General Moeen U Ahmed with Editors, Photo: Banglar Chokh
Two days after his term as army chief was extended by another year, General Moeen U Ahmed on Tuesday asserted that the army would not follow the examples of military takeover in neighbouring countries.
The army chief made his stand clear once again as he sat over lunch with the country’s leading editors at the army headquarters to give an account of his and the army’s role in national life.
On the army’s role in running the affairs of the state, he said, ‘We are subservient to the government and we shall not take any steps so that (the society) becomes militarised.’
One editor said the real power lay with the army chief, which prompted him to assert: ‘Let me assure you that we are not having power.’
‘We will neither follow Pakistan or other neighbours, nor our predecessors,’ Gen Moeen said in reference to military coups in Thailand and Pakistan and previous ‘takeovers’ in Bangladesh.
The general touched upon topics ranging from the upcoming polls to failed attempts to rein in prices.
Gen Moeen blamed ‘the hoarding tendency of importers, buyers and sellers’, as well as last year’s floods, cyclone Sidr and the global economy for spiralling prices.
He spoke of the role of the armed forces in tackling the food crisis, saying they had helped farm an extra 342,993 acres yielding an extra 22 lakh tonnes of rice for the upcoming boro harvest.
The army chief stressed the need for the nation to consume potatoes alongside rice to alleviate the food crisis.
‘Bhater pashe aloo protidin (potatoes alongside rice every day)’ is the slogan the army chief has been spreading throughout the army.
Also at lunch with the editors, the menu was dominated by seven items of potato.
Answering a query on speculation over the polls uncertainty, Gen Moeen said, ‘Please wait until December 31. Why won’t there be elections by December 31?’
‘This is the cut-off time and we must not miss the date,’ he said.
The government and the Election Commission pledged the national polls by the year-end, but many political leaders doubted it.
The army chief dispelled the doubt and said, ‘The roadmap is there and I don’t see any deviation (from it).’ But he pointed to some ‘minor problems’, which are seemingly slowing the process.
Gen Moeen referred to the EC, political parties, the government and people as the key players of elections.
Referring to a 1996 circular, Gen Moeen touched upon a 23-member Security Council, designed to ensure national security and accountability of the government.
The NSC, never made effective, was led by the then prime minister to make decisions on defence affairs.
A circular issued at the time by the Cabinet Division said the council had also been given responsibilities to deal with all internal problems tied to security.
The NSC had also been empowered to make decisions or direct the authorities concerned to take actions and make recommendations to the cabinet, if necessary.
Gen Moeen spoke on his recent visit to India in reply to a query by one of the editors and said, ‘I have invitations (from China and Pakistan) too.’
He hoped that the next elected government would pursue the changes made through various reforms by the present caretaker government, reports UNB.
Asked about lifting the state of emergency, he said the army had nothing to do in this matter – the government would take the decision.
About political dialogue, Gen Moeen said this was, again, an affair between the government and political parties.
Terming the media as parliament in the absence of an elected parliament, the army chief said the government, different agencies and even the army were taking many actions on positive reports in the media. ‘We are not media-shy rather we want to be media- friendly.’
Citing an example of a report on the hanging order for a freedom fighter in Comilla, he said the army immediately took the initiative and approached the president who cancelled the death sentence.
The army chief made a 5-point appeal to the press to help bring down prices of essentials, hold credible elections, encourage people to diversify their food habit, improve the rule of law and security and highlight rural news.
During the two-and-half-an-hour-long meeting, the army chief also narrated achievements so far made by the armed forces in various sectors.
The army chief, whose force is acting in a countrywide anti-corruption drive under the National Coordination Council, said the council identified 222 corrupt persons so far. Of them, 81 were arrested and trial of 50 completed in lower courts. They can go to higher court.
He said 31,619 acres of land grabbed by ruling-party musclemen and thugs were recovered by the army and handed over to government. These lands should be distributed among landless people to be used for welfare activities, or else, the government lands might again be grabbed.
Gen Moeen said the army recovered Tk 8,372 crore as unpaid bills of utility services, like electricity. ‘Those who can afford to pay bills evaded it,’ he said. ‘Even,’ he told the editors, ‘it was found that some rich people hired experts from abroad for meter tampering to evade paying to government the due electricity bill.’
He further apprised the media that Tk 1,220 crore was recovered from home and abroad and most of the siphoned-off money already deposited with Bangladesh Bank.
The army chief said the taskforce in operation in the interim period made investigation into 13 institutions to dig out institutional corruption. Citing an example from RAJUK, he said the taskforce found 49 per cent of plot-allotment documents missing. The government, he said, is taking action on taskforce report.
In Titas gas corporation, he said, corrupt persons confessed to having committed corruption in minting Tk 1,900 crore which he said was one-third of the total corruption which would come to about Tk 50,000 crore. Considering overall corruption in Titas only, he said, it would account for two-and-a-half-year’s national budget of Bangladesh.
General Moeen said the army sped up loading and unloading at Chittagong seaport which was in a very bad shape before the state of emergency. Earlier, it used to take 13 days for a ship to unload, load and for outer anchorage. But, after the army intervention, it took only three days to complete the task, resulting in reduction of 30 per cent expenses and improvement of efficiency by 40 per cent.
The army chief said now 38 containers were being handled per hour, which is better than Singapore port that handles 40 containers per hour. This has been possible only through improving the management and maintenance.
He said manpower export increased 76 per cent last year compared to 2006.
‘We believe we have enough resources,’ General Moeen said, and if the human resources were developed through proper training, the situation in Bangladesh would improve a lot.
The general was flanked by Major General Sina Ibn Jamali, chief of the general staff, and Major General Golam Mohammad, head of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, when he spoke to the editors.
The journalists who attended the lunch meeting include Daily Independent editor Mahbubul Alam, Ittefaq editor Rahat Khan, Amar Desh’s acting editor Ataus Samad, Samakal editor Abed Khan, Prothom Alo editor Motiur Rahman, New Nation editor Mostafa Kamal Majumder, Bangladesh Observer editor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Financial Express editor Moazzem Hossain, News Today editor Reazuddin Ahmed, UNB chief editor Enayetullah Khan, Manav Zamin editor Motiur Rahman Chowdhury, BTV director general Kamal Uddin, head of news of Channel i Shykh Siraj, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com Toufique Imrose Khalidi, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamol Dutt, Naya Diganta editor Alamgir Mohiuddin, ATN Bangla adviser Saiful Bari and its chief of news Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul and Channel i head of news Nazmul Ashraf.