Vol. 5 Num 1058 Thu. May 24, 2007  
Front Page

No chance for military involvement in politics
Army subservient to civil authority, Lt Gen Moeen tells editors, asserts press freedom

Army chief Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed yesterday said power takeover by the military or their getting involved in politics is out of the question as the army is not the "proper institution" to run the government.

Moeen also reiterated the army's full commitment to press freedom and journalists' right to report freely. "The army respects the free press and takes its suggestions very seriously and often acts on them," he told newspaper editors at a meeting at his office yesterday.

He said he wants elections and restoration of an elected government as early as possible. If the army wanted to take power, they could do it during the chaotic period following October 28 [last year] when there were many such occasions.

"But we have resisted all temptations because we do not want to be involved in politics or run the government...The army is not the proper institution for governing the country," said the chief of army staff.

"We would like to see a competent, honest and committed leadership to run the country in future," he added.

On a personal note, Moeen said, "I have no intention or ambition to be in politics or go beyond my role as the army chief. I am looking forward to my retirement and leading a life as an ordinary Bangladeshi citizen...I may be involved in some sort of social work."

He said "I will definitely write a book" when a suggestion was made.

On press freedom, the army chief said if there have been cases of intervention in the matters of the press, they have been more of an aberration than rule. "Junior officers carried out such incidents not acting on the basis of our policies," he said, assuring the editors that the media is totally free to pursue their professional work and there will be no interference of any sort.

Lauding the role of the media as a link between the present government and the people, Moeen said, "They are a very important institution and their role is crucial for the success of the [ongoing] reform process and holding a free, fair and credible election."

During the two-hour long discussion with the editors of nearly all leading dailies of the country, the army chief explained the circumstances under which the army had to come to the aid of the caretaker government.

If the January 22 elections had gone ahead, there would have been a civil-war-like situation and Bangladesh would have faced a situation similar to that of Somalia, Moeen said.

"It is to restore democracy, law and order, and eliminate corruption that the army has come to the aid of the civil government," he added.

Moeen termed the armed forces "subservient" to the civil authority--the caretaker government, at present--and they have only acted in aid of the civil government as they had done many times in the past.

Outlining the success of the government and the part played by the armed forces over the last four months, he pointed to their activities in improving law and order, restoring economic activities, reforming the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Public Service Commission etc.

Moeen also expressed satisfaction at the army's helping role particularly in bringing the Chittagong Port to an efficient level of functioning. He said the per-hour container clearance at the Chittagong Port now stands at 38 as compared to Singapore's 40.

Moeen identified price hike as the single most important challenge for the present government. He said price hike on the international market has a significant impact on the local market.

"Yet steps need to be taken to address this problem. Every effort must be taken to stem the price rise," he said. He invited the business community especially to lend a helping hand.

He informed that the number of Bangladesh Rifles-run fair-price shops will be increased to 200 from the present 22.

The army chief said the country is run by an age-old administration, which is "extremely cumbersome and slow" and causes many of the problems faced by the country.

Regarding the anti-corruption drive, Moeen said the present government is fully committed to significantly reducing corruption in Bangladesh. "We do not want to be smeared as the top corrupt country in the world," he said, adding that the previous government did very little to fight corruption.

Moeen said, "The investigating mechanism of Bangladesh Bank, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Board of Revenue is extremely weak and in some cases the investigators are unable to carry out their tasks."

Responding to a question, Moeen said eliminating corruption is a continuous process and the present government hopes to bring institutional reform so that the process continues and ultimately help eliminate it in the long run.

There are also serious loopholes in the law that prevent quick disposal of the corruption cases, he pointed out, stressing the need for a modern legal framework to mitigate these challenges.

Moeen said the army has now ensured functioning of the health complexes at the rural level and presence of doctors in areas where they are posted. Earlier, most of these health centres were without the doctors who used to be busy with their private practice in cities, he said.

Regarding power generation, Moeen said no dramatic change is likely in next one year or two although steps are being taken to improve the situation. He pointed out that better management at the Barapukuria power plant has boosted production from 90MW to 216MW.

The army chief totally ruled out the prospect of continuing the provision for whitening black money in the same process as before. He, however, admitted that a distinction needs to be made between black money and undeclared money.

In reply to a question, Moeen said the regular training exercises of the army is continuing uninterruptedly in spite of the tasks they are carrying out at the national level.

Responding to a question regarding the status of national leaders, he said it is for the government to decide but the national leaders should be respected by all people, above party lines. "Can anybody dispute the role of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in gaining our independence or that of General Ziaur Rahman as a president?" he said.

Asked about the so-called "minus two" theory, Moeen said he has heard about it, but did not elaborate.

Moeen concluded by saying, "Bangladesh is not a poor country but a poorly governed country." He said he believes that Bangladesh could have a far higher per capita income above US$900 compared to the present $480.

He invited all to join hands for the future prosperity of the country.

Janakantha Advisory Editor Toab Khan, Ittefaq Acting Editor Rahat Khan, Independent Editor Mahbubul Alam, Shamokal Editor Abed Khan, Jugantor Editor Golam Sarwar, News Today Editor Riazuddin Ahmed, Manabzamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Amar Desh Editor Amanullah Kabir, Inqilab Editor Bahauddin Ahmed, Sangbad Editor Bazlur Rahman, Naya Diganta Editor Alamgir Mohiuddin, Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, Bangladesh Observer Editor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Financial Express Editor Moazzem Hossain, Amader Shomoy Editor Naimul Haq, New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, and The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam, and senior journalist ABM Musa attended the meeting.

Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed