• Wednesday, Jun 23, 2021
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OP-ED: I'm trying to understand who runs the country

  • Published at 08:38 pm June 8th, 2020
This can’t be happening REUTERS

The string of questionable decisions only seems to get longer

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sometimes says: “You can buy anyone except me.”

The daughter of Bangabandhu expressed such brave words on many occasions while people remarked she talked a lot, though those words are true. Now she talks less, but never hesitates to speak the truth.

A fourth-time prime minister, Sheikh Hasina has come to power for the third consecutive term, which is a rare incident in other countries. However, China and Russia are exceptional where a one-party regime is in force.

As I have been trying to observe her politics for a long time, it came to my mind that many people, blessed by and close to her, are engaging themselves to seize the opportunity for their well-being.

While the country is grappling with the Covid-19 crisis, it appears to me that there is no crisis management team to deal with the issue, resulting in many unwarranted incidents, the responsibility of which only goes to the shoulder of the government or its head. For this reason, I have termed Sheikh Hasina a “lone Sherpa.”

There are a number of individuals around her and I believe, many of them have no quality to give practical advice to the prime minister, or if they do have it, they think it not necessary to do so.

There were a few incidents in the month of Ramadan. According to Islam, Allah puts the devil in quarantine during Ramadan so that human beings can lead the path of truth with ease. But, in fact, some people appeared as the devil in this holy month to instigate others, irrespective of race and creed, to do evil things. 

On the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, there was a five-day holiday for newspapers. I have a long habit of reading newspapers since my school life. There are a number of private news channels in our country, but most of them refrain from broadcasting important news on many excuses.  That’s why I depend on newspapers for news only.

Due to the coronavirus infection, hawkers in our area stopped distributing newspapers since the last week of March. Only my hawker continued his job for my sake; otherwise, he said he would have gone back to his village.

However, after Eid, he said that staying in Dhaka had been good for him as six members of his family were tested positive for coronavirus.

Recent news stunned me, although it was no wonder for me. The news was -- Sikder Group Managing Director Ron Haque Sikder and his brother Dipu Haque Sikder left the country as critical patients by a private air ambulance on May 25. 

They are accused of threatening to shoot and torture two top Exim Bank officials over taking a loan. The authorities of Exim Bank filed a case in connection with the incident much later, although the incident took place on May 7.

Ron Haque Sikder is a director of National Bank Limited (NBL) and there are allegations of violating the Bank Company Act in forming the board of directors. Like other banks, the bank has financial irregularities and loan frauds, and it has come to be known that a large amount of the customers’ money has been laundered abroad.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had launched an inquiry, but now it has come to a halt due to the excuse of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the filing of the case by Exim Bank after much delay is mysterious as well.

Days earlier, the media reported on a financial irregularity of Tk2,000 crore allegedly by a top official of Exim Bank and the head of the banks’ association. A case was also lodged in this connection, but no one believes such cases would bear any fruit as there is no such instance in the past -- for example -- Basic Bank and Farmers’ Bank.  The saying goes -- if you have money, you can get the eyes of the tiger.

Not only the Sikder brothers, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Foreign Minister Morshed Khan and his wife also left the country for London by a chartered flight on May 28. Morshed’s son Faisal Morshed Khan lives in London with his family. 

Morshed Khan had a case filed against him by the ACC earlier and there was an embargo on his departure from the country. Readers can recollect that war criminal Abul Kalam Azad also fled the country in a similar way. Money always plays its role, it has no colour.

The Sikder brothers and Morshed Khan, along with his wife, completed all immigration formalities before leaving the country. It was not possible for them to leave the country without permission from the civil aviation authorities.

According to the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, the Bangladesh embassy in Thailand sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry of Thailand on May 23 requesting for landing permission for the air ambulance. What a thriller! Money can do anything.

Several days ago, an office assistant of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) provided an important document to a self-declared student leader for only Tk20,000, for which the prime minister’s decision to appoint a treasurer of a private university was altered.

The work was not possible for the employee or the student leader only without the involvement of top officials of the university. And there are many such fraud allegations against the board members of the university.

The University Grants Commission foiled another such attempt to appoint a pro-vice chancellor in the university earlier. During my tenure, a board member of the university commented that although money can buy anyone, it did not work on me. 

The prime minister might not be aware of how many government posts are sold in auction. As a result, the real well-wishers of the prime minister or the grassroots activists have moved far away from her. They might have taken a pique at her, but never betrayed -- these are the prime minister’s own words.

