Politicians, economist and rights defenders on Saturday slated the government for failing to ensure food security for people, and unanimously called for an immediate dialogue among government, political parties and experts to resolve the present food crisis.
Citing the statements of Regularity Reform Commission chairman Akbar Ali Khan and food adviser AMM Shawkat Ali, the panellists at the BBC-sponsored Bangladesh Sanglap said whatever euphemism was used for food crisis, the reality was that the people were feeling the pinch and the lone duty now was to shield them from soaring food prices.
Awami League presidium member Abdur Razzak said reality showed that people were not getting food as prices spiralled beyond their capacity, though there seemed to have no problem in supply.
BNP leader ASM Hannan Shah said there remained no scope to downplay the severity of the situation by branding it with attractive words. ‘People are getting no food… prices have gone out of their buying capacity and reports of death from starvation are also coming. If this is not famine, then what is it?’ he questioned.
‘Should we wait for large-scale deaths to confirm it as famine, or immediately ensure food for people?’ said Hannan Shah, adviser to the BNP chairperson.
Rights defender and former adviser to caretaker government Sultana Kamal saw ‘defensive attitude’ in the statements of the government leaders. ‘It should not be done. They could invite stakeholders to find out ways to resolve the crisis.’
She also found serious lack in preparation, planning and initiatives on the government’s part to face the crisis.
Hannan Shah and Abdur Razzak echoed her saying the political parties much earlier alerted the government to such a situation and suggested building a safe stock of food grains.
KAS Murshid, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said phasing out of the food rations at the lending agencies’ suggestion also hampered proper distribution of food items and destroyed the government’s institutional mechanism to shield cross-section of people from price hikes.
‘We are talking much when the fire has already broken out. It is the time to douse the fire and the government should concentrate on that,’ he said.
Most of the panellists agreed that foreign assistance could be sought in terms of food to tackle the situation.
But Murshid opposed the idea saying, ‘If we want to face the present situation seeking foreign assistance, it will bring no good as food aid, even if granted now, will take four to six months to reach the country.’
Foreign food aid could help at best future food security and it would not meet the immediate need of the people, he pointed out.
On the proposed dialogue between government and political parties, the politicians at the programme said it would not be fruitful in absence of two top leaders, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, both in jail now.
Sultana Kamal agreed on this point, but reminded the politicians of their history of mudslinging.
Each of the panellists categorically rejected the need for formation of a ‘truth commission’ to curb corruption. They said the proposed move was simply aimed at giving few business people a safe exit from trial that landed many senior politicians in jail with graft charges.
Abdur Razzak and Sultana Kamal said a South African-style truth commission could be formed to deal with offences like human rights violation and war crimes.