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Requiem For Pachish

Nadim was known to the neighborhood as a philanthropist. He made an impression of Robin Hood on his neighbors. Always ready to stand by the poor neighbors. Belonging to a minority group of Bihari or Urdu-speaking Bangladeshi, he lost his father at a very tender age. He was raised and brought up by his mother in Geneva Camp, one of the places where most of these persecuted people reside. He started working as a restaurant helper, earning only Tk25 per day. Later, he took up selling cannabis to evade abject poverty. He used to sell cannabis worth Tk 25, equivalent to his daily salary. Thus he earned the nickname “Pachish”, twenty five in Bangla.

At the last leg of Ramzan, he was picked up by plain clothed men, introducing themselves as “govt people”. Relatives were kept in the dark about his whereabouts. They only learned about him when he was killed in a “gunfight” in Narayanganj on July 12. According to some news reports, he met such a fate because his name appeared in several agencies’ lists of narco traders.

His neighbors at Mohammadpur Geneva Camp disputed some information published on the news reports. They claimed he was a peddler and never a ” drug kingpin”. Two years ago he turned up at Mohammadpur Police Station and declared that he gave up selling drugs. He made do with his savings. About 8 months ago he was detained again by an agency. He spent a month in jail then. He neither possessed any flat or land in Dhaka.

But there are many other Biharis who are innocent and paying a heavy price in Bangladesh’s ongoing war on drugs, started on May 4. The trumpeted war on drugs is already marred by gross human rights violations. And the heaviest toll of this campaign is being borne by the Biharis.

Long before Pachish’s detention, RAB had conducted a raid in Geneva camp on May 25 and indiscriminately arrested 500 people. Later they detained only 150 people and let the others go.

Camp dwellers claimed that most of those detained were innocents. Only 35 or 40 may be involved in drug selling. Many innocent Biharis were handed down imprisonment.

The innocents include mentally challenged woman, betel leaf seller, tailor, cinema hall employee and painter. I talked to their dear ones to know more about them.

A mother named Hamida told me how RAB had taken away his two sons from their home while they were asleep. 30-year-old Said does stitch work on clothes and 25-year-old Yusuf is butcher. She begged RAB for their release. Their father was more eager to prove innocence of his sons. He took me to their room where at one end folded embroidery table of Said leaned against the wall. He showed me a chopped wooden piece of Yusuf and rustic weights scattered on the stairs. They are the bread winners of their family. Their arrest pushed the family further into grinding poverty.

28-year-old mentally challenged Sahana ran into a raiding team of RAB. Their attire scared her. She tried to run away, rousing suspicion of the team. Her uncle Mohammad Subhan told me that his attempts to free his niece failed.

35-year-old electrician Tajuddin alias Taju’s wife claimed her husband was sentenced to six-month imprisonment. Her effort to go to higher court for bail is hampered by delay in getting a copy of the verdict.

70-year-old Bhulu has cardiac disease. He is also a victim of indiscriminate detention. And the worst part is that like Tajuddin he was also sentenced to six-month imprisonment.

Though I could not check veracity of their claims, they sound pretty convincing to me.

The camp air is thick with the anguish and grievances of family members of detained Biharis. Every one has a story to tell. One man cried:”Those who sell drugs in this camp had prior information of the raid. They were saying one another, ‘Tomorrow this camp will be raided’. They went into hiding and RAB arrested mostly the innocent ones.”

Earlier I had talks with the community leaders at Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee (SPGRC) office at the heart of the camp. Though a court verdict allowed them to cast their votes in General Election, they still face significant discrimination in availing opportunities like obtaining trade license , opening bank account and getting a passport.

One leader did not brush aside the allegations of drug selling at camps. He said:” Some sell drugs here. Poverty is to blame. But most of the camp dwellers are hard-working honest people.”

When I drew his attention to media reports showing people taking drugs at camp houses, he said: “Many come here everyday for many purposes. Some come here to relish biriyani and some to do other things. It’s impossible to keep a close tab on everyone. But I can tell you one thing with certainty, no kingpin dwells in here. Drugs is a national problem. It spreads all over the country. It is not just confined in here. ”

Another leader said:”Why don’t they go after the drug lords? Why don’t they stop it at the entry point? No one has the mean and authority to control the narco trade from this camp.”

