Jatiya Sangsad has recently formed all 50 standing committees to watch the activities of the ministries concerned, with many members of the committees having businesses in their respective areas of work, which experts have called conflicts of interest.
After the formation of the committees in the past week, New Age analysed many committees based on their members’ affidavits submitted to the Election Commission during the 12th parliamentary polls held on January 7.
Experts said that there are 39 bodies directly related to the ministries, and conflict of interest is a possibility in many of these committees, with members having businesses in relevant fields.
Former commerce minister Tipu Munshi was named chairman of the JS standing committee on the commerce ministry. In his affidavit, he mentioned his profession as a businessman in the garment sector.
Other members of the committee—Sheikh Helal Uddin, Sheikh Afil Uddin, Shariful Islam Jinnah, Mahmud Hasan, and Sultana Nadira—are also businesspersons by profession.
Labour and employment ministry standing committee member Shamim Osman owns a garment factory named Wisdom Knitting Mills, while another member of the committee, SM Al Mamun, is involved in the ship-breaking business.
Golam Kibria Tipu, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the shipping ministry, is the owner of Tipu Launch.
Nizam Uddin Hazari is a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment. He is involved in the manpower export business.
Abdur Rauf was made a member of the standing committee of the ministry of power, energy, and mineral resources. He owns a refuelling station.
Mohammad Ali was made a member of the standing committee on local government, rural development, and cooperatives. He is a contractor by profession.
Out of the 39 ministry-based standing committees of the 12th parliament, 12 former ministers and state ministers got the post of chairmen of the JS committees while they led the ministries in the previous government.
Former foreign minister AK Abdul Momen has been made chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign ministry, while former finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal is now chairman of the committee on finance ministry.
Former planning MA Mannan, former commerce minister Tipu Munshi, former agriculture minister Mohammad Abdur Razzaque, former fisheries minister SM Rezaul Karim, former textiles and jute minister Golam Dastgir Gazi, former land minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury, and former state minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing, former minister for expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment Imran Ahmed, former housing and public workers minister Sharif Ahmed, and former state minister for youth and sports Zahid Ahsan were also made chairman of the committees in the ministries that they led in the previous term.
‘It is a major problem, as the JS committees usually get various complaints against the previous management of the ministries. Can the former ministers take steps against themselves?’ asked civil society platform Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar.
‘Having a committee that is related to its members’ business or personal interests is a serious matter. Corruption, misappropriation of funds, and looting in our country are partly owed to these kinds of decisions, which protect the interests of businesspeople over common people,’ Majumdar told New Age.
He demanded Jatiya Sangsad’s initiative to enact a code of conduct for its members in parliament.
Transparency International Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman told New Age that in a parliament almost totally controlled by the ruling party, the prospect of the effectiveness of the standing committees is in any case utopian, if anything.
‘Nevertheless, the formation of the committees could have reflected a bit more of political acumen to avoid the potentially crippling effects of conflict of interest,’ he said.
Iftekharuzzaman added that the presence of former ministers in the committee of the same ministry would be the most obvious predicament against any prospect of independent and objective committee work in case of allegations of corruption or other irregularities of the ministry during the former minister’s tenure.
‘Members having business interests in the subject matter of the committees will most likely use the position to capture the proceedings in their own business interest rather than serving the committee objective meaningfully,’ he said.
Given the track record of failure of any of the 40-plus committees in the 10th and 11th parliaments to meet the mandatory requirement of holding at least one committee meeting a month, we have in fact failed to set any credible example of the active and effective role of the standing committees, he said.
‘All indications are towards the standing committees becoming further ritualistic rather than serving any seriousness of purpose, unless, by some unlikely miracle, some of the monopolistic power holders start putting public interest first,’ he added.
According to the Rules of Procedure of Jatiya Sangsad, no member shall be appointed to a parliamentary committee whose personal, financial, or direct interest is connected with matters that may be considered by the committee.
The work of the parliamentary committee is to examine the bill, review reports, and investigate irregularities and serious complaints about the work of the ministries under the committee.
Asked about the allegation, Jatiya Sangsad chief whip Noor-E-Alam Chowdhury told New Age that the former ministers were made chairmen of the committees as they have work experience in the ministry and they can use their experience to make the parliamentary committee dynamic.
‘There are many business people. Anyone can do business. It should be seen whether they are doing business with the government or not,’ he said.