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     Volume 4 Issue 62 | September 9, 2005 |

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More Blasts Ahead?
The latest intelligent reports warn of more bomb blasts ahead. It is feared that the Islamist militants are joining hands with the outlaws of the southern districts to carry out bomb attacks on important establishments in a bid to force the government to keep hands off them.
The State Minister for Home Affairs, Lutfuzzaman Babar has said that there is apprehension of further attack and the authorities are prepared for it. In the wake of this latest threat since the August 17 serial blasts across the country the government has put the law enforcement and intelligence agencies on high alert. It also ordered them to beef up security at deplomatic zones, key installations, missionary schools, venues of religious and public gathering as well as markets.
According to an intelligence agency report, militants of banned Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Janojuddha, a faction of the Purba Banglar Communist Party, have set aside their differences and joined hands to carry out a common agenda, which is to intimidate the government.
Alarmed at the unholy alliance of the JMB and Janojuddha, which bases their politics on opposite ideologies, the government has ordered the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to conduct constant raid on slums and criminal dens and asked the other agencies to initiate operation to arrest listed criminals.
It is notable that both JMB and Janojuddha leaders share the same rage in the wake of the arrests of the activists of the former and the deaths in crossfire of the members of the latter.

Bring Back the Jute Glory
Jute, it seems, may still bring hope to this country, despite the decades of inefficiency and neglect, followed by dismissal of thousands of employees of the Adamjee Jute Mills that was ultimately closed down. At a recent seminar on the prospects of diversified jute products in the local and international market. General Secretary of the international Jute Study Group recognised the fact that in most developed countries like the US the demand for eco-friendly products is on the rise and that of synthetic products on the decline. Jute products, being environment-friendly, thus have a huge potential in these markets. The only hitch is that unless the products are of high quality and unless consumers are environment conscious, it will not be possible to get a share of the market. Many other countries are producing jute products which makes it necessary for Bangladesh to catch up on quality improvement and diversification. According to a secretary of the jute ministry, people are not very keen on investing money and time in research work to diversify jute products. He said that through a joint initiative of entrepreneurs, the Export Promotion Bureau, commerce ministry and foreign missions, can create a huge market of diversified jute products.
According to Jute Diversification Promotion Centre (JDPC) sources, Bangladesh has earned 83 crore taka in the current fiscal year, an amount that has been steadily increasing since 2000. These export earnings represent only 25 local enterprises. Last year around 75 crore-taka worth of jute products were sold in the local market.
This means that there are huge possibilities out there for Bangladesh to take advantage of. JDPC has arranged a training programme for entrepreneurs to acquire skills in producing high quality bags and luggage using jute fibre and leather and synthetic materials.
All this is very encouraging. One just wonders why it took us to realise that we were always sitting on a pot of gold.

Price Hike Problems and Their Solutions
Last week, the government put together yet another thought to work -- a hike in the prices of fuel. This hike marked the lowest 5.5 percent rise for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) while the prices of kerosene and diesel increased by 15 percent. The highest raise was marked for turpentine or MTT oil which shot up by 33 percent.
Justifying this move, the government claims to have put this into effect on the ground of international oil price hike exceeding the $70 per barrel mark. A decade ago, the price per barrel was around $15-25.
According to the new rates, the price of kerosene and diesel went up by Tk 4 reaching Tk 30 per litre, petrol went up by Tk 6 to Tk 42, octane by Tk 7 to Tk 45, specialised petroleum products JBO and LDO by Tk 6 to Tk 28, SBP by Tk 6 to Tk 38, turpentine by Tk 8 to Tk 32, furnace oil by Tk 2 to Tk 14 and the price of every 12.5 kilo LPG cylinder increased by Tk 25 to Tk 475.
Since coming to power in Octobr 2001, this is the eighth time that the government has hiked petroleum prices. However, it had never increased the prices of all the 10 different types of petroleum simultaneously in the past.
"The first reason for the hike is that the price of oil has skyrocketed internationally," said Mahmudur Rahman, the advisor to the energyministry. "The second reason is that the BPC continues to count loss. If we had not increased the price, the BPC loss this year would have come to Tk 4000 crore. But now this loss will decrease by Tk 1700 crore."
Mahmudur further added that the BPC had historically made losses but gave a lot of import duties, considered as profit. "However, last year, the BPC loss exceeded the amount of duties it paid for the first time. The BPC made a loss of Tk 2700 crore while it paid Tk 2400 crore as duties," he said.
"The third reason is that the import of oil is also creating heavy pressure on the foreign currency reserve. The price hike will now force people to be frugal with oil use, which will ultimately reduce the pressure on the reserve," he said.
To come up with solutions, the energy ministry proposed a two-day weekly holiday. It seems that the high number of government motor vehicles contribute significantly to the high demand for petroleum. Therefore, they seem to believe that a two-day weekly holiday will cut down one day's transport expense for the government staff, the proposal said.
Thank God for Workaholics, who like to eat out later most of the time, since the ministry also suggested closing of all shops except drug stores and restaurants after 8:00pm everyday.
After 10:00pm, all neon signs and billboards should be shut down and illumination of public places should be barred.
The government should definitely encourage the government institutions to use energy saving lights.

Strike a Deal and be in Denial:
The Fuss about Nico

Although the present BNP-led coalition government cancelled or renegotiated a number of faulty deals signed by the previous AL government, it did not flinch from finalising the faulty Niko-Bapex joint venture agreement. The decision went against the will of the government's energy experts, but that did not deter the present government to sign this damaging deal.
Meanwhile, after things turned sour, the present government is denying their part in the deal. According to a Daily Star (DS) report, Mahmudur Rahman, the advisor to the energy ministry, and his predecessor AKM Mosharraf Hossain are disseminating untruth regarding the deal. They are saying that the deal was signed during the AL regime. In reality it was signed in October 2003, during the present regime.
Earlier Mahmudur Rahman told the parliamentary standing committee on energy ministry that the previous AL government signed the Nico deal. To verify his claim he even produced a document bearing the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's signature. The document, it seems, was produced with the intention to lead all to confusion. The DS report confirmed that the said document signed by Sheikh Hasina on June 6, 2001, was actually an approved "Procedure for Development of Marginal Gas Field."
The AL government actually initiated the Niko deal by okaying a Framework of Understanding (FoU) in 1999. However, a FoU does not allow Niko to have access to three gas fields, which was awarded to it through a joint venture agreement between Niko and Bapex in October 2003. The present government's willingness to give Niko access to more gas fields was also revealed when it took away gas fields of Feni, Kamta and Chhatak from two gas companies of Petrobangla and placed them under Bapex so that Nico could have access to them. The companies of Petrobangla were not even compensated for this.
Mahmudur Rahman argues that the FoU signed by AL government compelled the present government to sign the deal. But the FoU did not dictate any legal obligation for the state; it is not even an agreement. The BNP government has records of canceling Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding two fertiliser projects with China and Japan, both of which were signed during the AL regime. Though the cancellation had affected bilateral relationship with both the countries BNP was undeterred in its action. But it went ahead with the deal with Nico, and at present is in utter denial of the responsibilities that it entails.

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