Are they above the law?
True freedom requires the rule of law and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others. A number of shocking occurrences taking place in the country in the recent days - has now compelled many to question - whether the rights of a few privileged , wealthy and powerful are above the law? No action by concerned authorities against the recent high profile incidents like the muscle flexing by Sikder brothers, death of five patients in a fire incident due to sheer negligence of United Hospital authorities, supply of fake N-95 masks to Health Ministry by JMI Group and human trafficking and money laundering by a Member of Parliament have raised many eyebrows and questions whether one can remain scot-free violating law and committing crime just because one has money, power and connection.
At hindsight, it appears our real life villains are not only above the law, but some vested quarters in our state institutions are actively engaged in helping them to escape from justice. Take for instance the brazen escape of Rick Haque and Ron Haque Sikder, heirs and co-owners of the Sikder group of companies. Such bold and daring attempt to flee the country after committing a high profile crime was only possible in the Hollywood movies, but now it is also possible in the reality.
It is horrifying to note that how the two brothers of a local business conglomerate had managed to fly out of the country through a chartered private plane right under the nose of a number of state authorities. Ranging from our embassy in Bangkok, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka, a private hospital, the country's civil aviation authority had practically engaged the institutions in the entire sequential process to pass them out of the country when a criminal case is pending against them. Additionally, the country's prime law enforcement agency, the police had failed to arrest the two offenders, but had responded rather comically by seizing an opulent four-wheel drive jeep belonging to one of the brothers , after the offenders had escaped. As the common Bengali proverb says - coming to senses after the thief had escaped.
Conscious citizens are stunned, that how could it be possible for so many state and non - state actors to quickly get engaged in a systematic process to ship out the two duo in the midst of an ongoing shutdown triggered by a global pandemic. Moreover, not even a single private or public official was penalised in this regard. The rule of law in this case is clearly missing. The law enforcing agencies are yet to take action how the Siker brothers engaged foreign citizens with arms as their bodyguards violating the country's law.
The media focused the crime that the Sikder brothers committed against the MD and DMD of Exim Bank. The bank filed a case against the two brothers. Instead of investigating the case and taking action against the two brothers they were allowed to escape.
The same lawlessness is witnessed in the case of a dubious and devious face mask supplier. JMI, a supplier of the Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD), has been actively engaged in supplying fake N 95 facemasks to the Health Ministry. The government's health department is being sharply criticised for providing substandard N95 facemasks to the frontline doctors and medical staff.
What's mysterious is that the Health Department has not taken any action against the questionable supplier. JMI had also supplied fake substandard N95 facemasks to Mugda General Hospital. Although boxes labelled facemasks were "N95," in reality the boxes contained substandard facemasks. Numerable hospitals have complained on the quality of the personal protective gears supplied by JMI. The N-95 Masks, a US brand, were in fact manufactured in a factory in Narsingdi in Bangladesh instead of the USA.
The government formed a probe committee to investigate into the supply of fake N95 facemasks. The committee report suggested taking action against the officials who received the products labelled N95 facemasks. However, rather curiously it did not suggest any action against the supplier JMI that committed crime by supplying fake N-95 face masks when the government and the entire nation are fighting a battle against deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
Several media reports have mentioned about the JMI owner to be strongly connected to influential circles. Part of a sinister syndicate, the JMI is reportedly backed with large sums of funds holding sway over the Health Department for over a decade. This syndicate also supplied various types of substandard and fake medical devices to public hospitals. The offender has been clearly playing with the people's health and safety issue while drawing profits from the government illegally.
In the case regarding the missing rule of law for the privileged few, we highlighted on the invisible power of wealth. Now it is about how strong connections can take a criminal above the law. Our point in case involves an upmarket private hospital that has failed to prevent an avoidable fire incident that claimed the lives of five helpless patients. This is not the first time that the United Hospital authority has come under fire.
Accusations against the hospital authority vary from negligence in treatment, sexual offence, and exorbitant price tag for medical treatments to poor compliance system. Now pitiable health and safety apparatus has been added to the long list. But what has happened in the hospital's makeshift extended Corona patients ward is equivalent to murder by neglect and violating the law. The owner of Rana Plaza is still in jail for the incident of Rana Plaza collapse that killed garment workers in 2013.
The probe reports by the Fire Department and police found that the hospital lacked in proper and functional health & safety mechanism. It has been reported that 8 out of 11 fire extinguishers were date expired. The partitions and ceiling of the makeshift corona isolation unit were set up with inflammable construction materials. Additionally, there was no fire fighting plan in case a fire had broke out.
The devastating fire, which reportedly started from an air-conditioning unit in one of the four rooms instantly spread on the five senior bed-bound patients, who could not get up and escape. What can be more dreadful than this utter state of vulnerability of ill and bedridden patients?
And that's not all: The newly extended Corona ward was built in violation of the Bangladesh National Building Code. The main building was equipped with a fire hydrant but the extended unit was not. The extension unit did not have a fire exit either. Most importantly, probabilities of a fire incident were not clearly assessed in advance.
Our point in case, people gets admitted to hospitals to recover. Not to get killed in a physically ill state because of avoidable carnage incidents. The United Hospital authorities cannot escape penalty for all the reported allegations.
In the case of the law maker from Laxmipur constituency in Noakhali it is a story of a man with dubious identity who can rise to such a peak in the society only by free rolling of his illegal money. Not only he became a MP without any political background or public life but he also managed his wife, an unknown figure, to be a Member of the Parliament. Media reports said Shahid Islam alias Papul made money by his manpower business trafficking workers to Kuwait for which he has been arrested and remanded by the law enforcing agencies in Kuwait. Question arises if a law breaker becomes a law maker what image our Parliament can uphold.
These are some of the recent incidents, where the state's law enforcers have markedly failed to establish the rule of law. These were also the incidents where financially and well connected, privileged few remained above the law.
Our constitution has clearly specified laws while the judiciary have been set up to ensure justice and fairness to its citizens. The rule of law must be applicable for all on equal footing. Sikder brothers, JMI Group, United Hospital or Shahid Islam MP for that matter cannot and must not escape justice. It is time to set aside wealth, privileges, connections and positions and allow the law to follow its own course.
A privileged few have often meddled with our rule of law for too long, now it must stop, particularly when our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared war against corruption and abuse of power. When the rule of law disappears, we are ruled by the whims of vested quarters and Bangladesh hadn't come into being for the freewheeling of a privileged few. The country had won its freedom through relentless struggle, sacrifice and blood of millions where all will be treated equal under the law. A few powerful and privileged individuals must not be allowed to steal that right and get away with their crimes and rule the roost.
Our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has not given his life for criminals to reign nor his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is struggling to lead the country to prosperity and development where corrupt and wrongdoers will trample law and justice. The history is replete with examples that money, power and pride lead to fall of individual, society and state. We should not forget and ignore it.