The country was hit by a pandemic epidemic called coronavirus in the first week of March. All of you know by now that the epicentre of this pandemic was in Wuhan, China.

Now it is reigning over 212 countries in the world. There is no mercy from this king. Thousands are being caught and killed.

Over 405,000 people have died all over the world. This epidemic may have come to Bangladesh on its own eventually, but we pushed it forward by flying in 300 Bangladeshis from Italy, some with corona, by making arrangements and preparations. They were said to be in financial trouble in Italy.

But each passenger spent at least Tk150,000, including the return ticket on the plane, with which one could stay for two months in Italy.

Bangalis who live in winter-prone countries like Italy come back to Bangladesh during the winter mainly because of high electricity bills.

The electricity bill for heating rooms is quite high. With that bill money, many came to the country. This time in early March, when they decided to return to the country, Italy was completely grasped by corona.

By then thousands of people had died and rotted on the roads and in old age homes.

Most Bengalis who live in Italy or other countries do small jobs such as working as restaurant waiters, grocery storekeepers, delivery boys, and taxi drivers. And many who do not have jobs sell nuts to tourists to feed to the pigeons. Some even sell flowers, and some are tourist guides. 

There is no way to underestimate any work. They send money to the country. When they arrived in the country in early March, the government quickly arranged a quarantine facility at the nearest Hajj camp. 

Passengers returning from Italy thought they would get five-star hotel services at the camp. But this arrangement was temporary. There is no way to deny that due to no prior experience, there was mismanagement at the camp.

Passengers were told it was a temporary arrangement. And those who had no problem after the test would be released.

If there were Covid-19 positive patients found after the test, they would be treated at the hospital -- this made the returnees angry.

One young man bashed Bangladeshis using wrong English words. He claimed to be an Italian passport holder. He should have been sent back to Italy immediately.

Our law and order forces have shown a lot of patience over there.

It was later learned that the first outbreak of coronavirus started in Bangladesh from an Italy-returnee.

To date, over 68,000 have been infected and 930 people have died.

That infected Italy returnee is now under the custody of a ruling party leader of the south-eastern region.

As the days went by, the situation was getting worse. On March 26, the government declared a public holiday in the country and not a lockdown or curfew that other countries had imposed. The holiday meant that offices, courts, schools, and colleges were to remain closed, but shops would be open.

People took the matter that way. For several days, except for going to offices and schools or colleges, everyone’s work went on as before.

After getting the holiday, some people went with their families on vacations to Cox’s Bazar, Rangamati, Bandarban; some went to their village; some got married. The deaths did not stop either.

The government then announced that the holiday would be extended, but for some unknown reason a “lockdown” was still not imposed. Added to this were some uneducated, so-called scholars’ competitions to mislead the common people. They let some of their blind fans know that corona did not come for Muslims, it came for the Jews and the Christians.

Covid-19 is an extremely infectious disease; researchers say that up to 406 people can be infected from one Covid-19-positive patient.

A physical distance of at least three feet was told to be maintained between two people. But who cares. A few such semi-educated, self-proclaimed Islamic thinkers are now plagued by corona and are undergoing treatment, and some are walking around wearing masks. Some have left the country, and some are underground.

The government once said: “You will stay where you are during Eid, no one will go to villages.” The new Inspector General of Police (IGP) said if anyone left his residence during the Eid holidays, they would celebrate Eid on the streets.

A few days later, the government announced that people could go home on Eid (take coronavirus) and thousands rushed home.

The government then announced that all offices and courts would be opened after May 31.

But will those who went back to their villages to cultivate corona join the offices? Don’t they have to stay in self-quarantine for 14 days? None of this has any explanation.

The government also said that public transport will be boarded and offices will be in compliance with the health rules.

The question is, who will monitor it? Many said it was a kind of joke.

All the relevant experts in the country, including the prime minister’s physician Dr ABM Abdullah, said that the spread of corona and the death rate in Bangladesh were at their peaks, and suggested that a curfew be imposed for at least 10 days. On the other hand, India increased its lockdown until June 30.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories much. But now it seems like something is happening.

The question on the minds of many of Sheikh Hasina’s well-wishers is: Who is taking these important national decisions?

And if it is the prime minister making the decisions, then is she given all the real information?

During Bangabandhu’s three and a half-year rule, 43 party workers, MPs, and ministers were fired for corruption and incompetence. Is the same possible in the current situation?

Abdul Mannan is a contributor to the Bangla Tribune. The article was originally published in the Bangla Tribune, and has been translated from Bangla for reprint.

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