Tarana Halim is the new state minister for posts and telecommunications division under the posts, telecommunications and information technology ministry.
Born in 1966, this cultural celebrity-cum-lawmaker is 14 years senior to Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the state minister for information technology division under the same ministry.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who holds the telecom minister's portfolio, runs this gender-equal two-horse chariot of power.
Both the state ministers are law graduates.
Palak's ascending was lauded as the injection of youngest political blood in the cabinet. Tarana's rise has, however, received muted applause. Palak is deeply rooted to the village, where his political life was germinated.
Tarana, in contrast, is an urbanite who has been parachuted under the female legislators' quota. Critics in social media question her “competence” to govern the country's “highly technical” telecoms affairs. Tarana's stardom from her childhood to youth possibly overshadows the perception. She can, however, capture the illustrious past in her political wisdom.
Edi Rama, who is a few years older than Tarana, has been the prime minister of Albania since 2013. Basically an artist as well as a writer, Rama pleasantly surprised the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a joint press conference at Tirana early this month. He used the photograph of an unfinished painting by German artist Thomas Demand as the background of the stage. It symbolised the bilateral relations between Albania and Germany, which is still in progress.
Rama's artistic “eccentricity” is nothing new. In 2000, while mayor of Tirana, he ordered to paint the buildings of a neighborhood in bright colours instead of grey. It outraged the concerned official of European Commission, which was funding the project. Citizens of Tirana also laughed at the mayor's “crazy plan.” Eventually Rama has won and painting the buildings with bright colours became a civic sensation. It prompted him to hold a survey. Residents were asked if they liked the colours, and if they wanted the project to continue. Sixty-three percent of the respondents liked the scheme; but a greater number, 85 percent, said that they wanted it to continue. Today Tirana boasts of brilliantly colourful neighborhoods.
The takeaway for State Minister Tarana Halim is: public consultation is the best way to shape and implement the public policy. Her to-do list for the initial 90 days in the office is an array of vague topics. Action points with results and timelines should be spelled out instead. She should consult the stakeholders while consumers must be central to this process. Her decisions should be guided by the telecom and competition laws, as her songs brilliantly followed the notes and the scripts dictated her plays on the stage. As a performer, she always left the technical issues up to the engineers. It should not be different in her current role.
Tarana Halim should spend her initial 90 days to protect competition, not the competitors. It will make her debut in the cabinet exceedingly successful.
The writer is senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based ICT think tank. The Daily Star does not necessarily subscribe to the views expressed here.