On hot seat : 100 days of Awami League-led Grand Alliance Government


Eminent economists, jurists, former Advisers of Caretaker government have expressed differing views on the performance of the Awami League-led grand alliance government during 100 days in office. The grand alliance government led by prime minister Sheikh Hasina assumed power on January 16 after a landslide victory in the national election held on December 29 last year, securing 263 seats out of 300 in the Jatiya Sangsad.

Talking to The Independent at his chamber at the Supreme Court, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, former attorney general and renowned lawyer Barrister Rafiq-ul-Huq said the overall performance of the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over the past 100 days was satisfactory.
“100-day period is too short a time to assess any government. Things are not going as we had expected,” he said adding: “Mishaps like infighting in Chhatra League and the tragic Peelkhana carnage occurred during the period.”
Barrister Rafiq said although Awami League president Sheikh Hasina resigned as the organisational chief of Chhatra League, she will have to take tougher stance to contain factional clashes in educational institutions.
However, he said the government has done many things within the short period as it could contain the prices of essential commodities, particularly the prices of foodgrains. There would be more improvement in the situation if it could improve law and order across the country.
“The main problem the government is now facing is the unbearable power crisis,” Barrister Rafiq said opining that as the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina should intervene in the matter to resolve the power crisis.    
He was of the view that at least 50 megawatts of electricity could be added to the system within a short time and people could be relieved of their sufferings if options like solar power and installation of small power plants could be explored.
Barrister Rafiq added that some two lakh solar panels, the main component for generating electricity from the Sun, remained stockpiled at Chittagong Warehouse for customs clearance. By installing those solar panels for producing solar energy, at least 50 MW of electricity could be generated.
“But, it is not possible on her (Hasina) part to do everything alone. The ministers and lawmakers should help her in all possible ways to accomplish the imminent tasks of the government,” he said.
About the cancellation of lease of the house of BNP chairperson and opposition leader Khaleda Zia at Dhaka cantonment, the eminent law- practitioner said, “The government could have avoided it”.
He added that although there was hardly a few instances of donating their properties for a noble cause in the country, Khaleda Zia could have come up with a good gesture of her broadness by donating the house as a gift for the families of the martyrs.
Barrister Rafiq said that Khaleda Zia spent Taka 60 lakh from the exchequer for renovating the house, which was a violation of the conditions of the lease of the Cantonment Board.
On the other hand, he said, the government should not have opened many fronts within its short period in office. It could not start the trial process for the war criminals. It should also complete the trial process in Bangabandhu Killing Case.
“But surprisingly, nobody is uttering a single word in this regard. Though the government has given appointment of two judges in the appellate division of the Supreme Court recently, the bench, which will hear the case, is yet to be constituted,” Barrister Rafiq regretted.
When asked whether high officials of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) are bound by the laws of the land to appear before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on government institutions, the veteran lawyer replied in the affirmative saying that the ACC is a body constituted under the law and parliament is the supreme authority in a democratic country. So ACC is bound to appear before the parliamentary standing committee, if asked.
However, he said there was no instance in the country of bringing charge of contempt of the Jatiya Sangsad against any institution or individual while there were many instances of contempt in England. Even the slain former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and former Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair had to appear before Parliamentary Standing Committees.
In support of his plea, Barrister Rafiq said if the Comptroller and Auditor General, a constitutional office appointed by the President, could be summoned by the Parliamentary Standing Committee then a body like the ACC, also constituted by law, will have to appear before the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Former Law Adviser and former Attorney General Advocate Hassan Ariff said the performance of a government should not be judged by its 100 days in office. He said people of the country voted the government to power for a five-year term and after expiry of the term, its performance could be evaluated.

