful may commit wrong or may be seen to commit wrong and yet will doggedly carry on in office despite their decline in public esteem.
The story around Abdul Latif Siddique is somewhat different and yet continues to be a matter of concern. Having been made to leave the cabinet months ago following some indiscreet remarks that aroused the ire of devout citizens, he is now out on bail. No more a minister, he is at the same time out of the ruling Awami League presidium. Indeed, he is no more a member of the Awami League. Curiously, however, his membership of the Jatiya Sangsad remains. Technically, therefore, Latif Siddique is within his rights to make his entry into the parliament chamber and resume his position as a lawmaker. Neither parliament nor the ruling party has deemed it necessary to clarify the situation here. If Latif Siddique has been expelled from the Awami League, how does he continue to be an MP? Or did he automatically stand divested of his parliamentary seat once his party showed him the door? If that was the case, where did the process of a by-election go?
These three instances of Awami League ministers not taking moral responsibility for their lapses in the performance of their jobs do not bode well for the government. Additionally, they set a bad precedent for the future, thus damaging the entire concept of power exercised with responsibility.
And yet it was not like this before. During her first term in office, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a deputy minister, Afsaruddin Ahmad, quit the government once he was spotted committing wrong. In recent times, Suranjit Sengupta resigned when he became embroiled in a financial scandal. Syed Abul Hossain left the government even before his guilt in a corruption-related case could be proved. Nothing was ever proved. The prime minister lost no time in ensuring that Latif Siddique was no more part of her government.
These are instances of decisive action, either by the prime minister or by tainted ministers on their own. Such action is necessary when a government gets weighed down by the baggage of ministers coming under a cloud. Today, the point is a simple one: the prime minister does not need her tainted ministers in order to be able to function as head of government. On the contrary, it is her tainted ministers who need her to feel safe and secure. The prime minister does not have to indulge them. She can ask them to resign on grounds of moral propriety. Or, if they do not go on their own, exercise her fiat in removing them from the cabinet.
Transparent politics is necessary. And integrity of government is of critical importance. Let these two principles be upheld, firmly and always.