In Remembrance of Jamaluddin Ahmed and Rezaur Rahman
I recently lost two friends in quick succession - Mr. Jamaluddin Ahmed and Mr. Rezaur Rahman. All three of us were graduates of Chittangong Commerce College and all three of us were chartered accountants. I did my chartered accountancy from Pakistan while both of them did theirs from the UK.
Rezaur Rahman returned to Dhaka from London in the late 50s and took charge of the office of the audit firm Price Waterhouse Peat & Co. but launched his own chartered accountancy firm in 1963 when former finance minister Saifur Rahman resigned from Pakistan Oxygen and joined Rezaur Rahman along with Tashfin Huq to form Rahman Rahman Huq, which soon became one of the most prestigious audit and consultancy firms of the country. At that time, having joined the civil services of Pakistan, I was posted as an Additional Secretary in the Department of Finance under the Government of East Pakistan (GoEP).
In 1966, Rezaur Rahman was selected as a member of the Pakistan delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he met Peggy, fell in love and married her. His Gulshan house then became the venue for me and my wife for brunch every Sunday. Jamaluddin also returned to Dhaka in the early 60s, joined an international oil marketing company and got married. He was initially posted in Chittagong.
I often expressed my intent to join the profession but never had the courage to take the decisive step, but very soon fate took that step. I was forced to go into retirement from the civil services by martial law authorities in 1969 and had to look for new job openings in the private sector. Rezaur Rahman graciously offered me the post of a partner in his firm and asked me to take over their Karachi office. A car was also purchased for my use. I did go to Karachi but was inundated with a number of good offers and thus, could not join Rahman Rahman Huq.
After rejoining government services in January 1972, I was posted in the World Bank in Washington from 1974 to 1977. On the way back home, I stayed in London for some time and discovered that Rezaur Rahman was also staying there after taking a long leave from Rahman Rahman Huq. Initially, he joined Altaf Gauher in an outfit created by Aga Hasan Abedi but soon started his own business by taking up a costly office in Piccadilly. This was a bold attempt to get established in London. But he did succeed through his hard work and devotion. He also showed his business acumen back home. He bid for and acquired Messers Shaw Wallace, a British shipping company, from the Bangladesh government.
Rezaur Rahman offered me to join Rahman Rahman Huq in Dhaka for the second time when I expressed my desire not to rejoin the government. On my return to Dhaka, I did join the company but did not last there for more than two months. Although, President Ziaur Rahman agreed to my joining the firm during my first meeting with him, he soon changed his mind and gave me an ultimatum to rejoin the government as secretary of the Ministry of Industries. Meanwhile, Jamaluddin, who held a senior position in an oil marketing company, was inducted as the Minister of Industries by the president. I had no clue that Jamaluddin was working behind the scene to get me appointed as the secretary in his own ministry.
During the next four years, the Ministry of Industries became the most productive ministry and this was because Jamaluddin gave me a free hand to operate and backed me up on all important matters like the formulation of new industrial policies, incentive packages for private sector, and the finalisation of a new act for promotion and protection of foreign investments. The Board of Directors of Ashuganj Fertilizer Company was reconstituted with me as the chairman and Mr. Muhith, Mr. Abul Khair and Mr. Al Hussaini as directors. Jamaluddin agreed to give the board the powers of the government on all matters concerning the company. When Haldor Topsoe came to Dhaka and proposed the setting up of a fertilizer company in the private sector, Jamaluddin instantly approved my approach and I had no problem in taking it forward. The same story was repeated for the creation of EPZ in Chittagong and the Aga Khan-sponsored IPDC, the first DFI in the private sector in Bangladesh.
In recognition of his dynamism, Jamaluddin was promoted as the deputy prime minister, over a number of his senior colleagues, in 1979. He was a terrific public orator and was very important politically for President Ziaur Rahman. In 1980, when President Zia decided to allow commercial banks in the private sector, Jamaluddin was made the chairman of the selection committee. Being at the end of my contract with the government, when I decided to float a joint venture commercial bank and sought a foreign partner for that, Rezaur Rahman introduced me to the Galadari brothers who owned Dubai Bank and were willing to invest in Bangladesh. Arab Bangladesh Bank, with 60 percent foreign shareholding with UCB and National Bank, got quick approval. As I was leaving the government to join UNIDO in Vienna, Jamaluddin advanced the date for a grand opening of Ashuganj Fertilizer Factory in recognition of my services as its chairman.
Rezaur Rahman and Peggy regularly visited Vienna, where I was posted from 1982 to 1987. I was then posted to Delhi where both Rezaur Rahman and Jamaluddin were house guests. I returned to Dhaka in 1993 and in 1996 decided to set up a finance company, International Leasing and Finance Company, where both Rahman and Jamaluddin invested. Jamaluddin was also a director of ILFSL while I was its chairman. Jamaluddin floated a credit rating company, CRISL, of which I became a promoter director.
When Peggy died of cancer in 1997, my wife and I visited London where she was buried. It was there that Rezaur Rahman expressed his wish to be buried next to his wife.
During this period, Rezaur Rahman made a special request to help him float a housing finance company. Shaw Wallace was his first promoter and finally, with 20 promoters, I applied to Bangladesh Bank for a license. It took me two years to get this proposal through Bangladesh Bank and I finally got the license in 1998. I had no shareholding in National Housing but gave two years of my life to redeem my pledge to my friend.
On the relinquishment of my directorship in ILFSL and retirement from the chairmanship of National Housing, communication with Rezaur Rehman and Jamaluddin became few and far between. Age took its toll on all of us. Rezaur Rahman was showing first signs of Alzheimer's. Jamaluddin also had health problems which deteriorated with age and he breathed his last on January 3, 2015, after being bedridden for most of 2014.
Rezaur Rahman did not have any children. He created the Mujibur Rahman Foundation, in the name of his late father who was a mathematical genius and was nominated in the Indian Civil Services. He donated Tk. 10 crore to Dhaka University to build and develop a separate building for the Mathematics Department.
Rezaur Rahman's Alzheimer's worsened over time and he had to be under the care of a nursing home in London, where he died on June 1, 2015. He was laid to rest next to his wife.
May their souls rest in peace.
The writer is the first finance secretary of Bangladesh government.