Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Govt lacks Moral Authority To Pursue Corruption Case Against Opposition

THE case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission on Monday against the leader of the opposition in parliament, Khaleda Zia, on the charge of buying a piece of land for a charity named after her late husband with undisclosed money appears to be more an exercise in political arm-twisting than an effort to combat corruption establish the rule of law. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, in the case—the first against the former prime minister since the Awami League-Jatiya Party government assumed office in January 2009—the commission has accused Khaleda Zia of criminal misconduct and abuse of power in respect of the purchase of a 42-katha land in the capital Dhaka in January 2005. If proved guilty, she may be sentenced to seven years in prison.

The case against Khaleda Zia is hardly surprising, though. The government may seek to brandish the case as a manifestation of its seriousness and sincerity towards realising its electoral pledge to establish the rule of law and to combat corruption; however, it would find it difficult to convince even its own people. After all, almost into its third year in office, the incumbents have thus far hardly set any such precedents. On the contrary, many of its actions tend to betray its disregard for the rule of law and suggest that it gives precedence to partisanship above all else. The review and withdrawal of the so-called politically motivated cases provides an obvious example, with the relevant governmental committee mostly reviewing and recommending withdrawal of cases filed against leaders and activists of the ruling alliance. Incidentally, a case filed against the prime minister on charges of irregularities in a charity named after her late father was also withdrawn. Meanwhile, most of the so-called politically motivated cases against opposition leaders and activists were kept in place.

Moreover, more and more opposition leaders and activists are implicated in more and more cases. Besides, the government has had individuals convicted of murder granted presidential clemency, apparently in consideration of their affiliation with the ruling Awami League.

In such circumstances, the corruption case filed against Khaleda Zia or, for that matter, the money laundering charges against Tarique Rahman is highly likely to be interpreted as an arm-twisting tactic employed by the government to make the opposition fall in line. Naturally, the opposition would be antagonised further and a peaceful resolution to the prevailing political standoff could become even more remote than it already is.

That is not to suggest, however, that the charges against Khaleda Zia should be dropped, to facilitate an end to the impasse. On the contrary, the opposition leader should face up to the charges brought against her in a competent court of law and secure acquittal, which would not only make her innocent in the eyes of not only the law but also the people. Meanwhile, if the government sincerely wants to prove its commitment to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, it should stop review and withdrawal of the so-called politically motivated case on the one hand and revive the cases already reviewed and withdrawn so that the leaders and activists of the ruling alliance could come out clean, in reality and in the perception of the people. Otherwise, it will have hardly any moral authority to even accuse, let alone try, Khaleda Zia of corruption.

BCL At It Again

IT APPEARS that the Bangladesh Chhatra League, an associate body of the ruling Awami League, is out there to destroy every semblance of propriety, rule of law and every social more. Judging by the audacity, ferocity and frequency of their lawless behaviour, it feels as if the student body is a blood-thirsty wild beast unleashed on the educational institutions of the country, by none other than the government itself. On Monday, the BCL unit of Bangladesh Agricultural University attacked and injured 20 teachers. According to a report published in New Age on Tuesday, the teachers were injured as a result of a series of incidents triggered by the misbehaviour of some BCL activists with the teachers. The teachers brought out a silent procession which came under BCL attack. The teachers then detained four of the attackers and handed them to the police. In retaliation, the teachers were once again attacked at the Teachers Student Centre where they received most of the injuries, some whom were later admitted to the Mymensingh Medical College. The BCL activists vandalised some buildings and set four vehicles on fire.
There are indeed signs, as the teachers association president is quoted in the report as saying, that if the action against the attackers is not taken immediately, the university might close down. That would mean that the number of educational institutions closed down as a result of BCL-instigated violence in the past two and a half years should now number in hundreds. Ever since the Awami League-led government came to power, hundreds of small and large campuses have witnessed dangerous levels of BCL-induced violence. BCL activists have fought opposition student bodies for control of campuses, locked in intra-party feud over tender grabbing, and attacked ordinary students, teachers, educational institution staff, government officials, law enforcement officials and ordinary people on the streets causing damage to vehicles, property, as well as death and injury.

Yet, in the intervening period since having come to power, the only step taken to reign them in, by the ruling party, seems to be the prime minister’s decision to stand down as the BCL chairperson, the seriousness of which can easily be doubted since she this year not only attended the BCL convention but, according to media reports, also reprimanded senior members of her cabinet for having failed to do so. As for law enforcement, it is true that the law enforcers arrest activists from time to time, especially when incidents get out of hand as it did in the agriculture university, but the offenders are soon either released on bail or acquitted. The fear is that even if the government takes some disciplinary action at the agriculture university, it is not likely to last long.

A burning, Captive London

The riots which have for the past few days wreaked havoc in London have sent shock waves through the United Kingdom and even beyond it. For a city which has been preparing assiduously for next year's Olympics, an event it means to showcase to people around the world, these troubles could not have come at a worse time. Sparked by the killing of a young man by police last week in the city's Tottenham area, the riots spilled over into wider areas over the weekend and effectively introduced a surreal atmosphere all around.

The images coming out of the rioting have been deeply disturbing. Gangs of young men have cheerfully gone around setting cars and buses and even rubbish bins alight before setting fire to shops and warehouses. The picture has been a common one in the east, north and south of London, with hooded youths caught on camera walking away with looted goods. A stretched police department together with a harried fire service have naturally not proved effective in containing the crisis. Prime Minister Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson have all cut their holidays short and returned home to deal with the situation.

The riots are perhaps a sign of the deep malaise which runs through British society in these difficult economic times, with jobs being lost and cuts being mulled in significant areas of the public sector. And yet what has been happening over the past few days is a clear picture of unalloyed lawlessness that cannot be excused. That is the message the authorities have been giving out. It must now be followed by sharp, effective action. Unless the rioters are roped in by the law, London will remain in a state of vulnerability. It will be an image that cannot sit well with the heritage of this historically famous city.