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Sonali Exchange disappoints remitters from US
No alternative left for illegals but Hundi
Moinuddin Naser from New York
Bangladesh�s World Cup debacle inquiry
Remittance of money by the illegal immigrants from the United States has become difficult nowadays, and this will have a seriously deleterious effect on Bangladesh�s economy. The illegal immigrants send more money than the legal ones.
In many cases, the illegal immigrants are not able to send money through legal channels. Their only recourse is to send money by an informal system that is called Hundi. It may be mentioned that the Bangladeshi money exchange company, Sonali Exchange, was set up with a view to providing a viable alternative to Hundi and thus stopping the remittance of money through illegal means. The goal is yet to be achieved.
Other than the Sonali Exchange, most such agencies are being operated under the new rules of the US banking system. As per rules set by the banking division, one can send the money by showing one�s identity card. The Sonali Exchange, however, has made a rule that the immigrants have to show the documents of their legal residency in the USA. On the other hand, money transfers through agencies like Placid Express, despite reasonable restrictions either way, is still much easier than through Sonali Exchange. Many persons who want to remit money to Bangladesh or any other country may have to resort to Hundi, which is bad for both the United States and the country of destination.
It may be mentioned that after September 11, 2001, the United States increased its vigilance of the money transfer companies. Sonali Exchange also has been kept under observation. A knowledgeable source said that had the officers of Sonali Exchange remained cautious from the very beginning, they would not have come under such observation. Now one has to show either the driving licence or the identity card in order to remit a sum below 900 dollars. And if the amount is over 900 dollars, one has to show both the Social Security Number and the identity card. There are three kinds of Social Security Numbers. The first is not valid for work. This kind of Social Security Number is not valid for the purpose of remittance. For those possessing an identity card with INS authorisation only, the work permit is required to be shown to Sonali Exchange. Another kind of social security card is issued to persons who are either Green Card holders or citizens of this country. Nothing is written on this social security card except the number. Only the holders of these social security cards may send sums of more than 900 dollars by showing the driving licence.
One also requires State Identity if one wants to send any amount of money up to 900 dollars. But now, in New York, State Identity is not issued without Social Security Card. The practice of issuing State Identity to the illegal immigrants on the basis of six points is not in effect. That means the illegal immigrants are not able to obtain even driving licences. Under this circumstance, the illegal immigrants, who have to show both the Social Security Card and State Identity, are unable to send money legally.
Sonali Exchange is considered to be the most secure institution by the expatriate Bangladeshis who want to send money to their relatives. But due to the prevailing circumstances, the expatriates are not getting the desired services from it. It is true that one requires identity in sending money, but whether Sonali Exchange has the right to see the legal residency of any person is a questionable matter. Mintu Lal Shaha of Placid Express said in this regard that his company also requires identity to remit money. But this identity may be the passport, identity of work place, driving licence or anything else. He says that in Placid�s case, the Social Security Number is required when one wants to remit more than 3000 dollars. His company has to see the work authorisation if anyone wants to send more than 5000 dollars. Placid operates in more than 60 locations in the USA and has its account with the CitiBank. On the other hand, Sonali Exchange keeps its account with the Chase Manhattan bank and has adopted this system as a matter of additional caution.
Here a valid Social Security Number is a coveted thing, so it is being faked frequently. The Social Security Number has to be shown every time one wants to send money home. As a result it is creating unnecessary pressure on the remitter and unnecessary work for the officers of Sonali Exchange. If such restrictions are imposed in remitting money, the illegal immigrants will have no alternative other than Hundi.
In this connection, the chief executive of Sonali Exchange, Kazi Asaduzzaman, told this correspondent that efforts are being made to devise a method so that no one is harassed while availing himself of the services of Sonali Exchange. A measure will be taken in this regard.
Managing Director of Sonali Bank, Rabiul Hossain, who recently visited the USA, said that to comply with the rules now prevailing in the USA, the Sonali Exchange has adopted additional cautionary measures.
FBI team in BD to check money transaction.
A team of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) of the United States went to Bangladesh recently to ascertain whether the money sent through Sonali Exchange was being used for terrorist activities. The Managing Director of the Sonali Bank said that all the money that is being sent by Sonali Exchange, a subsidiary of the Sonali Bank, is being delivered through bank accounts. The money sent is being used for the sustenance of the close relatives of the expatriates, for recovery of the property which was mortgaged to others as collateral to obtain money for travel to USA or to repurchase sold property.
