Vol. 5 Num 601 Sun. February 05, 2006  
Front Page

The Daily Star's 15th anniversary
Yunus spells out nation's rosy future
Urges people to stand up to ensure fair polls, change political trend and reject nominations of corrupts in next elections

Global personality Prof Muhammad Yunus yesterday urged the nation to elect honest and strong leadership through a free and fair election next year to steer the nation to the next big leap forward.

The pioneer of microcredit said despite poor political leadership that has bred overwhelming corruption, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress because of the role of its common people. The present negative political climate is holding back the nation. The people should stand up to change the trend through a free and fair election.

Speaking as chief guest at the celebration of 15th anniversary of The Daily Star, Prof Yunus drew a picture of a prosperous Bangladesh that can be achieved merely by changing the present political trend.

He noted that Bangladesh is lucky to have China and India-- two fast growing global giants --next doors. "We must assess our best interest in building our relationship with them. In their turn, they'll assess their best interest in having us as their neighbour," he said. "We can get a ride on the fast train with them."

The country needs an open-door policy to make itself international investors' first choice, the eminent economist told the gathering of around 3,000 representing a cross section of people. The audience included former president of the Philippines General Fidel Ramos, editors from a few prominent media houses of India, Pakistan,Nepal and Thailand, professionals, intellectuals and politicians.

Bangladesh has built a very strong foundation to make the big leap forward. He said. "We are ready to launch ourselves into a path to cross USD 1,000 per capita income, 8 percent GDP growth rate, and reducing poverty level to under 25 percent in the near future."

Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star Mahfuz Anam and Rokia A Rahman, chair of the Mediaworld, the company owning the paper, also spoke on the occasion.

Yunus said, "Our non-stop political bickering does not give a respite to celebrate ... our enormous successes to prepare ourselves to reach out to still higher levels of accomplishments."

He went on, "This year... people have to make their minds known to the politicians who want their votes to run the country on their behalf. This is the election year. This is the best time to get heard."

Voters want to vote, and want to vote for a person they admire, rather than be compelled to vote out of party loyalty, or on some other considerations. Voters must create their own choice. If political parties offer corrupt candidates, people will put up their own clean candidates. If we don't do that we'll continue to be the most corrupt country in the world, and our dreams will never get a chance."

He proposed that the voters create their own option and tell the political parties who is to be nominated in their constituency. If none of their candidates is nominated, voters will be free to submit blank ballots as a protest.

"Voters must start speaking out their minds from now on. Rather than speculating about who is going to get which party's nomination, party supporters and independent voters have to start speaking out who they think should be nominated. This year people should get themselves heavily involved in the nomination process. This will be the only way to get the bad people out, and good people in."

The loudest message the voters must give to the political parties is, "We shall not give votes to a candidate who is known to be corrupt, who is known to have amassed wealth by misusing his power and authority or using his power to terrorise people," Yunus said, urging all civic groups, associations, professionals, farmers and women to prepare and submit their panels to the political parties.

"When sending the chosen names for party nominations to respective party, voters should give those names also to the press. Voters should keep lobbying with the parties to let them know how strongly they (voters) feel against the potential party candidate and promote the case of their own candidate," he added.

"I invite the media to... start a series of reports identifying and highlighting at least three potential clean candidates for each contesting political party, in each constituency," Yunus said.

To resolve the feud between the two leading political parties, he requested both the sides to find a respected person acceptable to both, who will come up with a solution package in consultation with them.

Yunus observed, "Important thing is to hold the election in the right manner, and right mood, to uphold our democracy and move forward.

"World is changing very fast. If we are late by a day we'll fall behind by years. We have come a long way and we are ready to go forward with speed. Bangladesh has the fire in her belly to keep pace with her giant neighbours. Let us not allow ourselves to slow down. We need the right politics and the right leadership to mobilise the tremendous energy in Bangladeshi young people.

"A section of our politicians finds it a very attractive theme to impress on the common people of Bangladesh that India is behind all the terrible things that happen in Bangladesh. If you don't vote for our party, India will turn Bangladesh into her client state."

The pioneer of microcredit pointed out that in the world of today, domination does not come through sneaky conspiracies but from economic power. "If we remain a poor country, everybody will dominate us, not just India. Moving up the economic ladder quickly is the best protection from all dominations."

To move up in this ladder, he suggested Bangladesh should open up all doors. "Let people, products, investments from all over the world flow into Bangladesh, and out of Bangladesh, with utmost ease, safety, and efficiency... Let's build everything in Bangladesh in such a way that Bangladesh becomes the natural first choice of hard-nosed investors and traders."

