12:00 AM, November 29, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 29, 2012

Strategically Speaking

Conspiracy theory: Fig leaf of an excuse

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Brig Gen Shahedul Anam khan ndc, psc (Retd)

(L-R)Photo: Habibul Haque/ Driknews, Prabir Das

That we are alive is an accident and not the other way round. And nowhere is it more palpably demonstrated regularly than Bangladesh. The two shocking incidents, the girder collapse of an under construction flyover in Chittagong and the Ashulia fire that took the lives of more than 100 people, not only reconfirm the fact that it is because of sheer providence that we get to see the sun rise every morning, these also reveal two aspects most vividly -- one, the authorities' utter disregard for the safety and security of human lives, particularly of the poor workers, and two, the ill effects of blatant partisan consideration in handing out government contracts for public works.
This is the second time that a part of the said flyover has collapsed. On the first occasion the mishap occurred on a holiday and thus it was an act of providence that there was no casualty. The second time twelve unwary people, passing under the construction site that had little arrangements to protect the people from falling debris, were killed. It was not credentials but political links of the construction firm which was the prime determinant of awarding the contract. The project is there because of politics and not public need, and, reportedly, the project director was sacked before on corruption charges. What a love for mendacity!
Ashulia is the worst RMG factory disaster in Bangladesh. And since Saturday we have been seeing pathetic attempts in the electronic media by various people belonging to the fraternity of garment manufacturers and exporters to seek an excuse and justify the deaths, anything that will provide a sliver of an opportunity for absolving themselves from the responsibility.
We have heard the BGMEA bosses crying hoarse about Tazreen Fashions being a compliant factory. If so, why the access road was so constricted, which even a jackass could determine as being unsuitable to serve a factory of that size? But no, not the factory inspectors, not the BGMEA inspection teams, and not even the fire service inspectors who are supposed to inspect and give a survey report of such buildings, could determine the inadequacy of access and exit of the factory. Every single safety measure was violated in every conceivable way and the building was so faulty that it became a veritable deathtrap, a fact missed by the inspectors. And yet the BGMEA feels no qualms to give it a clean chit.
No wonder that people are clinging to the arson /conspiracy theory as a last straw. If it was not arson some other excuse would have been manufactured. Have we not desecrated the dead of Ashulia already by initially intending to dispose them off in a hurry through a mass ritual, without even making so much of an attempt to use modern facilities to identify them and hand them over to their relatives? Sanity prevailed at the end when on government instructions the medical colleges conducted their DNA tests. But then, after having been reduced to ashes these unfortunate victims are now reduced to mere numbers. That, unfortunately, is the lot of the poor in Bangladesh. And the offer of a hundred thousand taka as compensation per victim is a cruel joke.
The arson theory comes as a very handy excuse, but is not even a fig leaf to cover the faults, and there are many faults for which responsibility must be owned up by people at various levels of the management, the BGMEA and of course the government.
With five different committees set up by various agencies one wonders what the outcome of the exercise would be. There are two things that the government must focus on without proffering theories even before the formation of the inquiry committees. First, it must find out how the fire broke out. And nobody should discount the possibility of arson and sabotage.
It might well have been a case of arson but that does not in any way absolve the persons responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the workers, which is the second aspect the committees must go into.
Those who passed the building plan must be held to account for the faulty structure as much as those that gave it the fitness certificate to run as a factory. The BGMEA must answer for turning a blind eye to all the shortcomings, and the fire department must do likewise for not having it shut down for failing to meet safety requirements.
I say all these knowing fully well that nothing at all will happen to the guilty. The owner of Tazreen is in hiding and no effort has been made to apprehend him. Nothing will happen to them because the RMG factory owners not only earn huge foreign exchange they run the politics in the country too. Very soon the matter will die down, most of the owners will continue to bask in the profits earned at the expense of "cheap labour," some will continue to replace their Pajeros with SUVs or something similarly filthily expensive every year, and a few will go off to some exotic place with their families to avoid the rush on public holidays, till another Tazreen.

The writer is Editor, Op-Ed and Strategic Issues, The Daily Star.

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