He said that sustained efforts have also been made to open a full-fledged branch of the Sonali Bank in the USA in the interest of expatriates and in the light of the present situation. Licence has also been obtained to open a branch at Patterson in New Jersey and soon arrangements will be made to set up the branch.
Rabiul Hossain further said that application had also been made to open branches of the Sonali Exchange at Washington D.C., Florida and Atlanta.
He said that after the September 11, 2001, money laundering was not doing well, thus boosting the business of Sonali Exchange. In 2001, 93,000 people sent money to Bangladesh from the USA, and in 2002 the figure shot up to 157,000. The volume of remitted money almost doubled. He said that in 2001 the total amount of money remitted was 112 million dollars, while in 2002 the amount was 181 million dollars. This year the flow has increased in comparison to the corresponding period of last year.
Rabiul Hossain said that the Jackson Heights branch of the Sonali Bank is remitting the highest amount of money to Bangladesh while the Atlanta branch is remitting the lowest. He said that the expatriates in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia last year had sent a total amount of one billion dollars as remittance; during the previous year, the amount was 600 million. He told the press that comparatively the largest amount of remittance came from Bangladeshi expatriates in Saudi Arabia, while the expatriates in the USA were sending the third largest amount.
Coach, captain and manager blamed
Zayd Almer Khan
Banglapedia edition every 2 years
The two-member inquiry committee commissioned by the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) immediately after the national team�s embarrassment at the World Cup in South Africa in March-April this year has squarely blamed the tour management � especially the manager, the coach and the captain � for the debacle. The committee has also called for an immediate halt to political influence on cricket in order to achieve on-field improvements in the future.
According to sources at the BCB, the committee, comprising retired bureaucrat Syed Shamim Ahsan and former ambassador Commodore Mujibur Rahman, will be submitting a scathing report next week. While the final draft of the report is currently being worked on, Holiday has obtained information on the contents of the report from sources within the BCB that suggest that it will be both stinging in its findings and comprehensive in its recommendations.
The committee was formed upon the national team�s return from South Africa, where they lost all but one game (which was washed out), humiliated by sides as weak as Canada.
Among the findings of the committee, which interviewed nearly a hundred people, are startling facts about behind-the-scenes particulars of the touring party to South Africa. The report observes that the team management structure had completely broken down as the manager, the coach and the captain, especially the latter two, were not on talking terms during most of the tour.
The investigation found that the breakdown in communication led to no or nominal team meetings before matches, and no discussions on strategy between the coach and the captain. The manager, as well, failed to maintain discipline, handing out a sum total of zero disciplinary decisions for the duration of the tour, while players regularly stayed out till early hours.
The findings are particularly incriminating for the coach, the Pakistani Mohsin Kamal, who apparently spent after-game hours mostly in his room, with the �Do not disturb� sign hanging on his door, instead of partaking in post-match analyses.
According to the BCB sources, a major chunk of the report deals with recommendations, the most sweeping of which is to rid cricket of political influence. The committee suggests a corporate-like re-structuring of the BCB, with a professional CEO and staff making day-to-day cricketing decisions independent of any interference. The president and board members could be elected and/or politically appointed as they are currently, but they would only be called upon for broad policy decisions, playing a role much like that of a bank�s chairman or board members.
The inquiry committee endorses the development plans that have been chalked up by the current development committee of the BCB, led by the Prime Minister�s younger son Arafat Rahman. The committee terms the plans as comprehensive, and lauds the fact that they include not just development at the international level, but also age-group levels.
The report, however, calls for consistency in the selection of national players at every level, calling the current system arbitrary and prone to influence. It also recommends a strong disciplinary committee and a permanent tour committee to deal with issues of discipline and the like on tours.
While the BCB is yet to get an official version of the report, the country�s cricket bosses have a fair idea of what the broad observations of the committee will be. According to BCB sources, some are apprehensive about making the report public.
There is concern within the BCB that the committee has gone beyond its mandate in investigating not just details of the South Africa tour, but general BCB activities as well, which might lead to �embarrassments�. The investigators, however, have maintained throughout that a comprehensive evaluation is impossible without a comprehensive investigation.
Abu Jar M Akkas
Both bouquets and brickbats
The Asiatic Society of Bangladesh will soon set up a Banglapedia trust to update and maintain its future editions.
Initially, only the Bangla version of the encyclopaedia will be carried to its second edition, as the English version is not on high demand.
The 10-volume reference work, formally known as the National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh, has been published in Bangla and English.
