GOLDSMITHS in this part of the world have a reputation for stealing gold even from their mothers' nose-rings, but now they've got others who can give them a run for their money. What has happened is sure shot embarrassing. The gold crests given to foreign friends of Bangladesh, who contributed to our Liberation War, have been shortchanged. It means these tokens of our heartfelt gratitude carried only twenty-five percent of their intended weight in gold. Let's pray our foreign friends are going to be patient with us. Let's pray they don't misunderstand that gold diggers are how the Golden Bengal has got its name!
Some of them may never get the wind of this scandal unless our government decides to inform them by the way of replacing their crests and offering them an apology. Those who will find out will hopefully understand, and understand they will because here we aren't talking about ordinary men and women. These are large-hearted people, who have already proven that they could rise above parochial interests. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been concerned over the freedom-loving people in a faraway land.
But how can we absolve ourselves of the guilt of this miserable mischief? It's utterly shameful that the supplier of the crests and the government people, who were responsible for managing the procurement, are spouting hogwash at us. The supplier is telling us how Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution must have ruined much of the gold while testing, which is why the samples gave a poor reading of the quantity contained. The officials of the Liberation War Ministry sounded like a credulous bunch as if they got no clue they had been take for a ludicrous ride.
One wonders though what prompted the concerned ministry to have the testing done so late in the day. Ideally, it should have been done before the crests were given away. It should have been done by drawing random samples, even one piece at a time, since it's a serious matter of our national pride, prestige and interest.
Better late than never, now we know that our indebtedness to those who helped us in 1971 fell short in its measure in gold. We chose to give the crests as a gesture, corresponding precious metal with the intrinsic value of our appreciation. Silver, copper or zinc crests would have given inappropriate assessment of those who stood by us at a critical juncture of history. Diamond, perhaps, would have been an overkill.
One had expected that the government was going to react very strongly. After all, it was the prime minister who handed over those crests. No matter how one looks at it, her reputation is on the line along with that of the country. By now we should have seen some heads rolling already.
Instead, what we have got so far is buck passing. The cabinet division has pointed finger at the Ministry of Liberation War. The supplier is blindly blaming BSTI. The statements of ministry officials reek with insincerity. It appears that nobody bothered to double check in their rush of whatever things.
The ultimate buck passing has been the formation of an investigation committee. Thanks to God, the temporary suspension of the officials allegedly involved in the scam is also a possibility! Over the years we have been conditioned like Pavlov's dog to expect nothing from an investigation committee. For some strange reason, it always did to our expectation what the suppliers have done to those crests. A committee has always taken the value out of an investigation.
What could have been done instead is an immediate meeting between the supplier and the BSTI experts to establish how much gold actually gets lost in the course of testing. Once that's established, the rest is easy. If the supplier is right then BSTI is wrong. Needless to say, the other way around can tell us who's the real culprit.
We don't know how far this matter will go. We don't know where the buck is going to stop. But if a crime has been committed here, its gravity can't be underestimated. It only shows how far the moral swamp has spread not to spare even our ability to respect ourselves.
One definition has it that an attempt to impair the well-being of a state to which one owes allegiance is treason. What has happened with the crests is more than a case of missing gold. It has been a slap in the face of our national self-assurance that at long last we showed the long overdue respect to our friends.
It's up to the government to decide if this gives enough reason to call this depravity an act of treason. But it has surely frog-marched this nation into another moral quagmire where nothing is sacred and nothing is safe.
The writer is, Editor First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.