Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bangladesh policies benefit military only

Bangladesh policies benefit military only

By Rater Zonaki
Column: Humanity or Humor?
Source: UPI Asia Online
July 08, 2008

Hong Kong, China — Two indicators are widely considered in measuring the legitimacy of a government: first, the way it assumed power and second, its effectiveness in meeting the people’s needs and expectations.

In democracies, the way leaders assume power is stipulated in the country's Constitution, and includes participation from the people. In Bangladesh, the current military-controlled government assumed power bypassing the Constitution; that is, illegitimately.

The regime has also failed to fulfill the second condition of legitimacy; in terms of meeting the people’s needs and expectations it is totally ineffective. In this state of illegitimacy the regime can no longer run the state machinery.

The failure is self-evident from the regime’s top brass on down. Most troubling are the ongoing atrocities committed by the armed forces, the police and the paramilitary forces and the protracted detention of tens of thousands of innocent persons without trial.

On top of this, the regime has failed to check the unbridled rise of prices for all consumer goods. Of course there is a global trend of rising prices, with fuel one of the mostly strongly affected commodities. Yet the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation did not increase the price of fuel in the home market. Still, transport owners and operators have increased their fares to keep pace with the international market. People are being held hostage by the owners, traders and service providers, who can do whatever they want regardless of laws. People have no choice but to pay the increased transport fares while the government has remained a silent watcher.

The price of foodstuffs, including cereals and edible oils, are on the rise in the world market, which has been a great excuse in the local wholesale and retail markets of Bangladesh. Surprisingly, the traders have increased the price of locally produced rice to make money, and the government has simply stood by.

During the last growing season Bangladesh reportedly produced a record quantity of potatoes. However, the country does not have the capacity to preserve these for future use, and the government did not export the potatoes to other countries. Instead, the most talkative general of the Bangladesh army began campaigning across the country, asking people to eat potatoes instead of rice, prompting humorous people to call him "Mr. Potato."

The military official branded the bumper crop of potatoes a "contribution of the army.” Within a few weeks the price of potatoes started increasing in local markets. While every Bangladeshi struggled to pay more money each day than the previous day merely to put food on the table, the authorities did not forget to boost the budget for the “patriotic armed forces.”

In the midst of this suffering, the government's adviser for the Ministry of Finance and Planning remarked in a seminar that "it would be unrealistic to expect that the prices of food items, particularly that of rice, would come down. What we are considering is to check a further rise in the prices."

The statement of the country’s top economic policymaker appears ridiculous to people who are starving nearly to death. A person holding the office of the Ministry of Finance and Planning without legitimacy seems to be laughing at the people's plight.

The only accomplishments the government can claim are a huge increase in financial allocations for the armed forces at the expense of the common people, and a massive crackdown on almost 50,000 people in one month, most of whom are innocent.

The government cannot claim any single success in favor of the poor, starving people. The government’s justifications of its actions may be persuasive to the “patriotic” military, but to the innocent common people, they are merely coercive.

(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong, working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national with a degree in literature from a university in Dhaka. He began his career as a journalist in 1990 and was engaged in human rights activism at the grassroots level in his country for more than a decade. He also worked as an editor for publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues and contributed to other similar publications.)

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