The following is an excerpt from The International Herald Tribune:
Bangladesh authorities have arrested the executive director of one of the country's largest nongovernmental organizations, Proshika, on charges of corruption.
Qazi Faruque Ahmed, along with his deputy, David William Biswas, was arrested on Saturday after years of strain between Proshika and the government, a four-party coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The Bureau of Anti-Corruption has accused Ahmed and other officials of embezzling money from Proshika's poverty alleviation fund and misappropriating money from the fund to pay income tax for 12 Proshika consultants.
Proshika supporters argue that the arrests are politically motivated, pointing to Ahmed's outspoken criticism of the growth of fundamentalism under a government that includes two Islamist parties, and the government's perception that Ahmed supports the opposition Awami League.
Anwarul Haq, a spokesman for the Bangladeshi government here in New Delhi, said Ahmed had been arrested purely because of charges of graft. "It has absolutely nothing to do with politics," Haq said.
Bangladesh is home to some of the world's largest nongovernmental organizations, and they have come to play a significant role in poverty alleviation, primarily through the provision of small loans and the promotion of women's rights.
Bangladesh Government's charge that Proshika was involved in corruption should be investigated impartially, but that is probably not going to happen in this polarized nation where many parliamentarians themselves are engaged in corruption, even not paying millions of dollar of telephone bills, back taxes and engaging in disgraceful nepotism. Many of them even stay absent from Parliament for months while being paid high salary for doing insufficient amount of work for the people who had elected them. It is no wonder that Jamaat-E-Islami has begun to exert more and more power and influences in many critical government policy making, and anyone tries to oppose their communal politics gets axed.
It should also be mentioned that the so-called "secular" political parties in Bangladesh did not do any better during their reign in power or in their previous anti-government street struggles either, many of them openly aligned with various fundamentalist parties themselves, they also squandered public funds, corruption was pervasive during their government too as it is now in the current government. Democracy in Bangladesh is still going through an upheaval battle it seems after being under decades of military autocratic rule. And now the rise of Islamic fundamentalist parties in the rank of political elites can prove to be more dangerous to the nascent democracy of Bangladesh.
Abruptly blocking Proshika's foreign funds that had prevented many impoverished men and women getting access to the vital resources that Proshika had offered in the past is not prudent part played by the BNP led government. Has the government presented any substantial case against Proshika? BNP sympathizers said that they did, and the opposition groups say to the contrary.
Amnesty International has provided the following background information describing the events prior to the arrest of Dr. Qazi Faruque and David William Biswas.
Following the general elections of October 2001, the authorities
reportedly blocked donor funds to PROSHIKA and placed the organization under
investigation for alleged financial irregularities. There were serious
concerns about the investigations' lack of transparency. The donors
expressed concern to the government that they saw no grounds for blocking
the NGO's entire programme while this investigation was carried out, as this
would cut off thousands of people from assistance funded by donors, but the
NGO's funds were not unblocked. In recent weeks, the authorities have
reportedly accused PROSHIKA of taking an anti-government political line
during an opposition campaign of general strikes to unseat the government.
PROSHIKA denied involvement in political activity, but the police raided its
offices in Dhaka. One of its managers, Abdur Rob, was arrested on 20 April.
The police brought him before a court three days later, claiming that he had
"confessed" that PROSHIKA was involved in political activities. In
court, he retracted the confession, saying the police had tortured him
severely to make him sign it. He was nonetheless charged with treason.
Amnesty International is monitoring his case.
NGOs are increasingly playing pivotal roles in various critical missions in Bangladesh, but perhaps they need to show more nonpartisan alignment to preserve credibility and effectiveness. However, who is not political these days? Leaning toward a certain political ideology if it is not detrimental to the long-term development of a nation, without any shrewd agenda imposed by the neighboring competing nations in trade and influence, and also if it is based on progressive outlook, could provide more benefits to the impoverished millions.
It would be wise to release Dr. Faruque, Mr. Biswas and other Proshika employees from the prison immediately, whereas torturing to force out "confessions" would not raise the shrinking credibility of BNP-Jamaat led government. Perhaps it would not be so troublesome either in applying anti-corruption zeal among the ruling party ranks in the beginning so that public and international trust could be regained.
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
May 29, 2004