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PADMA BRIDGE PROJECT
HC for identifying conspirators
Special Correspondent
 
The High Court on Wednesday asked the government to explain in two weeks why it would not be directed to constitute a commission to find out people behind the ‘conspiracy against the government making false story of corruption’ in Padma bridge project. 
In the ruling issued suo moto, the bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice Mohammad Ullah also asked the government to explain why the conspirators would not be brought to justice after the investigation into the matter by the commission.
The secretary to cabinet division and secretaries of the ministries of home, law and communication, the inspector general of police and the Anti-Corruption Commission chairman were asked to reply to the ruling.
The bench asked the cabinet secretary to submit a report on compliance of ruling to the court in 30 days.
It set March 20 for passing further order in the matter.
The bench passed the order suo moto taking cognisance of a report carried by Bangla daily Inqilab on February 14 under caption ‘Yunuser bichar dabi’ (Trial of Yunus demanded).
The court order came after law minister Anisul Huq at a meet the press programme on Tuesday said that the government cannot prosecute the World Bank as per an agreement with the multilateral lending agency but ‘this does not mean that aggrieved persons will not be able to lodge case. I think that they should consult lawyers.’
Earlier on Monday, the prime minister while presiding cabinet meeting alleged that Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was behind the conspiracy to stop the World Bank fund for Padma bridge project in a bid to malign her government. 
She told the cabinet that a quarter was active to link her family members to the allegations of corruption conspiracy in the project, but failed to prove it as a Canadian court on February 11 cleared the government of the allegations.
The High Court said that charges of corruption conspiracy in awarding Padma Bridge construction work was brought against some high officers of the government including a minister.
The World Bank and other lending agencies had withdrawn funding in the project that caused serious detrimental effect to the project and tarnished the image of the government and the nation, the court said. 
It said that no such allegation was proved in the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission and other investigating agencies.
The minister concerned had, however, to resign and the secretary concerned suffered seriously as he was arrested on corruption charge.
The Canadian court also brought corruption charges against a former SNC Lavalin’s executive and his subordinates who had secured a construction contract for the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project.
After the completion of trial, the Canadian court found the three not guilty of the accusation and termed it baseless and fabricated. 
‘The whole episode of corruption is created by a quarter to jeopardise the nation’ and people involved in the conspiracy against the government and the national needed to be identified and brought to justice, the High Court order said.
The alleged bribery scheme related to the $2.9-billion Padma bridge project. As part of that project, the government was looking to award a $50-million construction supervision contract.
SNC-Lavalin was one of the five companies shortlisted for the supervision contract. After the company was ranked second in the bidding process, an investigator with the World Bank’s integrity unit approached the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2011 concerning allegations that had come to their attention regarding possible corruption involving SNC-Lavalin and the Padma Bridge project.
The World Bank was a primary lender to the project. In 2012, the bank finally cancelled its $1.2 billion credit programme to the project citing ‘conspiracy of corruption’ in the tender. 
Other lenders like Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency also suspended loans to the same project. 
 
14-party demand  compensation from WB
Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance on Wednesday demanded the World Bank pay US$ one billion in compensation for delaying the start of the construction of the Padma Bridge bringing graft allegation.
Mohammad Nasim, spokesperson of the 14-party alliance, made the demand at a meeting at Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s political office at Dhanmondi in Dhaka, reports BSS.
Nasim, also an Awami League presidium member, said the country has been affected badly financially due to false allegation involving the Padma Bridge funding made by the World Bank and demanded the Bank pay US$ one billon in compensation for the loss incurred due to several years’ delay in starting the project.
Besides, Nasim demanded the Speaker call Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus and others involved in the conspiracy to stop funding the Padma Bridge project to parliamentary standing committee to explain their position.
Mohammad Nasim alleged that Muhammad Yunus took steps to influence the World Bank to stop financing the Padma Bridge.
Nasim warned that those involved in anti-state activities and falsehood campaign against the country would not be spared.
Awami League joint secretary Mahbub ul Alam Hanif, organising secretaries Ahmed Hossain and Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, office secretary Dr Abdus Sobhan Golap, workers party general secretary Fazle Hossain Badsha, Shamyabadi Dal general secretary Dilip Barua, Jatiya party secretary general Sheikh Shahidul Islam and Awami League information and research secretary Afzal Hossain were present at the meeting.

