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Wider Press Freedom For Defense Reporting

July 5, 2018

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.

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