Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on her five-day tour in London last week attended a number of meetings with the UK government and opposition party leaders, and gatherings of journalists and local Awami League members. Apart from attending the Olympic 2012 Games and a dinner by the Queen Elizabeth II, the Bangladeshi prime minister also gave at least three interviews, as reported so far. She earlier visited the UK in early 2011.
The interviews were taken by Al Jazeera television channel, Sunday Express newspaper, and BBC World and BBC Bangla. In the first two interviews, she spoke about the recent Rohingya asylum issue denied by her government despite repeated requests from different quarters, and defended her stance. With the BBC, Hasina was asked about the Padma bridge corruption, next elections and Muhammad Yunus issues.
She, however, was not heard to have spoken anything either about Tarique Rahman, living in the UK capital following a High Court bail, and war crimes suspect Moinuddin with the political leaders, the UK government or the local leaders and journalists. And, unfortunately, to be precise, the culture of blame game and denial has retained.
The interviews with the first two did not bring anything new for the readers in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world as Hasina cited the reasons what her foreign minister had been saying since June when the infiltration of Rohingya Muslims increased following a sectarian clash in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Hasina cited overpopulation in Bangladesh as a major reason while Dipu Moni has added that the Rohingyas in Bangladesh were involved in criminal activities and destroying the environment. Hasina also expressed her concern over Jamaat-e-Islami’s link in criminal activities with the help of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, which was revealed by the foreign minister in parliament in June. Both of them quoted Myanmar officials as telling the Bangladeshi embassy officials about the Jamaat link, while Hasina added another source—local intelligence reports. None of them had said whether the government had taken any steps to identify and defuse the criminal rings.
As usual, because of the vulnerability of the issues, the interviews with the BBC attracted many as the Bangladesh prime minister spoke blatantly on the sensitive issues and denied outright all allegations of corruption by her party in the last three and a half years. She has said what she wanted to say. The interviewers – in case of Al Jazeera and BBC – questioned straight but failed to dump her. Moreover, Hasina was seen to have questioned in return several times – an attitude applauded by many as seen in media and social networking sites. Many people have been seen to have reacted harsh against Hasina for her denying corruption allegations in her term, especially Padma bridge and especially when she defended former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain, certifying him as a patriot.
Her claims, however, contradicts the recent statements of the chairman of Anti-Corruption Commission and the finance minister. Hasina has always been denying corruption charges and claiming that her government has made success in many areas during her term. Ands had there been corruption, she asked, how would the GDP stay over 6 and people’s per capita income increased? Anyway, statistics has many complications and can not give a reliable picture of the real scenario; and it can be manipulated.
As the BBC interviewer asked Hasina bout the WB’s allegations of corruption and her government’s not taking satisfactory actions against those accused, she said the WB couldn’t place any substantial proof of corruption; she refused the claims, boldly. Asked why Syed Abul Hossain had resigned, Hasina justified by saying that he did it as many people were started accusing him [though since long, the resignation came on July 23]. “He has done a brave thing. Had he been involved in this corruption, perhaps he would not have resigned,” [a peculiar elaboration] made by Hasina. She cited an embargo from her government side in publishing the WB letter, which reportedly has the named of the persons involved in the alleged corruption. Muhith in early July had said that the government would not publish those as a respect to the global lender. The WB also says they can’t do that since they have an official obligation. Hasina smartly questioned why the WB had denied to provide Bangladesh the source of information that had. She said the WB letter was merely any substantiate document to take action against top officials. So far reported in media, the letter has names of the just-resigned minister, officials of the communications ministry, and most crucially, the name of an advisor to the prime minister—who has since the fund’s suspension refrained from saying anything on this issue.
The prime minister who along with her party men has been aggressive against the 2006 Nobel Peace laureate since the previous caretaker government in reply to a question denied to have termed Yunus a “bloodsucker of the poor”. She asked the interviewer why he guessed it was Yunus even though she mentioned no name in her speech last year. Yunus has a book named Banker of the Poor. Well, it was a childish trickery, since Hasina at the very moment questioned the role of Nobel wining Grameen Bank in charging interest 30-45 percent. She also wondered why Yunus could not be successful in forming a political party after the 1/1 changeover, though “he was such a big man”. She also denied the allegation that her government had forced Yunus out of his role out of revenge, but he “stepped down himself”. Bullying the bank’s role in eliminating poverty, she claimed that it was her government which reduced the poverty rate by 10 percent during the present tenure. The prime minister has recently alleged that Yunus was behind the WB’s cancelling the Padma bridge funding in June 30.
Grameen Bank later in a statement said it charges 20 percent interest at the most in any sector, which is 7 percent lower than the government-fixed maximum rate for micro credit organisations. The bank said it charges the lowest interest rate in Bangladesh, adding that it has five different types of interest rates for its five loan programmes.
Surprisingly enough, refusing to restore the annulled caretaker government system, Hasina in her interview with the BBC Bangla proposed that the main opposition BNP – which says it will not attend the next general elections under a party government – may join the proposed interim government to hold the 2014 polls fair. And for that, she said the BNP should bring a proposal in parliament. Hasina did not say anything like this in the past months, specifically after her government amended the constitution in June last year. The BNP chief, Khaleda Zia, refuted Hasina’s proposal within days, and affirmed that her previous stance. Khaleda also declared vigorous movement after the Eid to save people from its misrule. “The government has no option but to quit.”
Well, regarding a very uncommon question on who will be the next party chief, Hasina gave no direct answer, but said, “Awami league believes in democracy, everyone in the party accepts the decision that Awami League takes”.
The game is still on, since the WB is yet to specify its course of action on the prime minister’s claims and Yunus to justify his stance regarding the Padma bridge funding and the Grameen Bank. Another unfortunate thing, to be mentioned, is that no local journalist could manage an interview of the prime minister in the last three and a half years, either one-to-one or at a public show.