Monday, April 25, 2011

Bangladesh Probe Found No Wrongdoing Of Nobel Winner Muhammad Yunus

Bangladesh said a government probe body did not discover any wrongdoings of the Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Monday admitted that the interest rate of the Grameen Bank is lowest among the micro-credit lenders in the country. His comments was made came after the government appointed probe body, to look into activities of Grameen Bank submitted its report to the finance minister. Controversy about the bank began in November 2010 when the Norwegian state television NRK ran a documentary titled 'Caught in Micro Debt', that accused Yunus, the bank's managing director, of transferring funds to Grameen Kalyan, a sister concern, from the bank, breaching the agreement made with the fund's donor, Norwegian aid agency Norad, writes wire service bdnews24. com. The government constituted a committee on January 12 in the wake of controversy about the pioneering micro finance institution, which shared the Nobel Peace prize with its founder Muhammad Yunus in 2006. The probe report was submitted when French president Nicholas Sarkozy special envoy is visiting capital Dhaka to understand the development about the dismissal of Grameen Bank's managing director Muhammad Yunus. The French envoy Martin Hirsch told journalists on Monday that he finds it 'surprising' and 'difficult to understand the difficulties' between the government, the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus. The envoy admitted that his mission to Bangladesh was to explore any scope for mediation for an amicable settlement to the issue, dispelling notions of interference in state affairs. The primary objective was to bring the government and Prof. Yunus together in the upcoming G-20 meeting. He handed over a letter of president Sarkozy to prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday, said bdnews24. com said. The content of the letter was not disclosed. Meanwhile, the largest circulated independent daily Prothom Alo in a first page article on Monday published a news article which says that government has decided to launch a campaign against Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of microfinance globally. In a meeting at the Prime Minister Office attended also by security and intelligence services chiefs it was decided to inform the public that the bank’s founder have violated laws, ignored official norms and charging exorbitant interest rates from the poverty- stricken village women. The unknown sources told the daily that an official memo on March 13 has been circulated to the Special Branch of police and police headquarters to take necessary action. However, the newspaper did not mention what kind of action by the police has been initiated. Political scientist and economist Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman on Monday said such attempts by the authority would be suicidal. The government should take steps to save the most talked about micro-lending institution Grameen Bank should, he suggested.

India's Transit / Corridor : Delhi For Extending Agreement To Seven Years

Bangladesh Government Site New investment proposals have been tabled to the tune of $7 billion to put into effect appropriate transit infrastructures facilities through Bangladesh for the benefits of India.The new investment requirement has been flashed through expert reports at a time when India has advanced a proposal for a seven-year agreement with Bangladesh to formally put the transit through. With the new Indian move the transit issue has again come to the forefront with the Indians seeking new routes and bringing pressure on Bangladesh to put investments to building new infrastructures projects to effectively put the transit services functioning. Informed sources say Dhaka is not opposed to such Indian demands but it is giving priority to work out a ‘reasonable transit fee’ agreement. Latest development shows both sides are moving towards a negotiated settlement to the issue which had created jitters late last year on refusal of the Indian government to pay such fees. The Indian refusal at that time to pay transit fees on commercial goods on board two Indian cargo vessels at the entry point to Bangladesh inland waterways from Kolkata had forced Dhaka to take away the government gazette notification causing embarrassment to decision makers here. The stand off continued until recent communication by the Indian government indicating its readiness to find a negotiated settlement to the issue. India was so long denying payment of transit fees saying in the first place that such obligation was adequately covered under the Inland water protocol signed by both countries in early 1970 s. Moreover, they argued that the World Trade Organization (WTO) protocol does not authorize member states to collect customs duty or transit fees on movement of goods to a third country destinations. Advocating the Indian line of argument Dr. Moshiur Rahman, adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the ministry of finance and her conduit to Delhi on transit issues recently said, demanding transit fees from India will be an ‘ uncivilized act’ and Bangladesh can’t project itself as such. The comment invited sharp public reaction. However the new move to find a negotiated settlement on the issue seems to be a fresh breakthrough and both Bangladesh and India will not only be able to burry public misgivings on the issue, they also will stand to reciprocally benefit from it. Nepal and Bhutan will also find a common framework agreement to resolve transit fee issues in sharing of financial benefits from such negotiated settlement, analyst here say. They held the view that the reference of WTO protocol by India or by Dr Moshiur Rahman to avoid payment of transit fees was based on an evasive proposition and why the Prime Minister’s adviser toed the Indian line was a big question. They say, WTO does not allow realizing transit or customs fees on movement of goods to a third country destination, but in this case India is carrying its goods from one end of its territory to another part using Bangladesh territory as a corridor. In this case, Bangladesh has the right to charge fees for using its facilities. Some analysts referred to Suez Canal Authority in finding a parallel example saying the Egyptian government is legitimately charging fees from the users of the canal and it is not treated as a breach of the WTO protocol. The fact of the matter is that the Suez Canal Authority has made huge infrastructure investment and also running a giant administrative set up to provide services to users and ship owners and if one does not pay for it, how these services could be provided and keep the waterway navigable. Bangladesh Tariff Commission made a similar case in a study prepared by its Chairman Mr Mujibur Rahman and handed over to Finance Minister AMA Muhith and some other senior ministers of the cabinet recently. It said Bangladesh should charge service fees from the users of the transit facilities and additional charges can be levied as cost of polluting environment. On top of it the country should realize fees for using roads, railways, waterways, ports and other facilities to recover the investment and also to keep them running. The study reports said Bangladesh would require an investment of about US$ 7.0 billion or Taka 50 , 000 crore in the next two to three years in roads, rail, waterways and ports to upgrade them to serve the transit requirement for India, Nepal and Bhutan. Besides, the report suggested that for initial two-three years only limited transit could be provided while the infrastructure facilities were being built. Full-fledged handling of cargo will be available from around the fourth year. Keeping this in mind, India has proposed signing a transit agreement for the next seven years, news report said covering the tenure of the next government whoever comes to power in the next election. Study reports further said Bangladesh would earn about $50 million during the first five years after appropriate corridor infrastructure have been put in place for use by India. From a list of sixteen routes recently proposed by India, study report prepared by the Bangladesh government has essentially focused on seven such routes. From the sixth year, Bangladesh may fetch $500 annually to go up to $1 billion when the services will be utilized by all parties to its maximum level, the report pointed out. This report was prepared by regional transportation experts Dr M Rahmatullah, who said it would bring robust benefits. “This steam of benefits, albeit partial would more than justify investment accounts.” The Tariff Commission report however, failed to mention the financial benefits that Bangladesh would derive from the transit/ corridor exercise, although Rahmatullah made a very illuminating forecast of the financial benefits. Finance Minister AMA Muhith receiving the Tariff Commission report on the issue has asked the committee members to recast the report, incorporating the details of projections and especially the financial benefits that may accrue to Bangladesh. Any investment decision to transit infrastructure essentially requires short, medium and long term revenue forecast and the report should have clear projections, analysts here say. Moreover, Bangladesh should think seriously how much it should open up its interior taking into consideration its health, environmental or many social factors, in addition to rate of economic returns and the recovery risks of such investment. Analysts say that there should be a national debate to find a consensus on how much risk the country should take to bear on such issue.

