Do chickens stop laying eggs?
Decisions are taken 'with precision' in meetings after meetings; money is spent on teas and toasts; debates rage over issues of 'great national importance'; points are jotted down - what is to be done and what is not to be done; after a decision is made on an unpleasant issue the high-ups leave the meeting venue with pleasant smiles across their faces.
Meeting minutes are published the next day in almost all newspapers. No way to avoid the news as it is an issue of 'great national importance'. The government news indeed! People get excited thinking that some pro-people decisions have been taken. They see a ray of hope for survival amid untold daily sufferings. Days go by. Time flies away. But the decision 'with precision' never comes into effect. The issue on which the decision was made continues to ravage people's life.
The government on 14 September in a meeting decided to put a cap on the soaring prices of egg, potatoes and onion to contain the runaway food inflation which hit a 12-year high in the month of August. In August the food inflation soared to 12.54 percent - the highest since October 2011. The food inflation is much more pronounced in rural areas, according to a data recently published by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
But this time too the decision is not coming into effect. It remains only on paper as meeting minutes. The government move has already fallen flat. Eggs, potatoes and onions are not selling at the government-set prices neither by wholesalers nor by retailers. The kitchen markets are the same as it was before. People have to count extra money with no increase in their salaries and wages. It is ignominious for a government to see its decision not coming into effect. The decision was taken by none other than the Agriculture Ministry with the Commerce Ministry taking the responsibility of carrying it out.
We can't say that the decision was taken whimsically without assessing the market prices because the Commerce Minister was quoted as saying after the meeting that egg price was fixed after analyzing the average prices in the past six months. The Commerce Minister also said the Agriculture Secretary had assessed the prices of onion and fixed a logical retail price. Then why should not the price come down and why are the traders not paying any heed to the government decision? Where is the source of the power of wholesalers of defying the government-fixed prices? What is funnier is that the government is going to take no action except roaring like a wounded tiger.
No punishment! No government spokespersons or ministers said violators would be punished. It was the president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce who said 'if anybody doesn't comply with it, they should face punishment'. Is he authorized to punish the businesspeople? Again he himself represents the business community. It doesn't require any wisdom to understand that his words are mere eyewash.
Defiance has become the rule of law in our country. When the Commerce Minister himself didn't say that violators of the government decision would be punished it is evident that prices would not come down. Every time syndicates increase the prices of daily essentials the government goes for importing those items instead of punishing them. This time too there is no exception. Is it a solution to the problems of rising food inflation? It can't be and it shouldn't be.
But it is happening and going on days after days. We can't expect the prices of essentials to go down when our Commerce Minister told parliament that if actions were taken against market syndicates it would create crisis. He didn't mention what kind of crisis would be created. Is it the crisis that will lead to the fall of the government? We don't know. But what we know is addressing the crisis in people's life is more important than anything else. Is the would-be crisis is of greater importance than the life-and-death question of people for whom the government takes decision?
The answer was given by the minister himself when he told the parliament that he had been a businessman for 40-42 years. What does that mean? It means he is more of a businessman rather than a politician. When businesses and politics merge with each other people are given no care. It is all about businesses and which is echoed in the business voice of the Commerce Minister. He simply can't go beyond the interest of his own community. And this is the reason why he said action couldn't be taken against syndicates.
When India is protecting its own market by putting a 40 percent export duty on onion we are doing right the opposite. While money inflation across the world has already come down there is no sign of it declining in our country. So far our government high-ups have blamed the Russia-Ukraine war for our every economic woe and inflation. But it is now proved beyond any doubt that it has been an excuse to cover up the reality. Now the reality has come out. What is the reality? The reality is chickens haven't stopped laying egg, Munshiganj and other districts that grow potatoes haven't stopped growing potatoes and Pabna hasn't stopped cultivating domestic onions.
But still the prices are soaring. The grip of the syndicates has kept tightening over the market. The government is losing its grip over the businessmen. The country is at the mercy of errant businessmen. It is the twin evil of wayward businessmen and corrupt authorities that are eating away everything we have achieved. When a government decision is ignored and defied it is easily understandable that there is no government control over the market. It is a sign of market chaos that might lead to bigger chaos. This type of uncontrolled market bodes ill both for the economy and the life and livelihood of common people.
Highlights: The country is at the mercy of errant businessmen. It is the twin evil of wayward businessmen and corrupt authorities that are eating away everything we have achieved.
The writer is a senior journalist