A leading Bengali newspaper on Monday suggested that Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya should resign on morality ground after the Supreme Court had rejected his plea for revision of a High Court verdict awarding him 13 years of imprisonment and a hefty fine. He was convicted for amassing illegal money and hiding their sources, which is a punishable offence in Bangladesh.
Maya, a powerful and influential minister and leader of ruling Awami League, has always been defiant to law and preferred to show his 'thumb' whenever the issue of morality was raised. His passion was to criticize the opposition politicians in savage language and thus appeasing the government and bosses in the ruling party. He managed to live with that as long as his position as Dhaka Unit AL chief sustained and until his son-in-law, a Lieutenant Colonel posted in the elite security force RAB and stationed in Narayanganj was found guilty of involvement in the most heinous seven-murder case in the industrial town.
In the meantime, Maya was still fighting to save his position and prestige while seeking the review of his punishment given by the High Court. But his plea has been rejected by the apex court and thus his order for 13-year imprisonment and fine remained unchanged. Whether and when Maya may be arrested or taken to prison is not known. He and his colleagues and friends in the government and the ruling party will certainly put up a strong effort to save him, at least to keep him out of jail.
At the same time, believing that Maya will step down voluntarily is next to an impossible daydream. He is one of the most unlikely persons to do so showing respect to the rule of law and justice.
Maybe, he has valid grounds not to resign. Several of his cabinet colleagues including Food Minister Quamrul Islam and Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque - who had been recently punished by the SC for making derogatory remarks against the Chief Justice of Bangladesh, S K Sinha, are still on their jobs. Neither had they showed any inclination to step down nor had the government done anything to crop them off the cabinet - defying strong speculations that PM Sheikh Hasina will definitely take actions against the errant ministers.
Besides, several other ministers who had often caused the government embarrassment within and outside the country by making abusive, uncalled for and irritating comments against their political opponents have proved safe for continuing their jobs and business as usual, They include Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, AL Publicity Secretary Hasan Mahmud and few others. It has been quite safe in Bangladesh to say 'unexpected and indecent' words against top politicians. Then, why Maya should step down or volunteer to show himself the exit, one may wonder! Apparently, Maya finds no reason to quit his job.
This culture of 'impunity' is setting its roots deeper in this country where people cry out for justice and proper enforcement of laws. The law enforcers are often guided by the ministers and ruling party leaders, thus leaving the helpless people in a quandary. They are reluctant to take action against the powerful even if they commit a high-degree crime. But police, RAB and other law enforcing agencies are too intent to take on the ordinary public even though they do not commit a punishable crime. They are used to 'cover up' others' crimes and this system goes well in Bangladesh. In this process money plays a big role and the moneyed men always get 'justice' at the cost of the poor.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, rated by most of the people as the best PM the country has ever had because of her strong policies and firm decision to improve the lot of the people and set the nation's economy on a solid footing, must have her own reason to retain the 'trouble makers' in her party and government. But people want the PM to use her axe ruthlessly against the errant and irresponsible and corrupt ministers and leaders.
But Sheikh Hasina has taken no such step yet after she sacked former minister Abdul Latif Siddique for making arrogant and insolent remarks against Islam's biggest ritual Hajj and also Tablig Jamaat. Latif's remarks set off a huge protest by Muslims in Bangladesh and other countries - that would not be quelled unless Latif had gone. So, he had to go. However, in the cases of others, the protests are only mute and no one pays heed to them. There lies the strength of the 'errant and troublesome' ministers.
People ask---are those ministers and AL leaders too important and indispensible to the government? Last year Minister Quamrul was at the centre of a mischievous business deal in which Bangladesh imported a huge lot of Brazilian wheat which could not be consumed even by animals - and so had to be dumped! He was facing a bad time in public but after a few whimpers and scornful shouting, all fell quiet and he is still a minister to the Food Ministry. Such cases of mysterious escapes only make the wrongdoers more confident about their invincibility and encourage others to follow suit.
Sheikh Hasina has made her mark in governing Bangladesh where violence, irregularities, abuse of power and corruption are rampant. Alongside, she had to fight the resurgence of terrorists and extremists - who are killing people in the name of Islam and causing an unnecessary dent in the society. Also, innocent people are being killed for 'sex' and asserting influence. Students have gone rogue in many institutions. However, the government of Sheikh Hasina has scored well in tackling those trouble makers - but, unfortunately, her move falls flat when it comes to the ministers. The PM must have her reasons but public is getting frustrated and losing patience seeing the 'bad guys' still thronging around herr.
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor,
The Daily Observer