Former adviser to the caretaker government Sultana Kamal expressed a mixed feeling regarding the first one hundred days’ performance of Awami League government. According to her observation, the government has achieved some success in controlling prices of essentials including fuel, supplying fertiliser and electricity for farmers, taking initiative for trial of war criminals and handling the BDR headquarters’ mutiny.
On the other hand, the government has failed to bring under control the factional feud in the party, violent activities of Chhatra League, the law and order situation and to make the Anti Corruption Commission effective, she observed.
“The price of essentials has come down to such a level that people can now feel it is not beyond their reach. It is not increasing as it happened in the recent past. The farmers are getting fertiliser easily at reasonable prices and the supply of electricity for irrigation is also at a satisfactory level. I praise the government for giving special attention to the farmers,” she said.
Sultana Kamal praised Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni on behalf of her organisation Ain O Shalish Kendra for her comment that Bangladesh is not a moderate Muslim country rather it is a secular country. She demanded immediate proclamation of the government regarding enemy property and other laws of disparity.
She said the government is going to take measures for tackling the crises in the business sector investing huge amount of money but the jute sector can be reinvigorated by investing only a partial amount of that bail-out money for business sector.
“Traders have demanded Taka six thousand crore bail-out programme to save the business sector from the negative impact of global recession. Government should take measures for the improvement of business sector- the government can also take measures to rejuvenate the jute sector only investing a few hundred crore taka,” she said.
She demanded transparent inquiry in the BDR headquarters’ carnage and also to take measure to stop suicide by BDR the Jawans. “Both Army and BDR are two inseparable parts of the country. There are assumptions that the BDR force may be abolished as a result of the mutiny. But I will request not to annihilate the BDR force,” Sultana said.
She said the Prime Minister should take more effective steps to stop factional feud in the party and the unlawful activities of Chhatra League, and if the prime minister so wants, the people will assist her in this regard.
The dispute on the ACC and the present ineffective role of the watchdog is not expected by anyone. She also expressed frustration as the Human Right Commission was not given any shape by the government.

Commenting on the first 100 days of the government. Barrister Dr M Zahir told The Independent that the performance of the present government was below the expectation in areas of tackling its student front and workers front. “But its performance in curbing the prices of essentials and steps taken to try collaborators and curb fundamentalism is praiseworthy,” he said.

President of Bangladesh Economic Association Dr Kazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmed extolled the government for taming the price horse in its 100-days into office. The government is rolling forward with its election pledges. It a good sign, he observed while talking to The Independent.
He termed campus unrest as the only low-performance of the new government. Apart from this, everything was all right, he said. He also touched on the issues of economic performances while commenting on the government’s 100 days to power. Though the government faced challenges like BDR carnage, global economic downtown, it tackled the issues remarkably well.
The economy has averted the first round effects of the global financial crisis due to the government’s quick response to the crisis, Khaliquzzaman also observed.

Economist Professor Anu Mohammad said that the government has disappointed people as it could not give the nation any specific direction for resolving the existing challenges through formulating effective policies in its first 100 days in office.
“The new government had started its journey with the opportunity of the downtrend of essentials’ prices in the global market. But it is a matter of pity that the government could not fix any specific strategy to uphold this opportunity within first 100 days of its rule,” Professor Anu Mohammad said.

Economist Professor Abu Ahmed said that law and order situation, unrest in the education institutions and political uncertainty were the areas where the government’s performance was not satisfactory. “One good thing is that the prices of essentials have been contained but the fall of prices in the international market had a great contribution in it” he said.
He also noted that the investment scenario was bleak in recent times. Though many say that it has a link with global recession but I feel that investment in countries like Bangladesh is not that much linked to global recession,” he added.
“This government assumed power amid huge expectations from the people. The first one hundred days seems to be a mixed bag with some success as well as failures,” Professor Dr Ataur Rahman told The Independent.
“Success of the government is seen in restarting the democratic process with a parliament that was more or less functional in the first session by the participation of the opposition and also passing some important bills” he added.
The government also exhibited its intent to showcase a relatively clean cabinet, though not a very efficient cabinet, he added.
On price situation he said that the government got an advantage in the changed international environment to reduce the prices of essential particularly rice, oil and fertiliser. The government was also successful in managing political violence at a reasonable level immediately after of the transition of power.
However, he pointed out that the failures of the government are seen particularly in law and order in educational institutions, especially in public universities.
“The enactment of a law which enables the lawmakers to interfere in the upazila administration as mandatory advisors, has raised doubts about the government’s desire for decentralisation and effectiveness of local governance,” he said adding that this has also created a ground for political confrontation between members of parliament and upazila chairmen and others elected representatives.
The government will face growing political temper in the coming days if this issue is not resolved amicably, he added.
“Peelkhana tragedy was the most serious threat to security sector that embarrassed the present government although the government was able to tackle the situation. But the huge loss of lives of army officers and inability of the government to come out with an objective inquiry so far cast shadow on the capacity of security management of the government” he said.
On the challenges of the government he said, the future challenge of the government will come from mitigating the suffering of the people from lack of electricity, gas and others amenities of life for a large number of people.

General Secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association Professor Abul Barakat said that he would evaluate the performance of the present government in the light of the electoral manifesto of the ruling party. “The party won a massive landslide victory presenting their manifesto where the centerpiece was Vision 2021 that its committed to making a secular, progressive, liberal democratic welfare state and I would like to monitor the government performance on that basis,” he told The Independent.
On ruling party’s priority programmes and its performance in the last 100 days, Professor Barakat said, Awami League’s manifesto emphasised five priorities; and reducing the price of essentials and combatting the ongoing recession through forming a taskforce was the first priority. “No doubt the prices of essentials came down significantly. Many can debate whether it was the outcome of the sole effort of the present government or the impact of other factors like fall of commodity prices in the global market. But the reality is the government is found serious in curbing the prices and I hope that they would continue this effort” he added.
“Its second priority is fighting corruption. In a distorted free market economy eliminating corruption is not possible as in such a society corruption is inherent. In such a society one needs to do undertake a damage minimising strategy. In this sector no significant move is found yet” Dr Barakat said.
On the power situation he said, improving of the power scenario by 2011-12 was their third priority. They had promised to provide around 7000 MW power by this period and I believe that they would achieve that target. The reality is that one cannot generate 150 MW power within one or two year because of the nature of the power industry and the government is aware of it, which prompted them not to commit power before three years.
Poverty alleviation was their another priority and this is too early to comment on government’s move. After having the first budget of this government we may have an indication about their roadmap towards achieving this goal,” he said.
Professor Barakat said, the government’s fifth priority is establishing good governance through holding trial of the war-criminals and through cracking down on militants. The government is on the right track as far as these issues are concerned but the problem is that these forces are unleashing counter attacks at the same pace; and the BDR carnage was an example of such a backlash.

Professor Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University said that he did not find any measures from the government that could remove the elements which were instrumental for the incidents like January 11, 2007. No desirable steps are evident to strengthen the local government bodies and the anti-corruption programmes, he said.
“It is not possible to make any infrastructural change within 100 days but at least we expected a change in the political culture and the mindset of the ruling party. Unfortunately it did not happen as still we see the culture of blaming the opposition, efforts to worship the top leader blindly,” he said. Still the positive thing was the return of the democratic system which provided the people an opportunity to exercise their basic rights.
He hoped that the ruling party would carry on with bold measures to tackle their student front as pledged by the top leadership of the party.
He said that the BDR mutiny was a big challenge for the government but to conduct the probe into the incident would be bigger challenge. The government would have to be cautious in removal the confusion that persists among the people regarding the neutrality of the probe. He also noted that the reshuffle in the administration was done in a hurried manner.
“In the South Asian region it was found that when a ruling party came to power with two-thirds majority it ended up either in the emergency rule or in martial law. So government should also keep this in mind and should focus on creating a national consensus on the key issues which would sustain democratic system,” he added.
Nazrul also urged the government to concentrate on productive issues and to give the highest emphasis on the economy instead of involving itself in non-productive and person-oriented issues.

Source: The Independent, 17 April 2009

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