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     Volume 6 Issue 6 | February 16, 2007 |

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The Many Shades of Transparency

Nader Rahman

Recently the political situation in our country has been likened to a derailed train. A heavy crane is needed to lift us out of the current situation and apparently the strength of our people is that very crane. Once the train is back on track apparently it will also move smoothly. Interestingly, what was not fully stated was exactly who would control the crane.

In just over a month the political scenario has been turned on its head, and this time for all the right reasons. Let's bear with that thought for a while; because it's not very often we can say that about our country. The new caretaker government has inspired confidence in the nation and it is ironic that an unelected government has gained such credibility. But while the common man rejoices in the fact that our two main roadblocks to success have been partially moved, there are other aspects of this newfound goodwill that need to be looked into.

On the 18th of January The Economist published a story on Bangladesh titled “The coup that dare not speak it's name”. However it may be termed the question that must be put forward is, who really is running the country? Yes there is a caretaker government, and yes, they have made some important and no doubt, popular decisions, but without the support of the army, one could be tempted to say that they would have been just another group of people hoping to save our nation. An army backed caretaker government; is that a bad thing?

To the everyman it is not. The news they see on TV shows them dozens of corrupt officials being caught, and countless others being rounded up for various misdemeanours. Before and after the impressive news clippings there is always talk of how the new government will turn the country around, hold free and fair elections and in general be the saviours of this great nation. The whole package is fantastic, but essentially we are swallowing the bitter pill of military rule, sugar coated with a caretaker government.

Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed recently said the armed forces, imbued with patriotism and responsibility, could stand neutrally beside the people to establish rule of law and uphold the constitution and democracy. Did he really mean the armed forces and people could together uphold the law, or was it an intentional statement that they should establish the rule of law? These are little signs that point not to current government, but seemingly indicate that the armed forces have almost assumed the role of a shadow government. The constitution and democracy were also brought into the fray, one could question the logic behind that for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact is that for the last three and a half months and probably for the foreseeable future this country has been without and will continue to be without an elected government. What kind of democracy would the armed forces be defending?

While the attempt to clean up the political scene by hauling in the 'big fish' of the corrupted has been welcomed by the public, it is important to see how this has been done. Since the promulgation of the emergency, joint forces have swept across the country picking up more than 41,000 people. They have given the common man a sense of security, while at the same time eyebrows have been raised as to how legal their detentions are. The constitution guarantees that arrested persons be apprised of the reason of his/her arrest, but from the media reports it has been learnt that during their recent drives the law enforcers did not apprise the arrestees of the causes of arrests in most of the cases.

Worryingly there have even been allegations though not widespread, of torture. Whether they are found to be true or false remains to be seen, but at least they should be looked into. As reported in the Daily Star, former student leader Jahangir Sattar Tinku and assistant private secretary to Sheikh Hasina Dr Awlad Hossain alleged that security personnel heavily tortured them during their stay in custody. Terming the torture as 'inhumane', Tinku said, "It was so brutal that I cannot stand well now." He went on to say, "I was blindfolded and taken to an unknown place. I don't know where I was kept since my arrest." Hasina's personal staff Babul also echoed the allegation. These allegations of torture must be taken seriously, or does the end justify the means?

The families of the detained also felt aggrieved because after they were picked up, no one knew of their whereabouts. If transparency is to be the order of the day, then these issues must be handled sensitively as well. It's fair enough that people have been picked up on charges of corruption, but it must all be done in a free and transparent manner. The fact that they are simply being detained, and have still not been charged should also be analysed. "Entering our house, the forces asked him (Nasim) to go with them. As I asked why and where they are taking him, they gave no explanation and said they had orders from their bosses," wife of the former home minister Mohammad Nasim told reporters. While their spirit is laudable, simply picking up people without charging them and taking them to undisclosed locations is probably not the way to go about it. In matters of transparency this government has said it has nothing to hide, but in certain cases their actions should match up to their talk.

The current government has also said voter ID cards will not be feasible for at least another six to nine months. This implicitly implies that they wish to stay in power for at least that long. By then we would have gone through an entire year without an elected government. The care taker government plans to uphold democracy, without essentially being democratic itself. Their intentions are noble and one could say the fault lies within the system, but is does make one a little uneasy.

In the painting that is Bangladesh, there are many shades of transparency.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007