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Thursday, September 20, 2012

[] Cabinet expansion misfires: Hard truths surface

Cabinet expansion misfires: Hard truths surface

M. Serajul Islam

The Cabinet Secretary must have been confused (or flabbergasted?) to
find himself in the limelight in the cabinet expansion/ reshuffle
drama. The Prime Minister put him on the spot for phoning Tofael Ahmed
(TA) and Rashed Khan Menon (RKM) and seven others to convey the
decision to join the Cabinet as if he was appointing them as
Ministers. She advised the journalists who were curious why TA and RKM
did not join, to call him and find out the answer!

There is one thing that must be admitted about the Prime Minister. She
does not believe in beating about the bush. If she dislikes an issue
or any one, she shoots straight. She does not believe in saying
anything unpleasant making it sugar coated. Even when she does not use
words, body language convey her inner feelings. Honesty in thought,
action and body language are the fundamental strengths of her
character. Even her worst enemy has to admire her for these qualities.

The Prime Minister knew that the journalists would ask her questions
about TA and RKM once the cabinet expansion takes place. She tried to
calm them by saying that the expansion was a routine matter and it
should be taken it as such.
The Prime Minister was correct to say that she did not call TA and
others to be present at Bangobhavan to take oath as Ministers.
Nevertheless it is insane to believe that the Cabinet Secretary on his
own asked these individuals to join the Cabinet. Her body language
left no one in doubt that she was simmering inside because TA and RKM
declined to join. By her sarcasm, she tried to divert the affront that
the refusal conveyed. It also revealed some unpleasant realities about
the Awami League and the ruling Mahajote.

Clearly there was nothing routine about this expansion/reshuffle. The
expansion has come when the government is moving into the final year
of its five years' tenure. At this time, it should be busy reaping the
benefits of its tenure to flag its successes for winning the next
elections. An expansion at such a late stage logically suggests that
the government is not succeeding with the existing cabinet to revive
the falling image and ability of the government. While expanding the
cabinet, it did not occur to her that the number of cabinet members
would rise to 53, minus the powerful advisers, as heavy as that of the
BNP that it had sarcastically criticized as "elephantine" when forming
the government.

The argument about deteriorating governance is a major reason for the
cabinet expansion has been proved by the fact that everyone is
seriously concerned and critical about this government. The criticisms
are coming with more severity from within the ranks of the Awami
League and the leaders of its alliance partners. In fact, the
criticisms of the Finance Minister in Parliament by TA, RMK and
Hasanul Huq Inu have been so severe that even the Opposition leaders
would not have been able to match them had they been in the

In fact, the Finance Minister by his recent utterances has flagged for
the nation that this government is functioning in a manner that cannot
be called rational let alone successful. He called a scam in Sonali
Bank where Taka 4000 crores has been siphoned off by fraud as
"nonsense" and a media invention; then apologized for such an
incredible statement and then said he has been considering resigning
for the last nine months! It is not just the Finance Minister who has
given evidence of the sorry state of affairs of governance.

Similar failures are spread over the major ministries of the
Government again not by the assessment of the opposition but by the
senior members of the AL and its alliance partners. The Finance
Minister has pointed at the serious lack of coordination among the
ministers and their ministries as one of reasons for the deterioration
of governance.

A major criticism against the government is its anti-democratic stance
of governing with un-elected advisers in place of the elected
ministers. This criticism has also been flagged by the senior members
of the AL who are against the Prime Minister and leaders of the
Mahajote more forcefully than even the opposition. In clear violation
of the rules, these advisers sit in the cabinet meetings and some are
seen regularly in the media making policy statements on ministries
with scant regard for the concerned ministers. The Prime Minister
however prefers the Advisers and underscored this by refusing to ask
her Adviser Dr. Mashiur Rahman to resign despite serious pressures
even from her own party.

The criminalization of the public educational institutions is a major
evidence of lack of governance under this government. The ruling
party's student's wing has practically taken over these institutions.
The recent disturbances at the Jahangirnagar University, BUET and
Dhaka University are alarming. Successive governments gave their
respective student's wings a lot of indulgence not conducive to
maintain proper environment. Under this government, the Chatra League
has been allowed to control the public universities more effectively
than the Vice Chancellors and the Provosts of the residential halls.

