Friday, June 24, 2011

National Interest : Vis - ä - Vis Gas Deal

Patriotism means love of and devotion to one’s country; and a patriot vigorously supports and defends its interests with dedication. It is universally recognised, and there are no two opinions about the truism that martyrs for the cause of the motherland like the Bangla Bhasha martyrs and the three million martyrs during the Bangladesh Liberation War were the patriots of the highest order as they had sacrificed their lives for their homeland. And nobody will ever question the patriotism of Sher-e- Bangla A K Fazlul Huq, Awami League’s founder-President Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman et al.    The question of ‘patriotism’ has become relevant as the Prime Minister herself bragged about possessing this virtue in reference to the deal signed on June 16 by her government with Texas-based ConocoPhillips for exploring surveys in offshore blocks 10 and 11 , in line with a model PSC-2008 formulated during the last caretaker government. “While we’ re trying to march ahead, these groups keep opposing us,” Sheikh Hasina said, in an oblique reference to the protest programmes carried out by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMRPP).    Hasina also mentioned that during her previous term, from 1996-2001 , she had turned down the proposal to sell gas. She said that in 2001 polls, her party could not come to power, as it did not want to sell gas to some foreign companies. “I used to consider national interest above everything else,” Hasina said adding, “Who is a better patriot and protector of the country’s interests?” It has to be admitted that in 2001 she did a true patriot’s job. But what about the present one?    A prominent English daily had contacted in December, 2010 foreign minister Dipu Moni, and the energy adviser Chowdhury. It had sought official responses on the disclosure of the deal. “They had avoided questions; afterwards they stopped receiving calls. They did not respond to text messages either”, the daily noted.    Surprisisngly enough, NCPOGMRPP’s specific criticisms of the terms of the contract are not answered. The unresponded questions are: why has the leasing company been awarded the right to sell off 80 per cent of the gas extracted? Why will the multinational companies will sell gas to us at very high prices? Why will gas prices double from earlier prices, $2.92 , or Tk 210 for a million cubic feet to $5-6 or Tk 420 , which will push up the prices of daily necessities and services further?    In September 2009 police assaulted and wounded varsity professor Anu Mahmud and the others who were proceeding towards Petrobangla. It was ludicrous to see the farce of seeking apology to Mahmud and other badly injured persons including female participants in the protest rally. The hidden cause of this drama could be that the government has something to hide about the details of the deal. This year the victim is eminent columnist, anthropologist and scholar Ms. Rahnuma Ahmed who was injured during the clash between police and protesters on 14 June 2011. The nation was aghast and shuddered to watch her blood-drenched head and face on most of the satellite TV channels and a small number of newspapers.    Among the masses, unquestionably, the consciousness and feeling regarding the national interest and resources run deep; and this sentiment should be respected by any government if it has the least concern for this resource-poor country and its resources. It is advisable that instead of enthusiastically gratifying international oil companies and concurring with their exploitative terms and conditions that harm the nation economically, the incumbents should weigh up this disadvantaged nation’s essential and indispensable requirement. If the government leaders fail to be farsighted then the posterity will not forgive them.    While there is life, there is hope: dum spiro spero. Every individual, in adversity, keeps on hoping against hope. The country’s non- renewable natural resources, such as gas, oil, coal and other minerals, are extremely precious; in fact priceless. So, no government, even with three- fourths majority in parliament, has the right to sell at a lower price the exhaustible resource that can never be regenerated at an enormous cost in future. We keep our fingers crossed to see the proof of patriotism.