WITH such ministers, advisors and staff members, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina really does not need enemies. They are enough to embarrass, discredit and destroy her, her government and even her party.
Two recent incidents show that those who the PM have appointed/employed around her, are basically unused to the functioning of a government, have a time-servers' mentality and are so fundamentally incompetent that they turn a perfectly good cause of the government into disaster. Whatever can be done with finesse, they prefer to do with arrogance, what can be done with logic they prefer force and what can be done legally they do violating or bending the law.
First, is the case of the billboards. Because of the manner in which it was done, whatever value there was of the content was lost, perhaps for the foreseeable future; an example of the process destroying the product.
The idea of going for a propaganda offensive was triggered when the prime minister's son declared that he had come to Bangladesh to help his mother counter the malicious lies being spread about his mother's government.
The Harvard consultants that the PM's son reportedly engaged may have talked about the political propaganda that occurs during the American presidential and other elections in which the mass media is used including billboards. Paying for the whole process must have also come up.
When this new initiative was approved for implementation then incompetence, rent-seeking (as opposed to rent-paying) mentality and power play set in and the billboard fiasco was born. What was patently a good idea became a PR disaster with consequences, the devastating nature of which will only be revealed in the polls, and not before.
Wasn't there a single person either in the PMO, or in the party who could raise the issue of illegality of the process? If there were none, then the PM should be extremely worried about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy that has occurred in her immediate proximity.
If on the other hand there were people who felt 'uncomfortable' at the process but did not dare to speak, then the PM has to address another type of problem- of how to create a system within her environs where differing (not dissenting, God forbid) views interplay.
Both the incapacity to think independently and the fear of expressing differing views are threats to efficient functioning of the PM's office. In fact the most serious criticism that is made of the present PMO is that it is either full of sycophants or of people who are basically professional but run incompetent lackeys, many of whom use the prestige of the office for influence peddling for personal gain.
The handling of the Odhikar report and the subsequent arrest of its secretary Adilur Rahman, are examples of incompetence at their devastating worst that has today brought the government to disrepute and the country to worldwide embarrassment. To have the UN, the US and EU banding together to express their concern is something Bangladesh did not deserve and which Sheikh Hasina's government should not have brought upon us.
This paper has covered the Hefajet gathering of May 5 and has extensively covered the events of that evening stretching into the early morning of the following day. We have carefully reported on the deaths occurring then. We did not at that time, and neither today, agree with the Odhikar's figures of 61 death.
We think the government had the right to ask for the names and addresses of the deceased, as was done in the information ministry's letter dated July 10. On receiving Odhikar's refusal a week later to share the information requested for, the ministry should have gone to the court seeking a redress in the matter. In our view government had a good case and the judiciary would, most probably, have directed Odhikar to comply.
Once again arrogance and incompetence came into play. After waiting for nearly a month, the Detective Branch of our police arrested Adilur Rahman, at 9.30 pm when he returned home with his wife and children during Eid celebrations.
Just consider the options that were open to the government:
1. Bringing him in for questioning during day;
2. Serving him with a legal notice specifying laws that oblige NGOs to share relevant information with the government;
3. Seeking a court order to procure the necessary information;
4. Formally and publicly (and not secretly) lodging a defamation case against Odhikar for distribution of false information and damaging the government's reputation.
5. Government could also have engaged a credible research organisation to analyse the various reports of Odhikar and reveal their inadequacies or slant or unfounded conclusions, as the government claims they were full of.
Not only was Adilur arrested, the government also prayed for his remand and got it, which thankfully the High Court rejected. We all know what happens in remand? Why for God's sake was Adilur being taken on remand? Was it to frighten him? Did the government think that it would force him to retract the report or make him 'confess' to his 'crimes'?
The move against Adilur was the result of both arrogance of power, lack of concern for rights of citizens and blundering ineptitude.
The Prime Minister must face the fact that today both her government and her party is so rife with incompetence (We are not referring to corruption as it is not our focus today) that they are unable to carryout simple tasks of doing their own PR or protecting themselves against, what they consider, inaccurate or even false claims of their “enemies”.
To us, the latest two examples of her party and her government's actions reveal the serious vulnerability that Sheikh Hasina faces in addition to everything else that is stacking up against her.
She is harvesting what she had sown early on her assumption of office. Her preference for the mediocre, the party henchmen, the sycophants and the underlings, instead of the plain speaking loyalist, has come home to haunt her at this crucial time when she is on the verge of facing the polls.
The writer is Editor, The Daily Star.
Note: With this article the writer re-launches his column which used to appear earlier.