Feb 22
Politics: Disturbing Reports In Political, Economic Fronts Bode Well For Future? PDF Print E-mail

By Zafar Malik

Despite persistent assertion to progress in potential sectors under the present administration of Bangladesh, some disturbing reports in political and economic fronts do not bode well for the future. Political commentators say if the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration that seeks for another term in office could not rein in seemingly frustrating situation in economy and law and order, it may create a different picture on the eve of the next national elections.

It’s not only surprising but also shocking to learn that Bangladesh lost billions of dollars to illicit flows. The Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Washington DC-based research and advisory organization, disclosed it May 1 in its report on “Illicit Financial Flows to and from Developing Countries: 2005-2014".

According to the GFI report, Bangladesh lost as much as $75.15 billion (Tk 700 billion) to trade misinvoicing and other unrecorded outflows between 2005 and 2014, the period covered the end of the BNP-Jamaat rule to the present Awami League government.

The GFI, a not- for- profit organization, produces high-caliber analyses of illicit financial flows, advises developing country governments on effective policy solutions, and promotes pragmatic transparency measures in the international financial system as a means to global development and security.

In response to the sensational GFI report, State Minister for Finance MA Mannan told parliament on May 3 that the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Bangladesh Bank will gather information on the smuggling of money and investigate the information in order to stop the trend.

"Theft will always be there, but we must remain alert," Mannan told outspoken JSD MP Moin Uddin Khan Badal who demanded that the Finance Minister make a statement on the GFI report.

In an appeal to Finance Minister MA Muhith, the JSD leader said "please stop doing other things and answer us in parliament.” Badal questioned "How is the money finding its way out of the country? Who are sending this? We don’t know them. Who are those gentlemen?"

Badal asserted the Finance Minister cannot simply shirk his responsibility only by saying that "the money smugglers have very long arms. I want a clear answer."

The JSD leader also wanted to know what steps the government has taken to stop the smuggling of money. In a tone of frustration Badal said, "If these gaps in development remain, we will not be able to achieve the status of a middle-income country. We would rather think about how backward we could move."

State Minister Mannan, however, said, "There are also doubts about free flow of information across the globe. But we are not brushing away the information."

Commenting on the GFI report, Law Minister Anisul Huq reportedly said on finding evidence, legal steps would be taken against those who have siphoned capital out of Bangladesh.

The messy situation in the nation’s financial sector is not new. There were innumerable media reports about plundering bank money allegedly in collusion between corrupt bank officials and influential people, $81 MILLION cyber heist – one of the world's biggest ever – from Bangladesh Bank and siphoning off money from Bangladesh by top business leaders and politically influential people.

News media outlets at home and abroad also published reports that the corrupt money were allegedly smuggled to Malaysia to create Second Home and so-called “Begum Para” in Canada by corrupt businesses and politically influential people to live in peace and luxury if the country is plunged into crisis in future.

Immediately after the GFI report, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) forecasts in its report on May 8 that Bangladesh’s economic growth may slow down to 6.5 percent in fiscal 2017-18.

Bangladesh aims to achieve 7.2 percent economic growth in 2016-17. Finance Minister AMA Muhith raised his target higher at 7.5 percent.

After so many disappointing reports and negative forecast about the economy, it is mysterious that the present administration has not taken any visible actions against the continuous smuggling of money, which potentially causes hemorrhage to the national economy and poses threat to the government’s ambitious agenda to become a mid-income country by 2021.

In this context one may refer to Awami League general secretary Obaidul Kader’s recent eye-browsing statement he made at a party meeting in Chittagong.  General people were taken aback when Kader said indicating Awami League leaders that those who accumulated money won’t be able to flee the country if the party did not return to power through the next election.  “E-Gad!” what Mr Kader, the second top leader of the ruling party, cautions in public seemingly acknowledging the corrupt practices made by his party men to build up their fortunes. What is more alarming, according to Kader’s statement, that the situation might create in future when moneyed Awami League men would have to think to flee the country with their ill-gotten wealth. He advised his party men to invest their earned money in local developments to win the minds of the voters.

Political observers who are keeping close eyes on the pre-election political developments in the country with lot of interests say Obaidul Kader frequently makes similar comments cautioning Awami League members about their fate if they fail to woo the minds and hearts of the electorates in the next elections. He earlier reminded that their political adversaries BNP may be weak in organizing movement but it becomes a formidable force in general elections.

The observers say keeping in consideration the next elections likely to be held in December 2018, both Awami League and BNP are preparing groundwork overtly and covertly. They are quietly working on expanding their respective election alliances with like- minded political groups and selecting their prospective party nominees from among numerous aspirants, indeed, a difficult task for both the camps. It was reported that BNP claims it has 900 aspirants for direct election to 300 parliament seats, and the party is preparing to join the next elections after abandoning the 2014 polls. On the contrary, Awami League though in a good position to retain its power for another five years is engaged in finding better candidates by dropping 80-85 sitting parliament members whose performance and popularity are put in question.

Insiders say Awami League wants to present a fair and credible election, and for that they would field better and capable candidates against their opponents to win the electoral mandate without much stress.

It is understood that observers from various international organizations and agencies would come and monitor the next elections, and their views would be significant for both legitimacy and further development of the country.

Meanwhile, European Head of the Delegation in Dhaka Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon expressed his optimism that all political forces will participate in the next general election in Bangladesh as he said there have been “lessons learnt” from the 2014 polls.

“I cannot enter into much analysis. We wish that all political forces in this country will participate in the election obviously to make them as inclusive as possible,” Mayaudon told reporters on the eve of the Europe Day on May 9.

It is known to all that the EU did not find the 2014 general election ‘credible’ and stayed away from monitoring the polls as the opposition BNP and its allies boycotted the vote, resulting in more than half the seats returning uncontested winners.

Ambassador Mayaudon said he was “confident that there have been some lessons learnt from the previous 2014 election that will certainly lead to proper approach … and that will see that the next election will also be the occasion for all citizens of Bangladesh to express their opinion”.

“Because the risk otherwise would be to see a growing number of refranchise citizens that in every society worldwide its risk of political, social and overall stability in the country.”

“As friends and partners of Bangladesh, we don’t want to see that happening in your country. And we are confident that it’ll not happen,” he said, adding free, fair and inclusive elections are the pillar of democracy and the next general election must respond to those criteria.

The Ambassador referred to the appointment of the new election commission, saying some important steps were already taken to set the legal frame for this election. He said policymakers in Brussels already conveyed to Dhaka in February that the EU would be very much willing to send to Bangladesh a EU observation mission in the context of next general elections.