He then invited me to join a human chain , which will be held on July 16, before the Press Club in protest against the detention of innocent Biharis.

Time is not good for the Biharis. Many Bangladeshis still loathe them for their roles in 1971. The haters are completely oblivious of the fact is that more than two-thirds of them are born after 1971 and many are integrated into Bengali culture. But the walls and obstacles put up by Bangladeshis do not bridge the gaps between the two communities. Biharis are still deprived of basic rights. No wonder collective hatred towards the Biharis often ends up in prejudiced actions. So while Bengali drug lords make their way into the parliament, drug peddlers like Nadim take bullets.

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La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

(6 juillet — 13 juillet)

Selon un reportage, incendie mystérieuse a ravagé un marché à Karwan Bazar à Dhaka. Bouteille de gaz d’un restaurant est l’origine de l’incendie, estime la Police.

Selon un reportage, la société américaine General Electric a signé accord avec Power Development Board du Bangladesh et société bangladaise Summit Group pour réaliser des projets qui valent $7,4 milliards dans la domaine de énergie. GE avec Mitsubishi et Summit mettra en place une centrale électrique de 2400 MW basé sur gaz. Par ailleurs, les $3,4 milliards de projets conjoints inclussent mise en place d’un terminal pétrolier de 100.000 MT et un terminal de gaz de 380.000 m³.

Selon un reportage, la force de Sécurité a tué deux ‘droguistes ‘ dans une raide à Rupganj, Narayanganj. Un appelait Nadim, appartenait à groupe persécuté Bihari. Son nom est apparu dans les “listes noires” préparées par plusieurs renseignements bangladais. C’est comment un policier a justifié la tuerie extrajudiciaire devant la presse. Il était orphelin et travaillait dans un restaurant depuis son enfance, en gagnant seulement Tk25 /jour. Puis, il commençait à vendre cannabis par Tk25. Il a été étiqueté «Pochish»(25 en bengali), la somme qu’il gagnait par jour.

Selon un reportage, un policier a été brutalement tué à Banani. Son cadavre s’est trouvé à Gazipur quelques jours plus tard.
Selon un reportage, un dirigeant de UPDF a été tué par balles à Bandarban.

Selon un reportage, deux Rohingyas ont été massacrés à Cox’s Bazar. Leurs cadavres sont trouvés à côté de campe.

Wider Press Freedom For Defense Reporting

Another BAF trainer jet crash marks the darkest year in the aviation history of Bangladesh . Since the crash of an Yak-130 in Chattogram on July 11, 2017, it is the 5th such incident in a single year.

The country is still reeling from the fateful crash of US Bangla Dash Q-800 aircraft at Kathmandu airport. Prior to that , an Mi-17 helicopter carrying Kuwaiti Army chief crashed in Sylhet and two Yak-130s crashed near Moheshkhali,Chattogram.

In all of these accidents, combat pilots or former combat pilots were flying the aircraft.

There is something  wrong in the way the BAF operates. How on earth did  such tragedies take place in such a short span of time?

We are yet to know about the causes behind earlier crashes. Primary source of information in any of such defense related incidents is still the ISPR. For some bizarre reasons, private media outlets keep a mum over such issues.

Since defense is the biggest sector where most of the tax payers’ money  is spent, people have every right to know what has been going on in this sector and how their money is being spent. In India, Bofors Gun Scandal led to the defeat of Indian Congress Party in the 1990 General Election. The press played a key role in spilling the beans. Unfortunately, the press in our country turns a blind eye to defense related issues in order to avoid troubles put up by agencies and government. In this age of information revolution, this has to be changed.For this reason, freedom and scope of private media outlets covering defense issues need to be widened.

Bangladesh has recently started big ticket defense procurement program. BAF has already floated tender for MRCA. Just 10 days before the latest crash, BAF inked deal with the China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation for another squadron of K-8W jet trainer.

Maintaining a large fleet of trainer cum light attack aircrafts indicates two things: BAF will groom future 4++ generation fighter pilots and will send such pilots to friendly countries to comply to an urgent call.

