Awami League General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam yesterday requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to send her economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman on leave in order to pave the way for a revival of the Padma bridge loan agreement.
Speaking at a meeting of the AL Central Working Committee, he said there was still a possibility of reviving the loan if the government fulfilled the World Bank’s remaining condition that the adviser be sent on leave.
“Since the Padma bridge is a popular demand, I humbly submit this request for your kind consideration,” Ashraf, also LGRD and cooperatives minister, was quoted as telling Hasina. The AL general secretary’s request was unanimously supported by the AL leaders in attendance, a meeting source told The Daily Star.
In reply to Ashraf, Hasina asked what guarantee was there that the loan would be given when the WB had been coming up with one condition after another.
Defending Mashiur, the premier wondered how she could send him on leave when he had not committed any corruption in the Padma bridge project, meeting sources said.
Hasina, also the AL president, said the WB was supposed to inform the government about its decision on the loan revival by September 15, but the lender did not do that.
At that, the LGRD minister informed the meeting that he had talks with the WB board of directors from the European Union, Japan and India and they all sounded positive about the revival of the loan.
“So, I’m hopeful we will get the loan … I’m 1000 percent sure about it,” added Ashraf. He said that by 19 September he would know about the WB decision in this regard.
Then the prime minister questioned whether the nation should sacrifice its identity or self-esteem for the loan. Ashraf’s response was to ask whether it would then be defeated by the “conspiracy of Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus”.
Hasina said Finance Minister AMA Muhith and her adviser Gowher Rizvi had been working on the matter.
Then other leaders, including Mahbubul Alam Hanif, Abdur Rahman, AFM Bahauddin Nasim and Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, joined the discussion and said the Padma bridge was the dream of the nation and the government must implement this project anyhow.
MUHITH’S REMOVAL SOUGHT
Interestingly, apart from Ashraf, a few other party leaders also sought Hasina’s nod for the removal of Muhith from the cabinet over what they felt was his age and also his indiscreet comments on such issues as the stock market and Sonali Bank loan scam. The leaders felt that Muhith’s comments had badly tarnished the image of the government.
The prime minister and a few other leaders strongly defended the finance minister, noting that the time was not right for such a plea to be made, according to a number of AL leaders present at the meeting. “He wants to work with us,” Hasina was quoted as telling the ALCWC meeting.
The ALCWC, the highest decision-making body of the ruling party, slammed veteran party leader Tofail Ahmed over his refusal to be a minister.
The AL general secretary urged the party leaders to examine whether Tofail’s refusal was part of any conspiratorial politics.
He said Tofail had penned a disgraceful chapter by refusing to be a minister and deprived the voters of his constituency. Tofail had responsibilities for the party but he shirked it all, said the AL general secretary, adding that everybody knew what leaders like Tofail Ahmed did during the military-backed caretaker government rule.
AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said that former AL lawmakers and leaders Sultan Mohammad Mansur Ahmed, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Abu Sayeed and Abdul Mannan, among others, had long been involved in a conspiracy against the party, an insider said.
Many party leaders supported the view and requested the party chief to take action against them and warn lawmaker Golam Maula Rony over “write-ups and statements tarnishing the image of the government and the party”.
Hasina said she would let them know of her decisions at the next party meeting.
Contacted, Sultan Mansur said he had never been involved in any anti-party conspiracy as he has had no position in the party since 2009.
At the meeting, held at the Gono Bhaban, some leaders said the owner of the controversial Hall-Mark Group was a Hawa Bhaban man and maintained close relations with the BNP high command, including Tarique Rahman. They demanded that the government mete out exemplary punishment to him.
MENON’S CLAIMS REJECTED
At the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dismissed outright Rashed Khan Menon’s claims over the proposal for him to be a minister. She said no rules had been breached in making the proposal.
“I know one of the two persons, who did not want to be ministers, has said he was not invited through proper process. But I can say for sure that there was no violation of rules,” she added.
Talking to newsmen at Dhaka Reporters Unity on Friday, Menon, president of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, said he had declined the government’s offer to be a minister as the proposal had not been made through due political process.
“The cabinet secretary phoned me and asked if I would take the oath to join the council of ministers. I have no knowledge if anyone in a civilised country becomes a minister after being invited in such a manner,” he added.
Sheikh Hasina said the same rule had been followed as that applied to the formation of the cabinet during the AL’s previous tenure and in 2009.
Referring to former Indian prime minister IK Gujral’s autobiography, she said Gujral was invited to be a minister the first time by a cabinet official and the second time by the cabinet sectary. “I don’t know whether India is a civilised country or not.”
Criticising Menon, the prime minister said he told journalists that he did not get phone calls from the cabinet secretary for taking oath as a minister in January 2009.
“You [journalists] can see the newspaper of that time. But it is up to him [Menon] whether he will be a minister or not,” she added.
Blasting a senior journalist who is a regular participant in talk shows, the AL chief said some critics of the government wanted to have licences for TV channel. “As we could not give them the licence, they now call our government a thief.”
Among the talking heads, some former bureaucrats wanted to be advisers to the past military-backed caretaker government with blessings from the DGFI, she mentioned.
COUNCIL ON DEC 29
The meeting decided to hold the party’s national council on December 29, five months after the tenure of the present committee expires. The AL organising secretaries have been asked to complete all district and upazila councils by November 30 to prepare for the national council.
The working committee also extended the tenure of the present committee till January 31, 2013, subject to approval at the next council meeting.