Sunday, November 18, 2007

Right to info a must before any int'l deal: Says roundtable on energy security

Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star, November 18, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The government should ensure the people's right to information before signing any international deal or formulating any policy, especially for energy or coal, speakers told a roundtable in Dhaka yesterday.

The roundtable on 'Energy Security and Right to Information' was organised by weekly magazine Shaptahik 2000, and moderated by its Acting Editor Golam Mortoza.

The speakers also pointed out that the caretaker government has no legitimate right to approve energy or coal policy, or sign any international agreement for the sector, as it is not an elected government.

They said the deals made by previous governments with a few multinational companies including Kafco and Lafarge, leaving the people of the country in the dark, are ultimately taking their toll on the common people.

The proposed right to information act should be enacted immediately so that no information can be concealed and the people can access any information to make their observation, they observed.

Attempts are being made to keep international deals out of the purview of the proposed right to information act with the excuse that people's access to information on such deals would affect foreign direct investment in the country, they said adding that right to access any information has to be ensured disregarding the prospect of foreign investments.

Prof Anu Mohammad of Jahangirnagar University said the state is failing to perform its duty in making all information public. On the contrary, it is even trying to hide information.

"If the people had known about the deal between the government and Kafco, it wouldn't be possible to close the deal," he said.

He questioned how Asia Energy could run advertisements in different newspapers claiming to be approved by the government for implementing the Phulbari Coal Mine Project when there has been an agreement barring Asia Energy from continuing with the project.

Prof Anu also urged the caretaker government to launch anti-corruption drives against international deals signed by previous governments.

Former state minister for power Maj Gen (retd) Anwarul Kabir Talukder said all kinds of information will have to be shared with the people.

Productivity has to be increased in every sector, more employment opportunity has to be created and dependency on import has to be reduced gradually, Talukder said adding, "All these things are related to energy, and therefore, we also have to ensure our energy security."

GM Kader, former lawmaker of Jatiya Party, said lack of transparency creates the opportunity of corruption and free flow of information can bring in transparency.

Former Awami League lawmaker Col (retd) Faruk Khan said a world energy congress was held last week in Rome where representatives from 112 countries except Bangladesh participated. The goal of the energy conference was to monitor the status of energy sector and find solutions that could promote economic development in any country, he added.Col (retd) Faruk said since the caretaker government is not an elected government, it has no right to formulate any energy or coal policy. "It can make a draft policy on energy or coal and make it public for people's observation. And the next elected government should approve it."He also stressed the need for improving the government's negotiation skills while discussing with prospective investors.Writer-columnist Syed Abul Maksud said it is necessary to be ensured that the adopted policies are not against the interest of the people. "Any policy should be taken on the basis of national consensus," he said.Prof M Shamsul Alam of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology presented a keynote paper on 'Energy Security and Right to Information' at the roundtable.Prof Hossain Mansur of Dhaka University, Prof Golam Rahman of Dhaka University, politician Haider Akber Khan Rono, former Rural Electrification Board chairman Maj Gen (retd) Golam Mawla, Barrister Tanjb-Ul Alam, Shahidur Rahman of Action Aid Bangladesh, and Radio Today Executive Director Shakil Manjur also spoke at the discussion.