To make Bangladesh an international cross-road, the nation has to reduce corruption drastically, ensure proper supply of electricity all over the country, open up information communication technology, build a mega-port in Chittagong coastline, capable of serving Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, eastern India, Myanmar and south-western China, and construct highways to connect the mega port with these countries, the renowned economist thought.

"Our biggest worry is corruption... There is no way out but to eliminate corruption in politics, from where the infectious disease of corruption spreads around," he observed.

"Geographically, Bangladesh is strategically located to provide access to international shipping to Nepal, Bhutan, Eastern India, Myanmar and South-Western China... We'll have to do our home-work well to show them the benefits accruing to them by opening up the access to the sea-routes through Bangladesh, and doing business with Bangladesh. We'll have to resolve formidable political and technical issues with India. Remaining passive is not at all to our interest.

"Mega-port at Chittagong is the key to making Bangladesh the cross-road of the region. With the economy of the region growing at a sustained high speed, demand for the access to a well-equipped well-managed port will keep on growing. A region, which includes two giant economies, will be desperately looking for direct shipping facilities to reach out to the world. Chittagong will offer the region the most attractive option," he said, adding, the mega-port may support an international airport in its proximity.

He noted, "Human resource is our best resource. We must pay our top priority to make sure our young generation gets prepared to play important roles in a global framework. It is nothing but utter disgrace that we have allowed some of our young people to turn into suicide bombers... We must take the blame without any excuses, and must ensure that no other young man has to choose the path of suicide for any reason.

"If we want to create a dramatically different next generation, we should encourage children to explore and discover the world through providing them with 100-dollar laptops at the school level.

"The world that these young people will create will be the world of innovative ideas. Old resistance to new ideas will crumble away... Our education system has to be oriented towards promoting creativity in our young people."

In recent times, Bangladesh's image has been hurt by its being the most corrupt country in the world and the events in which suicide bombers are killing innocent people, he pointed out.

To counter this negative image, Yunus said, the nation should uphold its positive achievements. Bangladesh is respected globally for being the birth place of microcredit. The nation is also remembered as the country which gave the world oral saline to combat diarrhoea. It earned respectability by demonstrating her skill and efficiency in disaster management. Bangladesh is cited as a success story in producing enough food to feed her people despite doubling the population in 35 years.

Editor of The Daily Star Mahfuz Anam paid deep respects to the founding leaders of the newspaper and thanked the people for retrieving democracy from autocratic rule in 1990, which in turn has restored freedom to all including the media.

"Why does Bangladesh need a free media? Some may feel...that Bangladesh's first priority is eradication of poverty, economic growth, proper health services... and not a free media...We need all of the above and we also need a free media," he said, adding that without a free media none of the above will be achieved.

Free media has been the unflinching supporter and partner of everything positive that has taken place in the country in the last 15 years, Anam noted.

He stressed that Bangladesh needs a free media to strengthen democracy, ensure human rights, good governance and cultural diversity and build a multi-religious multi-ethnic and tolerant society.

"It needs a free media to fully realise the potential of the Bengalee people," he observed.

"Many of our policymakers are yet to realise that they cannot create a free market economy without a free marketplace of ideas. There cannot be any competitiveness in any sphere of life if there is no competitiveness of mind and freedom is the basis of such competitiveness," Anam said. "Freedom drives away all forms of prejudice, bigotry and extremism."

He went on, "The future of Bangladesh depends on how we can strengthen and give institutional shape to democracy. We hold this to be self-evident truth that without a flourishing democracy there will be no flourishing Bangladesh. We have had our tryst with dictatorships and autocracies and they simply do not work."

Today two Bangladeshs exist simultaneously -- a regenerative one and a degenerative one, he said. "We have no doubt that the regenerative Bangladesh will win ... But there are also some dark clouds of terrorism on the horizon that we need to collectively defeat and uproot."

"In recent days, we have noticed that different platforms are being used to lash out against the media with sometimes false and very often distorted versions of events. Attempts are afoot to use quasi-judicial bodies to harass the press," he said. "We have no hesitation in asserting that whatever gains of democracy we have been able to enjoy over the last 15 years it was fundamentally due to the vigilant role of the free and independent media." Bangladesh would have been on a far worse shape otherwise, he added.

In order to increase the pace of growth, Anam said, the country obviously needs better governance, lessening of corruption and eradication of poverty among other issues. None of these goals can be achieved without a free press.

"If we look around the world, we can definitely say that countries having relatively less corruption are all those that enjoy a high degree of free media."

Anam said, "Twenty-first century is one of immense opportunities. We in The Daily Star promise to bring the latest information about all of them to your doorstep."

Grameen Bank Chairman Prof Muhammad Yunus speaks at the 15th anniversary function of The Daily Star at Bangladesh-China Friendship Conference Centre in the capital yesterday. PHOTO: STAR