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Sharp rise in wealth of MPs, ministers in Bangladesh

Publication Date : 24-12-2013


Embarrassed by the revelations that many Awami League leaders have amassed huge wealth in the last five years, the ruling party is now pressing the Election Commission to stop making public the wealth statements of the candidates.

An AL delegation led by former home minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir met the chief election commissioner on Sunday and asked him if the EC had the authority to publish the statements, submitted by the candidates along with their nomination papers.

Alamgir is also the convenor of a subcommittee of the AL's election steering committee, which maintains liaison with the commission. He was accompanied by the other members of the committee.

As per a Supreme Court verdict in 2007, the EC is bound to collect eight particulars about the candidates, including their wealth statements, and make those public so that voters could know about their prospective representatives.

The AL's objection came in the wake of media reports, based on the candidates' wealth statements published on the EC's website, that many AL leaders have made quite a fortune over the past five years.

For example, former state minister for water resources Mahbubur Rahman now owns an astronomical 2,865 acres of land from only 20 acres five years ago.

Five years ago, Nuran Fatema, wife of Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud, was a homemaker having assets worth Tk 60,000 (US$772.6).

But since, she has had some miracles working for her to make her a Tk 13.74-crore woman. That is a 2,290 times rise.

AL leader and former state minister for LGRD and cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak and his wife have together earned Tk 7.3 crore in the past five years. The couple now has wealth worth Tk 8.28 crore, up from Tk 97.84 lakh before the December 29, 2008 election. Of the total wealth, Nanak's wife owns Tk 5.07 crore, which was Tk 52 lakh at the time.

Such unexplained accumulation of wealth by the elected representatives has made the public curious as to how someone could become so rich so quickly.
The EC is now scrutinising the law to see if the AL's objection is valid.

“We will check the law and decide,” CEC Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said yesterday. “It is (making the statements public) is nothing new. It has happened during the last election.”

One election commissioner on condition of anonymity said under the RPO the EC must collect the information but was not bound to make those public.

Contacted, former CEC ATM Shamsul Huda, who led the EC to see this significant electoral reform, said they did not find anything wrong with making candidates' particulars public during the 2008 polls.

The EC then did it as per the SC verdict, he said, adding: "What the present Election Commission is doing, it is the right thing to do."

Meanwhile, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman strongly criticised the CEC's remark that the commission would examine the law about making the candidates' information public. "This is very much unacceptable and contradictory."

He added if the EC stopped making public the particulars of the candidates, it would encourage those who had already accumulated huge wealth abusing their offices.

"This will encourage the culture of impunity and the Election Commission will also be held responsible for this," he noted.

But MK Alamgir justified their objection, and said: “The statements we submitted to the commission are the ones we have given to the tax office.

"If any rival candidate disputes or doubts about our wealth, he can ask for a copy. But statements cannot be made public in a wholesale manner.”

According to him, the wealth statements are submitted to the commission for scrutiny, and that the court can see those if the situation arises.

But Shamsul Huda and Iftekharuzzaman dismissed Alamgir's argument, saying it was the apex court that ordered the EC to make the candidates' particulars public.

The order first came from the High Court following a petition by some lawyers in 2005. The Appellate Division of the SC then upheld the order in December 2007.

According to the verdict, the EC must make public eight particulars about the candidates. The particulars include a candidate's educational record; past and present case record and the judgement, if applicable; and the wealth statement.

The EC later incorporated a provision in the Representation of the People Order (RPO), the law that regulates parliament elections, to ensure implementation of the verdict.

Experts say making these particulars public is vital to bringing transparency in the election.

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