Serajul Islam, the project director and chief editor of the Banglapedia, told Holiday on May 21 that an encyclopaedia centre is planned to be established by August and the work on the update of the encyclopaedia will start as soon as the trust is set up. The trust will run the encyclopaedia centre. There will be a board of editors, along with other officials, to update and edit the entries.
The encyclopaedia centre will be housed on the second floor of the Asiatic Society building in the city�s Nimtali area.
The trust will use the earnings from the sale of the encyclopaedia. �We will have a Tk 50 million fund for the work,� Serajul Islam hoped.
The Banglapedia chief editor said the future editions would be published every two years.
Meanwhile, the government, according to Islam, is in the process of releasing the second and last tranche of its funds to the project, which amounts to Tk. 10 million.
The multimedia version of the Banglapedia in Bangla, said Islam, will come out by July. This version, on CDs, will have video and sound files in addition to the content of the print version. The CDs will be sold at a nominal price to check �piracy.�
Distribution to subscribers
The Asiatic Society last week started distributing the Banglapedia to subscribers, who have booked the set at a 50 per cent discount.
But it has not as yet started direct sale of the encyclopaedia, originally planned for a January 3 launch.
Five thousand copies each of the Bangla and English editions of the encyclopaedia have been printed. Almost all the copies of the Bangla edition have been sold out but about 1,000 copies of the English edition have still remained unsold. About 250 copies of the Bangla edition have been kept for reference and other purposes.
�We are still selling the English copies at a 50 per cent discount. Since the English version is on less demand, we have planned to bring out the second edition of only the Bangla version,� Islam said.
The encyclopaedia has over 6,000 entries on Bengal up to 1947 and on Bangladesh till date.
The work features the whole of eastern India of ancient times, Subah-I-Bangla of the mediaeval times, Bengal Presidency of the British period, East Bengal and East Pakistan of the Pakistan and Bangladesh periods.
Banglapedia has 1,592 illustrations, 2,063 cross-references, cartographic information, tables and statistics. The entries are compiled and edited in six different editorial categories � arts and humanities, history and heritage, state and governance, society and economy, natural science and biological sciences.
Over 1,200 scholars from home and abroad joined the Tk 10 crore project, initiated in December 1995.
Fingers crossed, but hopefully
Since 1998, the government of Bangladesh was repeatedly and categorically notified about OECD consensus on linking development assistance to UN millennium goals, and to recipient governments� responsibility in charting a systematic course of action for achieving those goals. Bangladesh was also notified of the linkage found by development thinkers between good governance and poverty reduction (or the reverse correlation). There was no dearth of reminders that �poor governance stood in the way of a much faster growth and poverty reduction, corroding the nation�s economy, finances and institutions�, and that the poor paid possibly three times more than the privileged by way of illicit tolls to obtain basic utilities and community services, including health care and security of life and property.
In the Paris meeting of the Bangladesh Development Forum last year, this government had candidly told the development partners that Bangladesh was suffering from a crisis of law and order and governance. The �holistic� character of the crisis and its many ugly faces of corruption and crime were discussed, including the political and other challenges faced by the government. A broad reforms package intended by the government was endorsed, including early constitution of an Anti-Corruption Commission, establishment of an independent Human Rights Commission, appointment of an Ombudsman, separating the judiciary from the executive, separating audit from accounts, and decentralising administration. The government also undertook to formulate a �home-grown� Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which the donors urged ought to �prioritise its acts around a smaller and realistic number of deliverables to provide early wins to the process�.
The government further indicated its commitment to improving the macro-economic environment (backed by banking reforms), and its intention to resume the stalled trade liberalisation process by reducing tariffs, eliminating quantitative restrictions and diversifying exports. Representatives of donor countries and agencies in the Paris meeting emphasised that �as in the past (several years), Bangladesh�s immediate priorities are improving governance, particularly in law and order and corruption, and implementing decisive reforms faster�. It was further said that �the two-thirds majority of the current government gives it both a strong mandate to affect change, and little excuse for failure�.