Comment

Special Correspondent
 
The High Court on Wednesday asked the government to explain in two weeks why it would not be directed to constitute a commission to find out people behind the ‘conspiracy against the government making false story of corruption’ in Padma bridge project. 
In the ruling issued suo moto, the bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice Mohammad Ullah also asked the government to explain why the conspirators would not be brought to justice after the investigation into the matter by the commission.
The secretary to cabinet division and secretaries of the ministries of home, law and communication, the inspector general of police and the Anti-Corruption Commission chairman were asked to reply to the ruling.
The bench asked the cabinet secretary to submit a report on compliance of ruling to the court in 30 days.
It set March 20 for passing further order in the matter.
The bench passed the order suo moto taking cognisance of a report carried by Bangla daily Inqilab on February 14 under caption ‘Yunuser bichar dabi’ (Trial of Yunus demanded).
The court order came after law minister Anisul Huq at a meet the press programme on Tuesday said that the government cannot prosecute the World Bank as per an agreement with the multilateral lending agency but ‘this does not mean that aggrieved persons will not be able to lodge case. I think that they should consult lawyers.’
Earlier on Monday, the prime minister while presiding cabinet meeting alleged that Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was behind the conspiracy to stop the World Bank fund for Padma bridge project in a bid to malign her government. 
She told the cabinet that a quarter was active to link her family members to the allegations of corruption conspiracy in the project, but failed to prove it as a Canadian court on February 11 cleared the government of the allegations.
The High Court said that charges of corruption conspiracy in awarding Padma Bridge construction work was brought against some high officers of the government including a minister.
The World Bank and other lending agencies had withdrawn funding in the project that caused serious detrimental effect to the project and tarnished the image of the government and the nation, the court said. 
It said that no such allegation was proved in the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission and other investigating agencies.
The minister concerned had, however, to resign and the secretary concerned suffered seriously as he was arrested on corruption charge.
The Canadian court also brought corruption charges against a former SNC Lavalin’s executive and his subordinates who had secured a construction contract for the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project.
After the completion of trial, the Canadian court found the three not guilty of the accusation and termed it baseless and fabricated. 
‘The whole episode of corruption is created by a quarter to jeopardise the nation’ and people involved in the conspiracy against the government and the national needed to be identified and brought to justice, the High Court order said.
The alleged bribery scheme related to the $2.9-billion Padma bridge project. As part of that project, the government was looking to award a $50-million construction supervision contract.
SNC-Lavalin was one of the five companies shortlisted for the supervision contract. After the company was ranked second in the bidding process, an investigator with the World Bank’s integrity unit approached the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2011 concerning allegations that had come to their attention regarding possible corruption involving SNC-Lavalin and the Padma Bridge project.
The World Bank was a primary lender to the project. In 2012, the bank finally cancelled its $1.2 billion credit programme to the project citing ‘conspiracy of corruption’ in the tender. 
Other lenders like Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency also suspended loans to the same project. 
 
14-party demand  compensation from WB
Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance on Wednesday demanded the World Bank pay US$ one billion in compensation for delaying the start of the construction of the Padma Bridge bringing graft allegation.
Mohammad Nasim, spokesperson of the 14-party alliance, made the demand at a meeting at Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s political office at Dhanmondi in Dhaka, reports BSS.
Nasim, also an Awami League presidium member, said the country has been affected badly financially due to false allegation involving the Padma Bridge funding made by the World Bank and demanded the Bank pay US$ one billon in compensation for the loss incurred due to several years’ delay in starting the project.
Besides, Nasim demanded the Speaker call Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus and others involved in the conspiracy to stop funding the Padma Bridge project to parliamentary standing committee to explain their position.
Mohammad Nasim alleged that Muhammad Yunus took steps to influence the World Bank to stop financing the Padma Bridge.
Nasim warned that those involved in anti-state activities and falsehood campaign against the country would not be spared.
Awami League joint secretary Mahbub ul Alam Hanif, organising secretaries Ahmed Hossain and Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, office secretary Dr Abdus Sobhan Golap, workers party general secretary Fazle Hossain Badsha, Shamyabadi Dal general secretary Dilip Barua, Jatiya party secretary general Sheikh Shahidul Islam and Awami League information and research secretary Afzal Hossain were present at the meeting.