In the most recent conflict in Dhaka University, the Chatra League
beat up the leaders of the Chatra Dal in broad daylight outside the
office of the Vie Chancellor which was duly filmed and televised to
the public. Yet when the Vice Chancellor was asked about the incident,
he said he was unaware of the clashes though he was in the office at
the time! Media reports say that the Chatra Dal leaders had gone to
meet the VC by an appointment. The VC by his action has proved that he
dares not do anything that could earn him the displeasure of the
Chatra League.

As the proverbial weather bird, President Ershad has been first not
just to underscore the falling fortunes of the AL led Mahajote; he has
already stated publicly that in the next general elections the Jatiya
party would not be a part of the Mahajote. In fact, he has high hopes
of becoming the official opposition in the next AL Government
(assuming that BNP would opt out on the Caretaker issue) and of late,
he even fancies himself of being the country's next Prime Minister!
The left elements in the Mahajote, apart from acting as the opposition
in parliament against the Government's failures, have recently held
parleys among themselves concerned that with the government failing,
whether it would be appropriate for them to continue in the alliance.

Added to these pressures, the AL led government is also coming under
increasing pressures from abroad that no government had ever faced. On
the questions of Dr. Mohammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank, the Padma Bank
loan, human rights violations, etc, the Government has gone on the
wrong side of the agencies that are crucial to its development
efforts. What is simply astounding is that the Government has chosen
to annoy these powerful governments and institutions for reasons that
everybody except those in the inner circle of the Prime Minister
thinks are suicidal for the country'.

In fact, it has been an open secret since the Prime Minister formed
her first Cabinet leaving TA and his colleagues out that she were
getting even with them for their role during the Caretaker Government.
At that time, these four together with many others in the party had
decided to support change of leadership in the top of the party
including Sheikh Hasina, to democratize it.

The three earlier reshuffles were also made in the face of widespread
criticism of governance and inner pressure to bring back the so called
reformists. The Prime Minister nevertheless inducted the less
important among the so called reformists in the Cabinet before but
simply refused to look upon TA, Abdur Razzak, Amir Hossain Amu and
Suranjit Sen with favour. While Abdur Razzak passed away meantime,
Suranjit Sen was inducted among the major "reformists" into the
cabinet. When, however, he arranged his own exit on the allegation of
corruption by his personal staff, she was more than happy to ask him
to resign from the Railways Ministry. Although by some mysterious ways
he managed to remain a Minister without portfolio after resigning, he
has not been given any charge in the latest reshuffle, suggesting no
doubt that the Prime Minister is not really unhappy at his present

It was in fact TA who was the main reason for the latest expansion and
reshuffle of the cabinet. No matter who called TA to join the Cabinet,
the decision to make him a Minister was one the Prime Minister made
because of pressure from her senior colleagues to keep the rank and
file in the party happy; the disillusioned rank and file believe that
TA would be able to help bring the sinking ship to the shores. The
Prime Minister's reaction in the media left little doubt that she is
not in talking terms with TA and agreed to offer him the Cabinet post
reluctantly because of pressure and that she was not really unhappy
that he did not join the Cabinet, the affront notwithstanding, for she
can now blame those who had put pressure on her in his favour for what
TA did to the party's image that has surely been dented by TA's

Talk show guests have had a field day analyzing the
expansion/reshuffle. A Professor who is a regular guest in talk shows
and an unabashed critic of the government went over the rails
congratulating TA and RKM for their courage to rise above personal
ambitions for democracy. Many were excited with the refusal like the
professor for they too thought that it was a victory for democracy.

Clearly TA was treated shabbily by the Prime Minister who left no one
in doubt that she has still not forgiven him. The Prime Minister, by
her insensitive handling of the expansion, has acknowledged this deep
division in her party. In a way, she has made the same mistake in
handling the case of Dr. Mohammad Yunus. By pursuing her personal
dislike for the Nobel Laureate, she has ended in making him more
popular at home and abroad at her expense. In humiliating TA, she has
enhanced his position, honour and importance in the party and the
country; again at her expense.
(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan)
Friday, September 21, 2012


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