It is therefore no wonder that last week in the Dhaka meeting of the Bangladesh Development Forum, some 14 months after Paris Sections of the donor community were so outspoken in their criticism of the government�s failure in controlling law and order, corruption, and human rights violations, the domestic critics of the administration in the civil society felt �embarrassed�. The Prime Minister�s candid admission that a number of development and governance issues were yet to be addressed, and her assertion that the economy was on the right track and the investment climate was now better, failed to deflect the determined critics in the donor community, mainly from Europe. The relevant donor representatives were but quoting media reports, largely furnished by the same set of academic civil society leaders who wondered why �bureaucrats� representing development partners were making �statements on political matters�, relating the same to the general economic scenario and not examining the government�s submissions �from the economic point of view�. Under the broad umbrella of good governance, some academics reacted, the development partners were asking �funny� questions over matters on which the ruling party is already committed to the people. Some others detected the civilising mission of doctrinaire European liberalism behind some donor questions that were beyond the pale of macro-economic management or of millennium goals. Issues raised on Chittagong Hill Tracts or on suspected militancy in madrassah education were though to be out of order by more sensitive members of the civil society.
The government in the event addressed those questions squarely, with Ministers making themselves available for answers. The donors realised, according to WB Vice-President Mieko Nishimizu, �that it takes a lot of technical work to change the system, to change the law and policies to create a necessary condition to minimise the chances of corruption. They also realise that the political culture should be changed here.� Ms. Nishimizu, in her own inimitable diplomatic style, suggested that it was very much within the jurisdiction of the Development Forum participants to ask questions about governance-related commitments made to the people by leaders of the polity.
Change of political culture based on good governance �requires lot of work by a lot of dedicated people and it will take long time. The donors also understand that the tremendous advantage of this country is that the people, who are the sufferers of a corrupt system, want the system to go away. And for this they need a powerful ally that is willing to use its influence in the greater interest of the people and can use the influence without fear of anything happening to them. Donors can be the ideal ally of this kind.� Whether or not that position of the development partners displeases the government, the outcome of last week�s meeting of the Bangladesh Development Forum was certainly a relief to the Finance Minister who has yet to grapple with his task before the coming budget session of the Jatiya Sangsad. He has obtained a certificate from the donors that the consolidated responsibility for finance and planning under his ministerial control has strengthened economic management. Those who suffer delays and dislocations on account of lack of time or due attention that the Finance Minister fails to give to many pending files may disagree. But The World Bank and other donors are now committed to bankroll development programmes and costs of reforms.
With some critical observations on like the neglect of the water resources sector in the I-PRSP, the donors endorsed the interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper that spelled out a requirement for an estimated amount of $2.1 billion for implementation over the next 3 years. Aside from the meeting of the Bangladesh Development Forum, the IMF had agreed to provide 500 million dollars on loan and The World Bank agreed to provide another $300 million to be made available immediately to ease the balance of payment problems of the government of Bangladesh. In addition, based on the current pace of utilisation, donor development assistance amounting to about Taka 10,000 crores from foreign governments would flow in as usual. But a clear warning was there that the aid level might be �compromised� unless governance improved. There were many encouraging words, including the WB Vice-President�s pleasant �surprise� over a group of reform champions in the government who had set off on a learning process of social and economic transformation.
It was noted that the authorities moved swiftly to restore macro-economic stability in spite of an unfavourable global environment. But there were serious doubts about the pace and quality of performance in the planning and execution of development programmes. Particular concern was expressed about a nexus between some politicians, some policemen and criminals providing protection to organised crime and violence. The core problem causing failure in governance was identified as corruption, and the PRSP is indeed about fighting corruption, as Ms. Nishimizu put it. It is to be seen now how it works out in practice.
FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK / Enayetullah Khan
Salauddin named for OIC top job
Like the mountain coming to Mahomet (no allusion to the Prophet), the Paris Club or Consortium chose to come to Dhaka this time. Christened as the Bangladesh Development Forum, 2003 and organised by the lead agency of The World Bank, the Development Partners (DP) assessed the external resources requirements in Bangladesh�s development and growth pursuits. Those are now qualified as pro-poor by the DPs and suitably prefaced by the country document of Interim-Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (I-PRSP).
While question marks on governance, law and order and the original sin of corruption abounded, Bangladesh�s development record in the last one and a half years was acclaimed by the forum participants. Mieko Nishimizu, the WB Vice-President who is no stranger to Bangladesh, dismissed the �sorry typecast� of Bangladesh by cataloguing some of what she called �a few of their stories� indicator by indicator. Those included a �three times faster� growth in per capita income of Bangladesh during the nineties at the rate 3.3 per cent a year (more than the average for low income countries), a decline in income poverty by 1 per cent, one of highest enrolments in primary schools in which girls outnumber boys, fastest reduction in infant and child mortality, reduced population growth at 1.5 per cent, better immunisation rates than most in the developing world including India and Pakistan, and eradication of polio.
