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     Volume 5 Issue 84 | March 3, 2006 |

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News Notes

Death in Fire
The industry that earns the most foreign exchange is also notorious for its utter neglect as far as the working environment is concerned. Last week, a Prothom Alo report highlighted the fact that most garment factories fall short of the standard set by the relevant authority. It also brings to light that there are a number of factories that are ideally built only to be shown to the foreign buyers, who often come to visit prior to signing of a contract.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the Chittagong RMG factory fire rose to 54. Over 150 employees were badly burnt in the fire that engulfed the KTS Composite Textile Mill of Arena Group at about 7:10 in the evening on February 23. Among some 600 workers most of them were women. Of the injured, severely burnt 49 workers were undergoing treatment at Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH). Their condition was so critical that the hospital sources feared that they would not live through their injuries. Ten of the fire victims died on the way to the hospital and another during treatment in the CMCH on the after the fire.
The fire in the KTS factory is the worst ever-industrial accident. And it was the result of the authority's sheer carelessness. It is reported that as the boiler exploded on the first floor it quickly spread and engulfed the entire building, and the workers struggled to come out of the building and were faced with the challenge of saving themselves as they found the ground-floor collapsible gate closed. On top of that one of two collapsible gates on each floor was also closed. It was on the behest of the factory authority that these gates remained closed. It was alleged that another fire accident took place at the same factory on February 4, and following that accident the authority decided to keep one of the two gates closed on every floor without showing any apparent reason.
The news that the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on February 24 formed a seven-member committee headed by its first vice president to probe into the matter fails to provide any solace. As we all know that the findings of the probe committees often go to waste as no steps are ever taken to cut down on the negligence that rule the RMG sectors. If the past is any guide law enforcement authorities are often soft on the accused in accidents. One whole year has gone by after the collapse of the nine-storied Spectrum Garments factory in Savar where 62 workers met an untimely death, but the police are yet to furnish a charge sheet. It was Officer in Charge of the Savar thana who filed the case against the Shahrier Group who owned the Spectrum Garments. And the matter did not progress from that point on.
After KTS fire incident were quickly followed by arrest of the administration and production director of the mill by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). RAB also detained an accountant of the Vintage Textile Mill, a sister concern of KTS textile Mill. But at the end of the day these arrests does not mean anything. Though after the latest incident BGMEA authority is saying that they are ready to check any discrepancies that ail the sector. But no one can tell for sure when will the words be translated into action? Isn't it too late already?

Fighting an Invisible Enemy
Bangladesh government will purchase 16 fighter aircraft from China for $93.6 million. Water Resources Minister Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, in charge of the defence ministry in the parliamentary affairs, informed the Jatiya Sangsad about this purchase last week. "An agreement was signed in the FY 2004-05 for purchasing the fighter planes from China," Hafiz Uddin said, adding that each of the planes will come to $5.85 million. Hafiz Uddin said that the purchase of fighter aircraft for the air force is a continuous process, though he did not go further into the purchasing process. The previous Awami League (AL) government had purchased eight Mig-29 fighter planes from Russia during their time in power at $123.98 million, under tremendous controversy. A suit was filed against the AL government. The allegations made were: The aircraft were old and hence there had been a misuse of public funds. An advance payment had been made in violation of the terms of the agreement and the purchase process lacked transparency. After coming to power, the present government filed corruption cases against the then prime minister, Sheikh Hasina and others, regarding the purchase of the planes. Now the coalition government is all set to spend a fortune on fighters. In the backdrop of how the national carrier Biman is facing a complete breakdown of its schedule of international flights, as it lacks adequate number of fleets, the move to buy warplanes only highlights the inability to set priorities on the part of our leadership.

Corruption Breeds in Government Funded Schools
It seems that behind the facades of the government funded schools there lurks a shadowy world. A huge corruption cycle is in full swing as far as the handling of fund is concerned. From the lower tires to the top-level management, millions of taka are being skimmed every year in the name of appointment, promotion and disbursement of the government funds under the monthly pay order (MPO). There are numerous cases of schools from Ishwardi to Kurigram who bear witness to this corruption. A teacher from one such school states that he gets Tk 5,100 as basic pay, 90 percent of which comes from the government as MPO. Without the MPO money, this man would have to look for other profession as he only received a meagre sum of Tk 500 a month from the school. Sadly, he had not even been paid in the last five months. But to get to his current job status, the had to 'manage' the school's managing committee and for that, was charged Tk 2 lakh. Next stop, he paid Tk 10,000 to the district education officer and after that he had to pay another Tk 25,000 at the Shikkha Bhaban (Directorate of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education) to put his job under the MPO, he had a promotion two years back upgrading his scale from Tk 4,100. It also did not come free; he had to pay Tk 5,000 for that to the district education officer. On average, each teacher has to spend at least Tk 2.35 lakh for a job at a private MPO-listed school. Bribing does not simply stop there. When officers come to inspect the schools and they too need to be bribed during Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations, during registration of the students and while getting certificates from the education boards and the so on. There are currently 4.5 lakh MPO-accredited schools and over Tk 4,000 crore has already been spent on them and an uncountable amount changed hands.


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