BAF facilities have so far maintained Chinese-built version of Mig-21 and other trainers. But since  the induction of Yak-130 aircrafts, which were bought under a Russian credit line of $1 billion, accidents started to crop up every now and then.

Social media groups say to fill the loss of the trainer another order has already been placed in addition to the just concluded one. But this shopping spree is taking place keeping the people in the dark. No one bothers to spell out how every single paisa of their hard earned money is being spent.

Concerns stemming from this latest crash ought to be paid attention to. Undisclosed earlier probe reports of similar crash seed confusion among people and generate much smoke about the things operate in defense sector in general.For instance, we still do not know what caused the crash of two Yak-130s on the island of Moheshkhali. Was technical glitches responsible for the crash? Was it an act of sabotage?

This hide and seek with the press does not provide viable solution to contested defense issues. Instead, it further widens the gap between the press and the defense and slowly kills the initiatives to introduce transparency in defense procurement programs.

Another feature of the crashed combat aircrafts is that they were all purchased government to government contract sidestepping the transparent procedure of calling for tenders. Sometimes G-to-G contracts yield better deals, sometimes they do not.  In this case, a thorough internal probe could tell whether we gain at all from these deals.

There is no gainsaying that the lack of transparency is increasing the procurement cost and maintenance cost. And often  inefficient way of doing things makes a dent in the quality of our defense items. To address this, govt should pay heed to arguments that proponents are peddling about free competition ensuring transparency and efficiency.

To eradicate all ambiguities ensuing the latest crash, govt should immediately open an investigation on the causes of  crashes took place in last one year. Moreover, it should allow the press to carry out its own impartial report without any obstruction and intimidation.

La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

(29 juin — 6 juillet)

Selon un reportage, un appareil d’ entrainement a écrasé à Jessore. Peu après son atterrissage K-8W a écrasé dans un lac en tuant deux pilotes de combat. Depuis le 11 juillet 2017, quand un Yak-130 a écrasé à Lohagora dans Chittagong, c’est la cinquième accident grave dans une année dans l’aviation bangladaise. Dans tous les cas, pilotes de combat volaient les avions.

Selon un reportage, le chef de l’ONU, le chef de Croissant-Rouge et le président de la Banque mondiale sont en visite officielle au Bangladesh. Ils sont allés aux campes de Rohingya à Cox’s Bazar pour connaître les souffrances.

Selon un reportage, des gens ont dispersé des dirigeants du mouvement d’abolir la réservation de boulot pour les groupes minoritaires depuis le service public. Le mouvement les a identités comme les fidèles du parti en exercice. Police a déjà arrêté des dirigeants du mouvement. Suite à altercation, dans un communiqué gouvernement se dit qu’il crée une équipe pour se pencher sur la réforme. Il espère évaluation finira en 15 jours.

Selon un reportage, le prix du riz augmente dans le marché bangladais. Grâce à bonne moisson, le stockage de riz est plus de ce que le marché demande. De plus, le gouvernement a imposé tarif sur l’importation de riz, provoquant baisse de prix de riz dans le marché international. Néanmoins, le comportement de marché a étonné les économistes et la presse.Des vendeurs ont dit qu’ils avaient augmenté le prix à cause d’une arrête d’ importation brusque.

Selon un reportage, une Cour de l’Assam, état avoisinant de l’Inde, a refixé le 30 juillet comme la date finale de publier le registre de ressortissants illégaux. Presque 10 millions d’habitants de l’Assam sont en danger d’être étiqueté comme «Bengali illégal». Les experts des affaires étrangères et journalistes estiment que l’action peut déstabiliser la région entière.

Selon un reportage, société hollandaise Veon a exprimé désir d’acheter l’ opération de la société égyptienne Global Telecom Holding au Bangladesh et Pakistan. GTH opère le service de télécommunication,connu comme Banglalink, au Bangladesh.

Selon un reportage, glissement de terrain a tué 4 personnes à Bandarban.

Selon un reportage, accident dans la rue a tué 6 Bangladais à Djedda en Arabie saoudite.

Faulty Decisions

Two crucial decisions in the financial and development sectors may not have profound impacts on development as the government desires.

