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     Volume 4 Issue 63 | September 16, 2005 |

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Wanted Dead or Alive
The government has recently announced a bounty for information on the alleged masterminds behind the August 17 bomb blasts -- Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam, more popularly known as Bangla Bhai. It's a whole Western affair with advertisements consisting of information on and mug-shots of the infamous two, along with pictures of how they would look in shirts, suits and panjabis and with and without hair, beards and caps. The ads contain many aliases used by Abdur Rahman, chief of the banned Islamic militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and of Bangla Bhai, chief of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). It also has some family history, which will hopefully help people to track them down.
Identities of the informers will remain confidential and if their tips lead to the arrest of the wanted, they will be given a "due reward", according to newspaper reports. Though the bounty is unspecified as yet, the government is probably hoping that people will be motivated enough to get on the trail of the deadly militants.

Fewer Infants die in
Bangladesh than in India

We may have hit rock bottom when it comes to curbing corruption or controlling vicious price spirals, but once in a while we hear of indexes that make us want to believe that some things are on the right track. A recent UN human development report has announced that compared to our extremely influential neighbour, India, our infant mortality rate is lower. In 1970, for every 1000 kids (from babies to five year-olds) 202 died in India; the number was 239 for Bangladesh. After three decades the number of deaths has decreased to 80 in India and 60 in Bangladesh. This in no way means that infants are in a very happy state in our country. Regardless of the five- percent decrease every year in infant mortality in Bangladesh, the fact remains that the majority of children remain the most deprived of citizens. They continue to be malnourished, grossly neglected and have little or no security. Even if they are lucky to survive till their fifth year, there is little guarantee that they will grow up with even the most basic rights such as the right to healthy food, proper shelter or the right to an education.
So while we may gloat over the slight statistical upper hand over our neighbour, we cannot afford to overlook the stark reality of the plight of our children -- something we face on a daily basis.

Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain, the Health and Family Welfare Minister.

Not a Healthy Business
After raising fees at public hospitals across the country as hefty as 400 percent, the government has made a U-turn in no less than 24 hours. In a move meant to make a 23-year-old ordinance "more realistic", on the previous day the health ministry quadrupled the admission fee from Tk 5.5 to 20. If the new rate were implemented, patients, most of who live far below the poverty level, would have to pay Tk 200 a day to rent a bed in the wards.
The reason given for a sudden change of the government's mind is strange and, at the same time, frightening. We are told to believe that the health ministry has issued the circular, raising fees, without the prior approval of the Health and Family Welfare Minister Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain. The Minister has cried innocence the day the news of this exorbitant raise hit the headlines of the major dailies: "I would never have approved such a circular which would mean immense sufferings to the people, especially the poor".
That a Ministry can actually issue a circular without even informing the concerned Minister when he is both physically and mentally sound is a very dangerous precedent, and something to be taken seriously.
If Hossain is speaking the truth, then we live under a government that disregards, if not routinely flouts, the Rules of Business. If a secretary or an assistant secretary can make such an important policy decision, keeping the Minister in complete darkness, then we have every reason to believe that Mosharraf as a Minister and, more importantly, as a people's representative, has grossly neglected his job.
It is no surprise that public hospitals have become a metonymy for corruption and mismanagement. Like education, subsequent governments that have come to power after independence, has made public health a commodity. The rich can afford to go to Bangkok to cure sneezing, but these dilapidated hospitals are the only place the country's poor can resort to when they are ill. Broken trolleys and stinky toilets are good enough reason for us to understand how pro-poor this government is.

Bus fare: going up!
Everything seems to be going up in this country, including fuel price and, very recently, bus fare. A government committee tasked with re-fixing bus fares last week recommended around 18 percent rise in the wake of fuel price hike and threats of strike by transport owners' bodies.
The committee at a meeting at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) office recommended increasing the 72-paisa bus fare per kilometre to 85 paisa and 75-paisa minibus fare to 88 paisa per kilometre.
According to the sources, the transport owners and workers bodies demanded a rise of Tk 1.1 and Tk 1.15 per kilometre. The minister assured the leaders of new bus fares by September 15 as they called off the countrywide transport strike on September 7 and 8.
For better or worse, it seems that the Bangladesh Inland Waterways Passenger Carriers' Association demanded that the government increases launch fares to Tk 1.05 from 85 paisa per kilometre, last week.
As expected, Bangladesh Truck Owners Association threatened the government to enforce a 48-hour strike on September 14 and 15 if the government failed to realise their demands of reducing fuel prices and bridge and ferry tolls.
The association also demanded reduction in transport sector taxes and an end to overloading and police harassment on highways in the name of documents checking.


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