A hint at legitimising extortion? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 15, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 15, 2010


A hint at legitimising extortion?

Apply brake on it, instead

Centring around Eid festival, extortionists of different denominations have had a field day. Transports were stopped at different points on inter-district highways to extract 'toll' without any compunction, legal or otherwise. Even policemen and ruling party name flaunters were found demanding money from the passing vehicles, reportedly. Perhaps, this year's festival time has seen record takings in reckless abandon.
Little wonder, this has been the case as we were flabbergasted at the news of virtual legitimization of extortion at a meeting held in the communications ministry on September 6. There, in the presence of ministers for communications and inland water transport and the state minister for labour and manpower it was decided that a toll be collected from buses and minibuses of Dhaka metropolitan area and those operating on the inter-district highways in the name of transport owners associations, labour unions and road transport workers federation. Even the toll amounts were fixed.
What is particularly disconcerting is the government apparently taking a role here. It is indeed for the owners' associations, workers' unions and their federations to prescribe any toll for their members towards sustenance of the organisations. Why should any segment of the government be meddling or seen to be interfering in a matter that is the preserve of the transport operators or their owners collectively. There is an element of imposition and giving stamp of authorization on a practice that needs to be regulated, not fueled. Call it 'service charge' or by any other label, it is bound to rachet extortion. Besides in this specific case, has the interest of the ordinary owners and transport operators been safeguarded?
In this context it is relevant to cite the disapproval of the decision to collect toll in the name of transport owners and workers' associations on the part of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Chairmen of the standing committee on the communication ministry. He has gone to the extent of disassociating himself from the move. For all we know, there are numerous owner associations and worker unions who too have a stake. Should a certain number of them get a free hand to collect money, the resulting chaos in the sector can be easily imagined. If there is flurry of toll collection all around the fallout would be detrimental not only in terms of incentivising extortion but also raising cost of transportation.
The ultimate strain of extortion and rent-seeking befalls the consumers. It is the dictate of good governance that the government find an effective antidote to any attempt at institutionalising extortion in any form or shape.

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