First, Bangladesh Association of Banks, platform for bank owners, has unequivocally decided to slash interest rates on both  deposits and lending. BAB stressed on spurring investment, right now sluggish, in the country.

Second, government has recently attributed  authority to project director to disburse fund of a given project. Earlier, only concerned ministries have the authority to a final say on disbursement of project funds.

The decisions have some downsides and are subject of criticism.Bangladesh’s next general election is scheduled to be held by the end of this year. In an election year, we usually witness gross deviation from the standards set to ensure transparency.

Govt drew a lot of flak after it amended the ownership law of the banks, consolidating control of the banks to family members of bank owners. It is widely believed that the decision will have significant leverage on approving risky/fake proposals aimed to launder money abroad.

Banks are still reeling from financial scams that piled up huge bad debts. A recent news report says , bad debts incurred by 13 listed banks have doubled in one year. A clear sign things are heading towards the dead end. Amid this situation, this latest decision may end up contributing to corrupt project, causing further troubles to ailing banks.

Over the last couple of years we witnessed rise of some people who spared no opportunity to curry favor with the government in a bid to steal public fund.

Moreover, trade balance has registered deficit in recent months as exports could not match with rising import bills. Economists and corruption watchdogs believe money laundering is being taken place through over-invoicing.  So, employment generation and rapid industrialization through investment remain a distant dream.

Given the prevailing political uncertainty and lack of business confidence, many are skeptical here about such decision could boost true investment in the next six months.

The second decision is an example of perks deliberately created by a quarter to pass nourishment to its loyal activists via digestive tubes in the name of development projects ahead of next general election.
Since there is no transparency at the grassroots  and higher chances of misusing public fund for political purposes,  these projects may not bring the desired goals.

Our roads offer a just example why this is going to be the case. Every year millions of dollars are spent on roads and highways to make them operational. Yet they could not cope with one Monsoon. Recently I watched a report on a newly-built approach road in Faridpur. The bridge and the road were inaugurated few months before the arrival of Monsoon. Pre-Monsoon rain already washed away the approach road, making the bridge useless and soiled the image of government.

Another report said contractor used bamboo instead of steel to make a culvert bridge in Chittagong.

So people like me cast doubt on whether facilitation of funds will really bring the desired outcomes the projects intended to attain.

Provided that no radical changes are visible in the next six months  in investment and implementation of people-oriented projects, govt can try explore other means to increase investment.

It can court foreign investors to invest in SMEs. Proposals are already there. Germans show keen interest in SMEs. Govt should engage in one-to-one meeting with individual investor and do everything to make them happen in the next four months. The Thais have similar plans. Even the Indians.

With this small and medium initiatives we are optimistic to bring positive change in management and innovation in SMEs. Superior management and technology in SMEs are bound to make a difference in our industrial sector. FDIs in SMEs will not only improve efficiency, it will create quality jobs for Bangladeshis, a thing that the government is desperately trying to achieve.

We should take our cues from the Indians, who already allowed FDIs in retail sector.

So govt should not raise its eyebrows on FDI proposals of opening a grocery or barber shop or   clothes store. It should welcome them and facilitate their implementation. At the end of the day, these FDIs will introduce professionalism, superior management and better use of technology. Most importantly they will create quality jobs and impart work ethics to employees.

In brief, two major policy decisions —one by the bankers and another one by the government — are destined to fail as they could worsen the misappropriation of public money ahead of election. Best alternative is to court foreign investors to invest in SMEs in order to create jobs in the next six months.

La Semaine Dernière A Mes Yeux

(23 juin — 30 juin)

Selon un reportage, le gouvernement a confié la droit de livrer des fonds d’ un projet aux dirigeants adjoints. Avant ministère la possédait . Beaucoup de gens pensent que la décision amplifiera la corruption.

Selon un reportage, accident à Médine a tué 4 Bangladais.

Selon un reportage, la Banque mondiale va donner $480 millions de l’aide pour les Rohingyas.
Selon un autre reportage, le ministre chinois des Affaires étrangères a affirmé que le pays voulait rapatriement des Rohingyas dès que possible.

Selon un reportage, les comptes de Bangladais dans les banques suisses ont baissé par 27 pourcents en 2017.