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HRW protests arbitrary arrest of garments workers

Special Correspondent
 
New York-based rights organisation Human Rights Watch has said dozens of garment workers and labour leaders are facing unfair or apparently fabricated criminal cases in Bangladesh after wage strikes in December 2016. 
The rights watchdog, in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, said arbitrary arrests by the police are growing with each passing day – nine more union organisers were arrested on February 10, taking the number of known arrests to 34.
‘The Bangladesh authorities should immediately release those still in detention and drop all politically motivated charges,’ the statement said.
‘Global brands and donors attending the February 25, 2017 Dhaka Apparel Summit hosted by the country’s garment export association should call on the government to stop all persecution of union leaders and protect workers’ freedom of association.’
‘Targeting labour activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 
 ‘Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labour rights activists.’
The statement said thousands of garment workers outside Dhaka, participated in wage strikes between December 11 and 19. They came from an estimated 20 factories that supply global brands based in the Ashulia industrial area. 
According to information by local groups and official information, the vast majority were from factories that had no unions, it said. 
‘The national union federations deny they had any role in or prior knowledge about these strikes. But the Bangladesh authorities used these strikes as a justification to arrest national union federation leaders and labour activists for ‘leading’ and ‘planning’ the strikes.’
‘Workers say that strikes are often the only means for them to raise their grievances, in part because the government and local employers retaliate against union organisers and workers trying to organise. As a result, workers are unable to bargain collectively with employers and use formal channels for addressing grievances.’
The statement said the workers coalesced behind a demand for a monthly minimum wage increase from Tk 5,300 (US$67) to Tk 15,000 ($187) or 16,000 ($200). In 2016, the Fair Labour Association found that the purchasing power of a Bangladesh factory worker’s average compensation was below the World Bank poverty line. Both the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Export Association and the government rejected a wage review. The export association closed about 60 Ashulia factories for several days, effectively locking out thousands of workers and ending the strikes.
‘In early January 2017, about 20 global brands sourcing from Bangladesh, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A, Next, and Primark, wrote to prime minister Sheikh Hasina supporting a wage review and expressing their concerns that union leaders and worker advocates were targeted.’
Rights groups have information about 10 criminal complaints filed in December 2016, implicating about 150 named workers and over 1,600 ‘unknown’ people for crimes, including property destruction at the factories, during the strikes, the statement continued. 
‘Union leaders and organisers have also now been questioned or arrested in relation to older cases. These groups are aware of 34 people who were arrested, most of them union leaders. In addition, a journalist from the ETV, a local news channel, was arrested for reporting about the strikes. A news report from early January suggests the numbers are higher, stating the police had arrested at least 44 people and were identifying another 159 suspects. The police have not provided a full list of all those arrested and where they are being held.’
The Bangladesh authorities should stop pressing these criminal cases and hold any police officers who used forced disappearances, torture, death threats, and other abusive police practices after the Ashulia strikes accountable, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch said donors and brands sourcing from Bangladesh have the responsibility to respect and protect workers’ rights. 
‘They should call for an end to all harassment of labour leaders, workers, and journalists, including by ending the false criminal cases.’
‘Brands sourcing from Bangladesh should make binding agreements with local and global unions to protect freedom of association, modeled on the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an enforceable agreement between workers and brands with a dispute resolution mechanism. Voluntary commitments in brands’ codes of conduct are ineffective to counter factory retaliation against unions,’ the statement said.
‘In the interim, brands should ensure their suppliers develop corrective action plans with worker representatives, including the option of reinstating fired workers and negotiating collective bargaining agreements to resolve wage disputes.’ 

