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      Volume 12 |Issue 03| January 18, 2013 |


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Current Affairs

Abul's Bridge

Shakhawat Liton

Syed Abul Hossain

One of the fundamental principles of the state is to fight all kinds of corruption. The article 20 (2) of the constitution says, "The State shall endeavour to create conditions in which, as a general principle, persons shall not be able to enjoy unearned incomes…"

If an individual has unearned incomes, it means s/he has earned it through illegal means. And the state, in accordance with the constitution will not allow the individual to enjoy unearned income.

Like her predecessors, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took oath, before assuming office, to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. All her colleagues in the council of ministers also took the same oath. And they are bound by their oath to uphold the spirit of the constitution.

In terms of responsibility, Sheikh Hasina must bear the maximum burden of it as the country's executive power is exercised by or on the authority of the premier. She also determines the numbers of her colleagues in the council of ministers and also their term in the offices.

Therefore, the premier needs to play a leading role in creating "conditions in which, as a general principle, persons shall not be able to enjoy unearned incomes…" And her government must allow the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to function independently and effectively to uphold the spirit of the constitution.

PM Hasina in her televised address to the nation on January 11, on the occasion of completion of four years in office of her government, also reflected on the spirit of the article 20(2) of the constitution. She claimed her government has taken a firm stance against corruption. "The ACC has been strengthened. The ACC is now working independently."

She continues: "The ACC has been summoning ministers, advisers, MPs for investigation and is able to interrogate them frequently for filing cases. Was it even imaginable during the BNP-Jamaat alliance government? Citizens, you will judge."

Of course, the ordinary citizens are going to evaluate her government's performance prior to the national election. The Padma Bridge scandal alone has become a glaring example of her government's soft stance on corruption.

And it is really surprising to many as to why the man, Syed Abul Hossain, this time has become so important in Sheik Hasina's government? It is a billion dollar question.

One may be puzzled more if s/he looks back in the history. Abul Hossain was a state minister for LGRD in Hasina's previous cabinet. Abul had made a visit to Singapore without Hasina's government's permission, using an ordinary passport instead of the diplomatic one. His dubious visit gave rise to criticism in the political circles and also in the public domain. Hasina did not hesitate to take actions to honour public sentiment and to keep her cabinet's image clean. She compelled Abul to resign as the state minister on August 10, 1997.

This time round, things were moving in different directions from the very beginning. Hasina returned to power, for a second term, after seven years, with a new vision for change. She left most of her senior party colleagues out of the cabinet and brought in some new faces to run several important ministries. Abul is one such fortunate man. He was inducted as a full minister and was given the portfolio of communications ministry.

The ACC must be allowed to do its job. Photo: Star File

But he brought disaster not only for Hasina's government, but also for the entire country. His alleged involvement in the conspiracy of corruption in the Padma bridge project prompted the World Bank to suspend and later finally cancel its $1.2 billion credit for the bridge. Abul was first removed from the helm of the communications ministry. But a new ministry–Information and Communication Technology–was set up and Abul was given the charge. All those actions could not satisfy the World Bank. So, Abul had to resign from the cabinet. PM Hasina lauded Abul and said he was a patriot who had stepped down voluntarily to pave the way for the construction of the long-cherished Padma Bridge.

The saga does not end here. The ACC, which has been handling the Padma bridge case, is now bearing the burnt of Abul's patriotism. The ACC could not go ahead with the case independently as the premier claimed in her address to the nation on January 11. By dropping Abul and former state minister Abul Hasan Chowdhury from the case of 'conspiracy of corruption' in the Padma bridge project, the ACC has proved that it is unable to function independently. Now it does not matter what the ACC says about its independence.

An even more peculiar chapter was unfolded on January 14 when ACC Commissioner Mohammad Shahabuddin claimed that the WB's external panel had expressed satisfaction at the filing of a case in connection with the graft conspiracy in the Padma bridge project. Talking to reporters at the ACC's Segunbagicha head office in the capital, he said that the external panel gave its reaction in a letter to the ACC three days ago.

But on the following day, some newspapers including The Daily Star ran separate reports on the WB's letter which disclosed the panel's unhappiness with the exclusion of Abul from the list of accused in the Padma bridge corruption case. The panel said Abul's exclusion showed that the ACC was not conducting a complete and fair probe into the corruption conspiracy.

The sequence of events considered by the panel and established by the ACC suggests a criminal conspiracy that includes Abul as the most senior official personally involved, said the panel. "In order to achieve a complete and fair investigation, the serious allegations against the former communications minister should be thoroughly investigated and he warranted inclusion among the accused.”

Now, whom should people believe– the PM's speech on the independence of ACC and the ACC commissioner's statement or the WB's panel's letter?

People will judge how the spirit of the constitution is being upheld by those who took oath to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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