BAULS : The Guardian Of Mysticism In Bangladesh

The news came as a shock; in fact at first it seemed like a fabricated story aimed to create social disruption. Some Bauls – the spiritual wanderers of Bangladesh, who have, over centuries, enriched the philosophical aspect of our culture and have thus become integral to our identity---had come under attack in Rajbari where their practices were deemed ‘un-Islamic’.  Reportedly the ‘crusade’ on behalf of religion against the Bauls was led by an Imam of the local mosque who was also aided by influential local leaders.  The music loving philosophers, who espouse a more liberal outlook on religion and love for mankind as the true basis for any faith, were humiliated further when their long hair was cut off. We also hear that the law enforcers were lethargic in reacting and this is worrying because if hardliners can physically harm a section of society which has enriched the mystical side of our culture then, in the future, any social exercise can come under the wrath of the so-called Puritans.  The mystics are under fire today, and tomorrow the rural culture of having all-night open air musical shows and jatra (stage theatre) may also be slammed for going against religion.   With valid reason there is widespread condemnation but while the general society, which is still not swayed by bigotry, denounces such a philistine act, this incident also works as a warning that within the rural social structures there are elements which can threaten the secular image that Bangladesh strives to achieve. In fact, we have always been secular and Bauls were never deemed a threat to Islam and their ways of living never created a conflict with the general population. Filled with praise for the creator, their music, culture and practices advocate trust and belief in the spirit and the power of truth. And Bengal society opened its arms to the mystics because the wanderers not only showed a different path to fulfillment but also gave our culture a much needed mystical side.  Call it a variant of Sufism if you will, the Baul philosophy exalts the position of songs and music and at the same time regards physical union as an ultimate human expression through which spiritual enlightenment can be achieved. As noted earlier, these rural mystics are not bound by any social template. Though they go beyond the banalities of mundane life, there is always a place for the creator in their credo and so, there is no reason to believe that Bauls are going against any religion. In point of fact, this could be the right time for us to revel in Baul philosophy since it speaks of tolerance and not about extreme moves. Going back a few years we remember that a statue of the Baul was vandalised by hardliners near the airport on the grounds that it was against the principles of religion to have statues.  Today the actual mystics were assaulted. Will it be the shrine of Lalon Faqir, the iconic Baul philosopher, in Kushtia next? But leaving aside the arguments of religion and principles of philosophy if we look at Baulism from the perspective of history, we feel that it needs to be safeguarded because it has evolved not over a period of fifty years but over 500 years. And so, this is irrevocably intertwined with the cultural fabric of Bangladesh which has always accommodated a wide variety of beliefs. Baulism developed in a crucible of openness and history tells us that this philosophy attracted both Hindus and Muslims alike. Hence it’s safe to say that this mystic trend reached out to people of both faiths and acted as a uniting factor.  So, what is wrong with the Bauls? Maybe the moral brigade feels that the preaching of physical union as a way to find satisfaction of the soul erodes society’s image. If so, then they must also storm some exclusive locations. But obviously it’s always easy to raid a meeting of mystics because they are poor and do not believe in material possessions but to do the same in posh hangouts would definitely be quite another story. Be that as it may – Baulism came under fire in Rajbari and the same act could be replicated in the future and, so, there needs to be a directive from the government identifying the philosophy of the mystics as an indispensable part of our cultural identity.  When foreign visitors come to Bangladesh and visit the rural areas they are enchanted visually by the natural beauty of the villages but when they seek some spiritual stimulation they always look for the Bauls – the guardians of the earthy and rain- drenched mysticism of Bangladesh.  Kill that and we kill the mystique of our culture to become pathetically prosaic.