Comment

Special Correspondent
 
New York-based rights organisation Human Rights Watch has said dozens of garment workers and labour leaders are facing unfair or apparently fabricated criminal cases in Bangladesh after wage strikes in December 2016. 
The rights watchdog, in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, said arbitrary arrests by the police are growing with each passing day – nine more union organisers were arrested on February 10, taking the number of known arrests to 34.
‘The Bangladesh authorities should immediately release those still in detention and drop all politically motivated charges,’ the statement said.
‘Global brands and donors attending the February 25, 2017 Dhaka Apparel Summit hosted by the country’s garment export association should call on the government to stop all persecution of union leaders and protect workers’ freedom of association.’
‘Targeting labour activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 
 ‘Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labour rights activists.’
The statement said thousands of garment workers outside Dhaka, participated in wage strikes between December 11 and 19. They came from an estimated 20 factories that supply global brands based in the Ashulia industrial area. 
According to information by local groups and official information, the vast majority were from factories that had no unions, it said. 
‘The national union federations deny they had any role in or prior knowledge about these strikes. But the Bangladesh authorities used these strikes as a justification to arrest national union federation leaders and labour activists for ‘leading’ and ‘planning’ the strikes.’
‘Workers say that strikes are often the only means for them to raise their grievances, in part because the government and local employers retaliate against union organisers and workers trying to organise. As a result, workers are unable to bargain collectively with employers and use formal channels for addressing grievances.’
The statement said the workers coalesced behind a demand for a monthly minimum wage increase from Tk 5,300 (US$67) to Tk 15,000 ($187) or 16,000 ($200). In 2016, the Fair Labour Association found that the purchasing power of a Bangladesh factory worker’s average compensation was below the World Bank poverty line. Both the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Export Association and the government rejected a wage review. The export association closed about 60 Ashulia factories for several days, effectively locking out thousands of workers and ending the strikes.
‘In early January 2017, about 20 global brands sourcing from Bangladesh, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A, Next, and Primark, wrote to prime minister Sheikh Hasina supporting a wage review and expressing their concerns that union leaders and worker advocates were targeted.’
Rights groups have information about 10 criminal complaints filed in December 2016, implicating about 150 named workers and over 1,600 ‘unknown’ people for crimes, including property destruction at the factories, during the strikes, the statement continued. 
‘Union leaders and organisers have also now been questioned or arrested in relation to older cases. These groups are aware of 34 people who were arrested, most of them union leaders. In addition, a journalist from the ETV, a local news channel, was arrested for reporting about the strikes. A news report from early January suggests the numbers are higher, stating the police had arrested at least 44 people and were identifying another 159 suspects. The police have not provided a full list of all those arrested and where they are being held.’
The Bangladesh authorities should stop pressing these criminal cases and hold any police officers who used forced disappearances, torture, death threats, and other abusive police practices after the Ashulia strikes accountable, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch said donors and brands sourcing from Bangladesh have the responsibility to respect and protect workers’ rights. 
‘They should call for an end to all harassment of labour leaders, workers, and journalists, including by ending the false criminal cases.’
‘Brands sourcing from Bangladesh should make binding agreements with local and global unions to protect freedom of association, modeled on the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an enforceable agreement between workers and brands with a dispute resolution mechanism. Voluntary commitments in brands’ codes of conduct are ineffective to counter factory retaliation against unions,’ the statement said.
‘In the interim, brands should ensure their suppliers develop corrective action plans with worker representatives, including the option of reinstating fired workers and negotiating collective bargaining agreements to resolve wage disputes.’ 

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HC enquires about rehabilitatation of evicted Santals

Special Correspondent
 
HC has enquired about steps to rehabilitate Gobindaganj’s evicted Santals.
The court also asked why the government should not be ordered to rehabilitate the Santals evicted from Sugar mill area in Gobindaganj. 
The High Court has asked the Gaibandha deputy commissioner and the Gobindaganj UNO to inform it about initiatives taken so far to rehabilitate the Santals evicted from their ancestral land at Shahebganj in November. The DC and the UNO will have to file a report within 30 days.
In a suo moto rule on Wednesday, the bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Haque and Justice Mohammad Ullah asked why the government should not be ordered to rehabilitate the Santals.
The land secretary, Gaibandha DC, Gobindaganj OC, among others, have been ordered to respond to the ruling.
At least three Santal men died and many more were injured during a November 6 clash that erupted as Gobindaganj upazila administration attempted to evict around 600 Santals. Several policemen were also seen setting fire to Santal homes. On December 14, the High Court directed Gaibandha’s chief judicial magistrate to investigate police involvement in the incident.
The court on February 7 ordered the withdrawal of Gaibandha police chief Md Ashraful Islam and all policemen present during the arson. Nearly 2,000 Santals had taken shelter adjacent to the Madarpur and Joypur villages. Quite a few of them have left but many others have chosen to stay in the hope of getting their ancestral land back someday.

Comment

Special Correspondent
 
HC has enquired about steps to rehabilitate Gobindaganj’s evicted Santals.
The court also asked why the government should not be ordered to rehabilitate the Santals evicted from Sugar mill area in Gobindaganj. 
The High Court has asked the Gaibandha deputy commissioner and the Gobindaganj UNO to inform it about initiatives taken so far to rehabilitate the Santals evicted from their ancestral land at Shahebganj in November. The DC and the UNO will have to file a report within 30 days.
In a suo moto rule on Wednesday, the bench of Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Haque and Justice Mohammad Ullah asked why the government should not be ordered to rehabilitate the Santals.
The land secretary, Gaibandha DC, Gobindaganj OC, among others, have been ordered to respond to the ruling.
At least three Santal men died and many more were injured during a November 6 clash that erupted as Gobindaganj upazila administration attempted to evict around 600 Santals. Several policemen were also seen setting fire to Santal homes. On December 14, the High Court directed Gaibandha’s chief judicial magistrate to investigate police involvement in the incident.
The court on February 7 ordered the withdrawal of Gaibandha police chief Md Ashraful Islam and all policemen present during the arson. Nearly 2,000 Santals had taken shelter adjacent to the Madarpur and Joypur villages. Quite a few of them have left but many others have chosen to stay in the hope of getting their ancestral land back someday.

