Space For Rent
Thursday, March 17, 2016, Chaitra 3, 1422 BS, Jamadius Sani 7, 1437 Hijri

Prime Minister, please get rid of errant Ministers
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published :Thursday, 17 March, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 115

In a country where the culture of resignation from high office through taking moral responsibility for misplaced action or non-action is yet to become a norm, Atiur Rahman's decision to quit as Governor of Bangladesh Bank is surely an exception. More importantly, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has termed it, Atiur Rahman's resignation was an act of courage on his part. He did not offer any excuses for the $80 million-plus heist scam. He was not willing to preside over the sacking of his subordinates without at the same time entertaining thoughts of his own responsibility in a scandal that has an entire country seething. In these past many years, Atiur Rahman brought a new dimension to banking in Bangladesh. He undertook programmes that would have the poor and the disadvantaged have access to banking and the services such banking entailed.
And now that he has resigned in the face of a crisis neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen, we applaud the act. We would like to believe that through his voluntary move to step down, he has set a precedent which others, given similar circumstances within the structure of government and the state, would do well to emulate. The sad reality is that the cyber heist of the state's money reserves at the US Federal Reserve in New York has not impelled anyone else into doing what Atiur Rahman has done. But, yes, the Finance Minister, in a flurry of activity, has had a number of senior officials, both at Bangladesh Bank and the Finance Ministry, removed. On the face of it, the removals or dismissals may be seen as evidence of swift moves at damage control by the government.
But that cannot be considered as the full picture. In a democracy, the overall responsibility for things going wrong lies with the political head responsible for presiding over the Ministries or departments concerned. Therefore, if it was a failure on the part of Atiur Rahman, his two sacked deputy governors and some bureaucrats in not being able to provide impeccable leadership to Bangladesh Bank, it is equally a failure on the part of the Finance Minister to keep track of institutions and people under his ministry. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith did not prove equal to the task. He should have resigned the moment the heist story hit the headlines. Indeed, his resignation should have preceded that of the Governor of the central bank. That Muhith saw little reason to resign (and that despite all the financial scams --- Hall-Mark, Sonali Bank, Basic Bank, Share Market, et cetera, occurring on his watch) or offer his resignation is regrettable. As the political head of the Finance Ministry, he ought to have owned up to his own inability to keep eyes focused on what was going wrong. He should have done what Atiur Rahman has done. That act would have enabled the Prime Minister to put in place an entirely new team to run the show at the Finance Ministry and at Bangladesh Bank. But that, of course, has not happened.
It is ironic that the heist scam has exploded in the government's face at a time when, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the country has been busy consolidating democracy and building on its development goals. Such achievements as Bangladesh's reaching a lower middle-income country status, and a good growth rate as well as an increasingly assertive role in matters of foreign policy have in recent times significantly added to Bangladesh's importance in the global community. Not everything may have been perfect, but such measures as ensuring a regularity of elections at various tiers of the democratic structure cannot but be regarded as a deepening of pluralistic roots in the country. But just as the nation has appeared to be headed toward a structure of stabilization for itself, such suddenly emerging impediments as the $100 million-plus heist, the British decision to clamp a lid on direct flights of cargo from Bangladesh to the United Kingdom, the breach of security at bank ATM booths, et cetera, have come as a damper for the nation. That should not have been the reality before us.
Insofar as the heist issue is concerned, some political heads should have rolled by now. There are precedents where the Prime Minister has acted tough, and swiftly at that, every time any of her Ministers has stepped out of line in language or behaviour or action. Latif Siddiqui is today a non-entity and Syed Abul Hossain does not hold any office. And yet there are the instances of what more should have been done, or should have happened. In recent weeks, two ministers --- Quamrul Islam and AKM Mozammel Haque --- have embarrassed not just themselves but also the government and the country through their unbridled comments against the judiciary and specifically against the Chief Justice. They should have resigned as soon as the first gasps of outrage began to manifest themselves over their clear contemptuous behaviour toward the judiciary. They did not resign and nor have they been shown the door by the Prime Minister despite the fact that Supreme Court issued contempt rule against them. Incidentally Quamrul escaped PM's axe when he was accused of 'wheat scam'. These Ministers, together with another of their colleagues --- Mofazzal Chowdhury Maya, whose son-in-law is an accused in the Narayanganj seven-murder case --- should have been asked to submit their resignations. Or they should have been dropped from the Cabinet through swift clinical action. But perhaps there is still time for these ministers to be shown the exit by the Prime Minister? The longer these Ministers hang on to their jobs, bigger the damage they will cause the PM, government, party and to the country.
Our Ministers must prove their administrative efficiency through a constant monitoring and supervision of the Ministries they lead. But efficiency does not come through a mere change of office location by Ministers when crises erupt. Against the background of the UK decision regarding cargo flights from Bangladesh, Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon, along with the top bureaucrat of his Ministry, decided to set up office at Hazrat Shahjalal Airport for the duration of this month. That is rather amusing, to a certain extent bizarre. If a Minister fails to perform or cannot keep his finger firmly on the workings of his Ministry at his Secretariat Office, how does he expect citizens to believe his presence at the airport will lead to an improvement in security, perhaps even to a withdrawal by London of its cargo-related move? Shifting offices to new locations is but an instance of undesirable populism. It does not impress citizens.
It is time Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should go for drastic action against her non-performing, sometimes much-talking Ministers. She needs to drop them without hesitation, for they have turned into a grave liability for her government. She could then go for a thorough reshuffle of the Cabinet, placing Ministers in Ministries where they can put up some performance. The point must not be missed: the Cabinet must be freed of the deadwood that has in these past few years been holding it back from working in energetic form.
Postscript: Rumours and whispers are doing the rounds about the possibility of a hand-over of cargo responsibility at Hazrat Shahjalal Airport to a UK company. Let us hope the rumours and whispers will end there, without graduating to reality. Even so, we raise the question, just in case: are we as a society or nation so poverty stricken, so bereft of professionally sound men and women as to need people from overseas to take charge of our airport security? Where has the idea of national self-esteem gone when PM Sheikh Hasina says we can accomplish anything as we earned our liberation through a war?

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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