Selon un reportage, Asian Development Bank va donner crédit de $500 millions au Bangladesh afin de mettre en place une centrale de 800 MW à Khulna.

Can We Dictate Consumer Choice?

Eid is over. However, we are yet to ascertain the true transactions figure took place at local markets on the occasion of Eid.

The press reported that around Tk 250 billion worth of goods were sold at local shops. Despite the surge in sales in the last couple of days before Eid, news reports and reactions of the shop owners did bode a bad Eid season.

According to a news report, Bangladesh Bank said Bangladeshi shoppers spent $57 million last year in neighboring states of India during the festive months.

Many grumbled over affluent Bangladeshis’ shopping and spending holidays abroad. But one thing has become apparent that foreign goods command far more attention from Bangladeshi holidaymakers.

The dismal picture of sales has less to do with shopping abroad and more to do with psychology.

People here attach strong liking to foreign goods. They think these goods are of high quality and value. Even in local markets sometimes home-manufactured goods are sold as foreign goods, pandering the consumer’s demand.

One has every right to choose where one will spend one’s money and on which good. Only closed economies reign in on consumer choices.

Provided that consumers’ choices should be upheld, government can stimulate sale of domestic goods in local markets through formulation of policies.

There is no gainsaying that more than a quarter of annual sales takes place in the festive months. Small entrepreneurs are at the forefront of driving the economic activity in this period.

This class should be at the center stage of government’s major policy decisions. Crux of the matter is how the govt can fix policy aimed at helping the domestic manufacturer without altering consumer choices.
There seems to be an easy answer: impose supplementary duties on imported goods beyond a threshold amount and/or travel tax during holiday season.

For instance, government can impose a significant amount of tax on airfare/train ticket/bus fare during holiday season, starting from 1-month prior to the Ramzan and ending two weeks after the Bakri Eid. Alternatively, it can target the consumer class who shops abroad by levying duties on imported items beyond a threshold amount, discouraging extra shopping abroad.
Fetched revenues then can be redistributed to manufacturers and SMEs that incur losses due to drop in sales in holiday season. This redistribution can be done through cash incentives or rebate in taxes.

Like every policy decision, imposition of taxes on foreign trip or foreign goods is not free from flaws. This kind of measure invites a tit-for-tat policy from friendly countries.

Other countries may respond with retaliatory measures. In the end, regional consumers and governments will be the losers with loss of tourists, trust and revenue.

One has to see the spending of $57 million in Indian neighboring states through broader perspective. The money Bangladeshis spent in the hustling and bustling Kolkata markets and neighboring cities is injecting fresh impetus into its local SMEs and creating opportunities for many left-outs there. Most importantly, by this kind of shopping activity we are making them stakeholders of our economy and vice versa. They will really do care for our consumer class and country.

The goodwill created by shopping will have lasting impact and a change in attitude towards us and our country. Neighboring Indian states may come down hard on drug factories and smuggling of small arms using their soil.

So instead of taking policies that will intensify antagonism, government should ponder over smart policies. Why does the government not try to bring part of Indian holidaymakers to Bangladesh?

Like us, every year many Indians spend their vacation abroad. Guess the countries top the list of Indians’ destination?Despite the rivalry, China has drawn more Indian holidaymakers in recent years. Shopping by the Indians there does not stir storm into the tea cup back home.

Imagine we manage to attract a small fraction of the Indian holidaymakers through a tourism campaign. Its impact on our economy will be enormous. And our stagnant tourism industry will get the much needed boost.

Private tour operators should take the lead and run a promotional campaign on Indian press. Pahela Boishakh, Ekushey Boimela, Winter Festivals, river cruising, Cox’s Bazar, Sundarbans, tracing the ancestral roots etc could be some good branding themes. If the branding messages get across to the right Indian tourist, we do not think we have to wait long to see Indian holidaymakers throng our tourist destinations. For that to happen, tour operators should carefully design their tourism products and ensure safety.

Now let’s get back to our point. Like love, trust, loyalty and integrity , consumer’s choice cannot be dictated. However, adoption of appropriate policies has significant leverage over consumer choice. Extra caution should be exercised to avoid a collision course while picking up policies. Best approach is to replicate successful model of our neighbours.