Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bangladesh police breaks energy activist’s demos

Saleem Samad

Police in riot gears in the capital Dhaka broke up a demonstration by energy activists on Thursday midday demanding postponement of contracts with foreign companies for power generation and coal exploration.

Police charged batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the demonstrators who tried to lay siege to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resource to press for termination of Phulbari Coal Project contract with GCM Resources, a London-based resource exploration and development company.

Activists’ spokesperson Prof. Anu Mohammad said at least 35 people of the network National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports were injured as police clubbed the activists marching towards the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources.

Among the injured includes Engr. Sheikh Mohammad Shahidullah and Prof. Rehnuma Khanam of the committee.

Earlier, police barricaded the entrance with barbed wire fences to hold back the angry activists.

The energy activist's network of leftists, professional and civil society members after holding a rally in front of National Press Club at the city centre marched towards the Bangladesh Secretariat, where most of the ministries are housed.

Spontaneously the network announced that it would observe countrywide rallies on Jan. 2 in protest of Thursday’s police action.

Bangladesh is in the midst of a severe and worsening energy crisis. Less than half of the country’s 150 million people have access to electricity and those that do have access suffer from frequent power cuts.

Lack of available power is a barrier to the development of industry and also impedes agricultural production.

Presently the country’s power generation is based on natural gas. Therefore coal fired power stations proposed by India could reduce the power shortage significantly.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, December 23, 2011

South Asian plagued by corruption of police, politicians, public officials

SALEEM SAMAD

THE SOUTH Asian regularly have to pay bribes daily when dealing with their public institutions, whether to speed up paperwork, avoid harassment with the police, or access basic services.

International watchdog Transparency International on Thursday stated that police was perceived to be the most corrupt institution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the second most corrupt institution in India.

Public perceptions of corruption released by Berlin based global corruption watchdog across all six of the South Asian countries– Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – found corruption levels to be highest in political parties and the police, followed closely by the parliament and public officials.

In Bangladesh the most common reason for giving bribe to police was to receive a service and also to avoid problems with the authorities.

However, government leaders were named as the most trusted to fight corruption in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the media was the most trusted institution in India and Nepal.

The Transparency International study between 2010 and 2011 more than 7500 people were interviewed in six South Asian countries on their views of corruption levels in their countries and also to determine their governments’ efforts to fight corruption.

These results demonstrate an important difference in how corruption is perceived in the countries of South Asia. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, people were most likely to pay bribes to the police.

Surprisingly the religious bodies were perceived to be the least corrupt institution, the study said.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bangladesh, Russia's Gazprom to drill onshore gas wells

SALEEM SAMAD

ENERGY STARVED Bangladesh has jointly decided on a plan with Gazprom to prepare gas sector strategic master plan for exploration, installation of gas compressors and expanding gas distribution network.

Bangladesh on Wednesday approved a plan by Gazprom, the Russain based world biggest producer and exporter of natural gas to drill 10 onshore wells in the country, state energy exploration agency Petrobangla’s Chairman Hussain Monsur said.

Gazprom will be the first foreign company to partner with Petrobangla in exploration without a production-sharing contract, the official added.

Gazprom in late October offered to drill 10 onshore gas wells in Bangladesh on a turnkey basis at a total cost of $193.55 million, with drilling to be completed within 18 months of approval being granted, Vice-President of Gazprom Ivan Guleb told journalists.

The government recently passed a new law to ensure the quick implementation of power and energy projects that bypasses the tender process. It gives it the authority to bypass any laws that impede the execution of power projects and prevents decisions and deals inked under the new law from being challenged in court.

The shortfall has forced Petrobangla to suspended new gas connections to industries since July 2009, squeezing industrial growth. Gas rationing is widespread and CNG filling stations are closed four hours a day.

On the other hand, leaked United States diplomatic cables said the Kremlin's ambition of turning Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, into a global energy titan is undermined by Soviet-style thinking, poor management and corruption.

The diplomatic cables from U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle paint Russia's biggest company as a confused and corrupt like its predecessor, the Soviet Ministry of Gas.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Courting danger: Recounting ordeal in DGFI custody



SALEEM SAMAD

It was a late-night call. The caller told me in rustic English that they were coming to pick us up from the hotel. I had been commissioned by Channel 4 to help its crew working on the Unreported World programme. During our investigation in November 2002, we came to know that some terrorists were hiding in Dhaka. We wanted to interview them. The call was from one of their commanders. After an hour, a van arrived at the hotel.

We were blindfolded and driven around Dhaka to make us lose our sense of direction. Finally, we were taken into a building where we saw half a dozen men with AK-47s. We were asked to wait for the commander. After some time, a tall and broad-shouldered Arab fighter came to meet us. He refused to be photographed or interviewed and said he had kept his promise to meet us.

We were again blindfolded and then left in the middle of the city. On November 25, Zaiba and Bruno, two Channel 4 staffers who were with me, were arrested. I wasn’t with them that day. It was then that I realised that we were being followed by the military intelligence sleuths. A friend in the security establishment told me that we had committed a big mistake. He said the place where the terrorists hid was in fact a safe house of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the man we met was an al Qaeda commander. I couldn’t believe that the terrorists were protected by the agency which was supposed to arrest them. The news left me shocked and frightened. I knew we went too close to the story. We had blown a cover of the DGFI. By that time, DGFI men had surrounded my home.

I called my brother and said I would stay at a friend’s place. The intelligence agencies had tapped his phone and they heard our conversation. That night they raided my friend’s place and arrested me. I was brutally tortured for days. My interrogators wanted to know how much we knew about their safe houses and covert operations. Then, after 50 days in custody, I was released on January 18, 2003. I thought my ordeal was over. Hardly did I know that I would be forced to leave my country. After my release, a friend in the government told me that there was a plan to assassinate me. To save my life, I fled to Canada, where I got asylum.

First published in The Week, December 3, 2011