Bangladesh’s Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Mahbub Hossain, who is on contractual appointment for a year beyond his original date of superannuation on October 13, is more a bundle of nerves than the country’s topmost bureaucrat.
He is a bureaucrat, alright, but not someone who commands complete confidence. Speaking to reporters on the blow-hot-blow-cold issue of the pre-election resignation of ministers on technocrat quota and advisors to the government, he fumbled several times responding to queries. Indeed, he could not even recall the name of one such advisor.
The story goes somewhat like this: on November 20, there were reports that all of the three technocrat-ministers and four of the five advisors to specific ministries had reportedly tendered their resignations to the government.
By mid-afternoon, another bunch of reports indicated that while all the technocrat-ministers had put in their papers, the resignations of three of the five, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son and Information and Communications Technology advisor Sajeeb Wazed Joy, were with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and that the decision in this regard would be taken by Sheikh Hasina.
The other two advisors in this ‘special’ category are Military Advisor Major General (retd) Tarique Siddiqui and Industry and Investment advisor Salman F Rahman who is also a member of parliament.
Later, Hossain stepped in to clear the air, but he seemed to be not only out of depth and confused, but clearly ill at ease.
Well, many in Bangladesh, and certainly those in power, know that Sajeeb Wazed is in a spot of bother in the United States where he is a permanent resident and lives in Virginia.
He arrived surreptitiously in Dhaka on November 17. The next day he attended a function organised by the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), an Awami League front organisation staffed by party loyalists. His entry to his own homeland was “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. His quiet sojourn in Dhaka promises to make his exit equally, if not more, surreptitious and clandestine.
There is no word on when Sajeeb Wazed will return to his adopted homeland but the grapevine has it that he will fly back soon enough.
Now, continuing with Sajeeb Wazed as the PM’s ICT advisor – a cozy arrangement in the first place even if he lives abroad and attends no meetings or signs no official document – would ensure and guarantee the protective shield of a diplomatic passport that could come in the way of any possible legal move in the US.
Maj Gen Siddiqui is an important functionary who, in his capacity as a loyal military advisor, plays a key role in the affairs of Bangladesh’s defence forces, especially in keeping a sharp eye on the much-feared army that has had a history of effecting sudden political changes.
The continuation of Rahman, better known as ‘Dorbesh’ across Bangladesh’s political faultlines, was not surprising. He is, after all, the second-most powerful man in Bangladesh – some say, perhaps, the most powerful – who wields tremendous influence across not only the Awami League but also among the oligarchs.
Come hail or thunder, Rahman’s continued presence is assured. But this could easily change in the event the “external pressure” becomes too hard to sustain in the days and weeks to come.
Political analysts and government watchers in Dhaka described the resignation drama a ‘delightful joke’ even though nothing could beat the dilly-dallying over the announcement of the election schedule.
“When the entire electoral process is a sham why should we be surprised with the resignation drama and the accompanying move to protect one individual,” asked a bemused political commentator who did not wish to be identified for fear of retribution.
Cabinet Secretary Hossain’s explanation that the Sajeeb-Rahman-Siddiqui troika’s resignations would be dealt with “separately” by the PMO as opposed to the other ones that will be handled by his office is at specious and holds no water.
The technocrat-ministers tendered their resignations to the Cabinet Division. Where does that leave Bangladesh’s Rule of Business provisions? This duplicitous approach to the resignations, well after the arrival of Sajeeb Wazed to Dhaka and the declaration of the election schedule, is simply another example of Sheikh Hasina’s imperious ways. Bangladesh hasn’t seen the last of such deceptions.