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CEC optimistic about all-party support
Special Correspondent
 
After taking oath as the 12th chief election commissioner of Bangladesh, KM Nurul Huda has exhumed optimism about gaining the confidence of all the political parties by working impartially.
Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha administered the swearing-in of Huda and the four other election commissioners at the Supreme Court Judges’ Lounge on Wednesday.
The four new election commissioners are former secretary Rafiqul Islam, former additional secretary Mahbub Talukder, former district and sessions judge Kabita Khanam and former brigadier general Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has congratulated the new EC.
But the BNP, the chief opposition outside Parliament, has questioned the new CEC’s impartiality citing his involvement in 1996 Janatar Manch movement - an allegation Huda denies.
After the oath-taking ceremony, Huda, a former secretary, and his new colleagues went to the newly built EC headquarters Nirbachan Bhaban at Agargaon.
EC Secretary Muhammad Abdullah greeted them in office.
Later, speaking at a press conference on the lawn of the new building, the new CEC said, “We have taken the oath to discharge constitutional duties. We will be firm and uncompromising in doing so, going by the Constitution and the laws and rules outlined in it.”
On being asked, he said, “There is no scope for the government to influence constitutional jobs. We will do the constitutional duties impartially; So, we will not be influenced by anyone.”
Nurul Huda sought support and cooperation of the government, all the political parties and the media in discharging the duties.
“We are pledge-bound to do these functions with the experienced and sincere election commissioners,” he said.
This EC will start with some local government elections, but its primary task will be to organise the next parliamentary election by early 2019.
Political analysts see the 2019 elections as the biggest challenge for the new EC after the boycott of the 2014 election by the BNP, which is sceptical about the new CEC’s impartiality.
Mentioning the two main political parties, Huda said, “We will work to gain the confidence of all the political parties, including the Awami League and the BNP. I believe we will be able to do this through our work.”
Asked about the BNP’s allegation that he had links to the Awami League, Huda said, “I don’t have connections in any party. I was not involved in the election campaign of any party.”
He also vowed firmness to stop ‘unwarranted influence’ of the administration and law-enforcing agencies during elections.
The new election commissioners are scheduled to hit the ground after paying tribute to the Liberation War martyrs at the National Memorial in Savar on Thursday.
“Our first job is to identify and understand the problems and make a plan to resolve those through discussion,” the new CEC said.

Comment

Special Correspondent
 
After taking oath as the 12th chief election commissioner of Bangladesh, KM Nurul Huda has exhumed optimism about gaining the confidence of all the political parties by working impartially.
Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha administered the swearing-in of Huda and the four other election commissioners at the Supreme Court Judges’ Lounge on Wednesday.
The four new election commissioners are former secretary Rafiqul Islam, former additional secretary Mahbub Talukder, former district and sessions judge Kabita Khanam and former brigadier general Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has congratulated the new EC.
But the BNP, the chief opposition outside Parliament, has questioned the new CEC’s impartiality citing his involvement in 1996 Janatar Manch movement - an allegation Huda denies.
After the oath-taking ceremony, Huda, a former secretary, and his new colleagues went to the newly built EC headquarters Nirbachan Bhaban at Agargaon.
EC Secretary Muhammad Abdullah greeted them in office.
Later, speaking at a press conference on the lawn of the new building, the new CEC said, “We have taken the oath to discharge constitutional duties. We will be firm and uncompromising in doing so, going by the Constitution and the laws and rules outlined in it.”
On being asked, he said, “There is no scope for the government to influence constitutional jobs. We will do the constitutional duties impartially; So, we will not be influenced by anyone.”
Nurul Huda sought support and cooperation of the government, all the political parties and the media in discharging the duties.
“We are pledge-bound to do these functions with the experienced and sincere election commissioners,” he said.
This EC will start with some local government elections, but its primary task will be to organise the next parliamentary election by early 2019.
Political analysts see the 2019 elections as the biggest challenge for the new EC after the boycott of the 2014 election by the BNP, which is sceptical about the new CEC’s impartiality.
Mentioning the two main political parties, Huda said, “We will work to gain the confidence of all the political parties, including the Awami League and the BNP. I believe we will be able to do this through our work.”
Asked about the BNP’s allegation that he had links to the Awami League, Huda said, “I don’t have connections in any party. I was not involved in the election campaign of any party.”
He also vowed firmness to stop ‘unwarranted influence’ of the administration and law-enforcing agencies during elections.
The new election commissioners are scheduled to hit the ground after paying tribute to the Liberation War martyrs at the National Memorial in Savar on Thursday.
“Our first job is to identify and understand the problems and make a plan to resolve those through discussion,” the new CEC said.

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