Vol. 5 Num 263 Tue. February 22, 2005  
Front Page

Saifur unhappy over Washington meet
Tells EC a group 'patronised by opposition' feeding wrong information about Bangladesh

Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman has expressed his grievances to the European Union (EU) for organising a meeting in Washington on governance on February 23 and 24 without any representative from Bangladesh.

"If there is a meeting on Bangladesh's development process, this should take place in Bangladesh," Saifur told newsmen at Zia International Airport yesterday morning on his return from a 11-day trip to Jeddah, London, Brussels and Rome.

"We are a sovereign country and a large country," he added.

Saifur met 13 European Commission (EC) commissioners and conveyed his concerns about the upcoming Washington meeting to the EU external affairs commissioner.

"I told the external affairs commissioner that the EU initiative to hold this Washington meeting is conceptually wrong," Saifur said. "It could have been held in Bangladesh, or at least, we could have been invited."

The finance minister alleged that a group 'patronised by the opposition' feeds the EC with wrong information about Bangladesh.

"This has created an unhealthy attitude among some European countries about Bangladesh," he said. "As a result they do not look at Bangladesh in an appropriate perspective. In most cases, they draw conclusions without going to the depth."

"But the EC is an institution. It should not accept any information without verification," he maintained.

A number of burning issues came up during his meeting with the commissioners. These include deaths in 'crossfire', rise of Islamic militants, law and order situation and formation of a human rights commission.

"The commissioners talked about communal problems in Bangladesh. I asked them back: Where did they see communal problem in our country? They also asked me why women wear veils (burkha). I told them that the nuns in their countries also wear veils, which does not seem to bother them."

On the issue of the grenade attack, Saifur told the commissioners that this is a global phenomenon. Even in Spain, there had been three to four recent instances of bomb blasts, but none could be arrested.

"This is happening everywhere. When the newspapers run the headlines and you tend to jump on the issue, this is not right," the minister said.

On the question of crossfire, Saifur challenged the EC commissioners to name one country where people do not get killed in crossfire.

On the question of slow judicial pace, he told the EC that such delays happen elsewhere, too. In Ireland, a case took 18 years to be resolved and then a wrong person was convicted.

Explaining to the EC why the human rights commission has not been formed, Saifur said this is under process but Bangladesh's constitution guarantees human rights to all.

On the question of corruption, Saifur told the EC there is not a single country free from corruption. However, he told them that the government is trying to improve the situation.

Saifur believes his meetings with the EC commissioners will help change the EU's perspective about Bangladesh. "Our ambassadors will follow up my visit to maintain the positive impression that I left with them," he claimed.

During his visit to Jedda, Saifur met Islamic Development Bank (IDB) executives and was assured of $1 billion in assistance in energy, fertiliser import and infrastructure.

"Our relationship with the IDB became cold from 1997 because we did not maintain relationship with it from a high level of the government," he noted.

Saifur was also present at the signing of a $60 million loan agreement between Bangladesh and the IDB for fibre-optic cable installation between Dhaka and Cox's Bazar.