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     Volume 4 Issue 58 | August 12 , 2005 |

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Jhintu's clemency and Moudud's explanation
Presidential amnesty to BNP leader Mohiuddin Jhintu 22 years after being convicted with death sentence of a double murder case has raised quite a storm in the political arena. Jhintu, who has been living in Sweden since he left the country to avoid hanging, came to Dhaka after he got assurance from high ups in the government that he would be granted presidential clemency. He surrendered to the court and within just 12 days, a record of sorts, managed to get Presiden-tial amnesty. When the media broke the news and opposition parties demanded an explanation, Law Minister Moudud Ahmed, through whose ministry Jhintu's appeal reached the President via Prime Minister, claimed that his ministry made notes on the basis of the home ministry's document that was sent to him. He also said that he was ignorant of two convicts in the same case being already hanged, implying that his ministry would not have supported the amnesty had he known of it. Recently however, Moudud has changed his position, something he always does with remarkable alacrity. He now says Jhintu was convicted by martial law court, which he terms as 'kangaroo court' and also mentions that Jhintu's name was not in the FIR. Now, which story will the public believe? And, one hopes this is Moudud's final interpretation of the whole affair.

Latest estimate of coal reserves
A new study conducted by a UK based company, Asia Energy, estimates that the coal resources at Phulbari in northern Bangladesh is at 572 million tonnes. Earlier studies showed that it was 522 million tonnes but the latest figures were released last Sunday. A reserve of such abundance and of such high quality coal is enough to generate 8000-megawatts of power for more than 30 years. Of the reserve, 288 million tonnes of coal falls in the measured or confirmed category, 244 million tonnes in the indicated category and the rest in the inferred category. The recently completed drilling programme and surveys show strong signs that the basin remains open and extends further southward. Additional drilling is required, nonetheless, to confirm the southern extent of the coal basin. "This further confirms the quality of the Phulbari resource," said Asia Energy's Joint Managing Director, David Lenigas. "We are also excited by the prospect of still more coal to be found at the southern end of the basin." Asia Energy has drilled more than 100 exploration holes in the Phulbari area and with proper authorisation, is planning to start mining operations there in 2007. Asia Energy has plans for a 30-year open pit coal mining plan for the Phulbari project, which would require relocating around 50,000 people of about a 100 villages and a part of Phulbari town. The project would bring in $200 million annually for the government.

What about a Four-party Alliance (Islamic) Bank?
Islamic Oikkya Jote (ICJ; Islamic Unity Front), a member of the Four-party Alliance (FPA), it seems, has laid its eyes on setting up banks. Leaders of two factions of the front have already thronged the Register of Joint Stock Companies and Firms to get a licence. Of them, Mufti Ijharul Islam Chowdhury is positive: "Inshallah," he says, "The Prime Minister has assured me. She has told me that during the end of its term the government is going to give licence to a few banks. Mine will be one of them." Chowdhury has also informed a Bangla daily that he has been in the queue for the last couple of years. Though the name of Chowdhury's proposed bank is distinctively bombastic (Al Falah Islami Bank Bangladesh Limited), Mufti FH Amini, another ICJ leader, did not have to work hard on that front. The leader has named his financial dream as Al Amin Islami Bank Limited (AAIBL). Amini has a rather mawkish reply at his disposal when he is asked about the fate of the project. "I have applied long ago; no one has given me any promise. I will be glad if I get the licence, won't be disheartened if I am turned down," he says.
If two splinter groups like Chowdhury's and Amini's can brood over bank licences, it is understandable how rapacious big-guns of the ruling party would become for a good share of the pie.
The country already has 30 banks, and sources say the government has planned to introduce three more. It is not clear though which FPA leader is going to get a licence, but one thing can be said without any shred of doubt: People can hardly afford to bank on such financial institutions; the nightmares of the BCIC-scam is still vivid in people's minds; on top of it all, when it comes to money they do not trust politicians. And people are right in thinking that way.

Trouble-torn EC and an ever confident CEC
The Election Commission (EC) is in trouble. The just appointed Chief Election Commissioner Justice MA Aziz apparently finds his new assignment a bit too hot to handle. Though he appears absolutely confident on TV camera and though he gives the impression that he is absolutely on top of things, the reality does not always look that good. His very first action was to meet with more than 100 political parties, most of whom are name-only. His pretext was to discuss something which has been conventionally and justifiably decided by the EC--that is, whether the EC should go for a fresh or revised voter list. The meetings were poorly attended, and no one claimed those meetings yielded great results except giving the attending newsmen opportunity for some hearty laughter. Those meetings over, it took the EC two more weeks to decide what type of voter list they wanted. Meanwhile, reports that CEC has developed a bitter broil with two other commissioners about the issue are also out. The two commissioners are also being barred from talking to the press, though CEC denies issuing any such order. The issue that the EC secretariat should be under the EC's control has once again come to the fore, especially now that it is allegedly stopping pressmen to meeting the ECs. In the last few months or so, the CEC has quite ill managed the EC, the institution he heads. One wonders how well he will be able to manage the coming national elections, a much more daunting task than settling in-house conflicts.


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