Nishimizu called these as �the tips of the icebergs of the untold story� and admiringly spoke about �the three consecutive free and fair elections, with huge voter turn-outs that would put most nations of the world to shame, including my own�.
The same was echoed by Ms. Chanpen Pukahtikom, the representative of the no-nonsense International Monetary Fund (IMF), who listed the high points of the development record and informed the inaugural session of the BDF, 2003 that the IMF, having reviewed �the recent achievements in economic management� and the �policy challenges that lie ahead of pro-poor growth�, was scheduled to consider next month the approval of concessionary assistance under the Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF). �Under the PRGF programme scenario, the external financing gap through FY03 to FY06 has been estimated at US$ 2.1 billion.� She further said, �The gap for FY04 of US$ 0.5 billion appears to be manageable in the light of existing and prospective commitments by development partners, especially the IFIs. However, additional support will be needed over the other two years to help sustain and broaden reform. Technical assistance from multilateral and bilateral donors is also essential to ease Bangladesh�s capacity constraints in managing its reform.�
Although the media was �robbed� of attractive, headlines on �billion dollars� and �pledges�, the substantive �sound bites� of Nishimizu and Pukahtikom�s opening remarks come as more than reassuring for the government�s quest for resources to realise the commitments on reforms as pledged in the election manifesto.
This is on the upside. But the downsides, unpretty and gaping, belong to �governance� linked to law and order and corruption in high and low places. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was eminently forthright in owning up to �some of the development and governance problems�, which in her words �are yet to be addressed�. Needless to say, some of these are appalling, though finger-pointing at the bygone regime may give her comfort. While sympathising with her for her inheritance of a thoroughly deconstructed administration, and the invidious culture of accumulation at the expense of the State and the little man, we are constrained to say that the ills have proliferated and reached an all-time high, thanks to the real or imagined clout of the informal centres of power.
True, there are no quick fixes for correcting the governance fault-lines running deep, but reforms in this regard, including the Cabinet reform of an elephantine outfit, are observed mostly in their breaches reinforcing status quo over change. For combating corruption, the Cabinet decision on a draft bill of an independent anti-corruption commission raises some hope. In a country where politics is profit, penal deterrence of high-level corruption and unearned accumulation must make an example. We take comfort in the Aesopian analogy of the race between the tortoise and the rabbit and condone the slow pace which makes the tortoise of the independent commission a winner, at least so far and so good.
The infractions of the government, whether perceived or real, and that of the political class in power have led a ruling party MP and a former State Minister in the 1991-96 BNP Cabinet to speak out on the floor to underscore the imperative need of a code of conduct for the MPs. Unlike the informal centres, which once in a while put in a public disclaimer pleading innocence, the MPs are holding formal status.
The government, particularly the political government in the driving seat, remains a house divided on many issues, giving different signals on different issues including the legislative and institutional reforms and the institutions on hand, on hold and in abeyance. A so-called simulation of the generational divide in the ruling party�s fold and fringes is also hurting governmental functioning. That, BNP would explain, cannot be helped, though it needs to help itself to heal the wounds it inflicts on governance and the prejudice it creates in public perception.
While economic management is the winner in the BDF and more importantly in the public eye, notwithstanding summary dismissal to the contrary in news headlines, the entire issue of governance is to be addressed, keeping an eye on these downsides and containing them urgently.
We keep our fingers crossed in good anticipation.
Dhaka has started campaigning after announcing its candidate for the Secretary-General of the 54-nation Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in the next tenure beginning in January, 2005.
Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, Parliamentary Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, has already been nominated as Bangladesh�s candidate for the prestigious post of the OIC�s chief executive.
Confirming Bangladesh�s ambition on May 22, Foreign Secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said that Dhaka has a �very bright prospect� of obtaining the post because of its international image and moderation.
�We have announced our candidature to the foreign missions in Bangladesh as well as to our embassies and High Commissions abroad,� he told journalists at the weekly press briefing at the Foreign Office.
Bangladesh is the first country to announce its candidature and the appointment of the OIC Secretary-General is expected to be finalised in the next ministerial meeting of the organisation due to be held in June, 2004. The election to the post is made through a consultation process.
The present Secretary-General of the OIC is Abdul Wahid Bel Kaziz from Morocco, which retained the post twice with separate nominees in two four-year terms.
The Foreign Secretary said Dhaka has already launched the campaign and is lobbying with the influential countries and quarters in the international arena.
As part of that, the OIC headquarters and important capitals have already been apprised of Bangladesh�s candidature.