Saturday, September 5, 2009

Apology to count only if govt revokes offshore deals

Editorial, NewAge, 5 September 2009

AMIDST condemnation and criticism of Wednesday’s police excesses against members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports intensify, the government on Thursday termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ and promised legal action against the law enforcers if they were to be found guilty of having overstepped their limits. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Friday, three ministers and two advisers of the Awami League-led government also visited Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the committee and professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University who was among some 50 people seriously injured in the police attack and is now under treatment for fractures in both his legs, to express their ‘regret and sympathy’. It is indeed assuring that the government has acknowledged the monstrosity of the police action on the members of the citizens’ forum, and was quick to regret the incident and seek apology, albeit not in so many words. However, the issue at hand has more to it than the police excesses on members of the national committee, as the citizens’ forum is popularly known.

First of all, the police action, as it is highly unlikely to have taken place without some sort of clearance from the home ministry, tends to betray what could very well be the inherent intolerance of the government to dissent. That some key members of the government termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ could very well be construed as the Sheikh Hasina administration’s efforts to wash its hands off the atrocities, and make the police department the scapegoat. The apologetic posture that the government has taken would thus be perceived as genuine only when it demonstrates, not only in words but also by deed, its willingness to accommodate dissenting views in the political arena as well as across society.

Most importantly, the government needs to realise that it is its decision to award three offshore blocks to two multinational companies under what appears to be an anti-people production sharing contract, which allows exports of up to 80 per cent of the natural gas the companies will find, that is the bone of contention here. Regrettably, the power and energy adviser and the state minister for power and energy are reported to have tried to convince Anu Muhammad that the provision in the model production sharing contract has been formulated in a way that gas export may not be needed, and that the export provision was incorporated to woo investment in hydrocarbon exploration. In other words, the government may still be unwilling to revise, let alone revoke, its decision.

To reiterate, the government needs to realise that its apology for the police excesses on the protest march of the national committee will remain in the realm of rhetoric until and unless it is followed up by action that demonstrates its willingness to accommodate dissenting views and, crucially still, revocation of the decision to award the offshore blocks to the multinational companies under questionable production sharing contracts.