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Archive for December, 2006

Bangladesh, Democracy In Crisis

Completing their 5-year term in late Oct 2006, Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) duly handed over power to a Caretaker Regime. In a strategic mistake, the Awami League (AL)-led opposition did not agree to Retired Chief Justice K M Hassan, the man who (according to the Constitution) was to be the Head of the Caretaker Regime, as being “partial” to BNP. A man of great integrity and known impartiality, Justice Hassan himself refused the office, leaving the doors open for the President Iajuddin Ahmed (who is very partial to BNP) to double as Chief Advisor. With the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Zakaria clearly BNP-partisan, there was no way that the AL-led 14 party alliance was going to accept this “double whammy”. The resultant 60 days of street unrest, resolved only when the President agreed to send Zakaria on leave beyond the election date and announcement of results thereof. Four of the Advisors resigned rather than not being able to fulfil their responsibilities to the citizens of Bangladesh under the Constitution. Subsequently another three resigned, refusing to be rubber stamps of the President, dozens of honourable men and women also denied to be Advisor-posts on the same grounds. With both sides taking up intractable positions, foreign govts and international institutions applied enormous pressure on both sides to compromise before events spun out of control.

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Managing Issues Of Migration

Migration takes place because of many reasons, among the two major ones, viz (1) to escape various forms of oppression viz (a) political (b) racial (c) religious, etc (2) the search for a secure law and order environment and (3) and to earn a better livelihood. Migration mostly happens from country to country, for the same aforesaid reasons, it can also take place within the country. While economic reason dovetails with and encroaches many times over on the others, the fact that business has a central role to play in migration is seldom recognised. International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with Geneva as its HQs, is the international entity tasked to look after the safety, security and welfare of immigrants, to mitigate their circumstances at origin, during transit and in host countries, to stop the flow and even to revising it if possible. Recognising that business is a principal stakeholder in migration, IOM set up the Business Advisory Board (BAB) in 2005.

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Fighting Corruption

The founding of Transparency International (TI) in Berlin in 1993 was one of the most significant private sector initiatives in fighting universal corruption. I had the privilege of meeting Dr Peter Eigen, the first Chairman TI (who remains a good friend) very soon afterwards in 1994 during the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Summit in Davos. A lawyer by training, Dr Eigen managed World Bank programs in Africa and Latin America for 25 years. Disgusted at seeing scarce funds being misappropriated by public officials and politicians in third world countries, aided and abetted by senior executives of multinationals of the first world, he alongwith his colleagues decided to do something tangible about it, thus was born the TI initiative. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) was first launched in 1995. This survey of many countries by independent institutions was meant not to measure corruption itself, but to quantify what was perceived to be corruption by ascertaining the views of the general public, interested observers and independent institutions.

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Geo-Political Changes

During the 19th century geo-political changes were to be expected every 50 years or so, during the 20th century it came down to about 25 years. With technology racing forward in making the world a global village, this period is now down to a 5-10 years period. Events of the past year, viz (1) the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan (2) North Korean nuclear blast (3) Iran’s uranium enrichment process (4) The Darfur crisis (5) the Somalia problem etc are indications that US ability to influence events as the sole Superpower in the world has diminished from what it was 5 years ago. Elections to the US Congress reflected the frustrations of the US electorate at shortcomings of the Bush Administration foreign policy. With neo-cons wielding absolute power in the US after January 2001, 9/11 gave a powerful excuse to pursue a narrow parochial agenda, with scant regard to any dissent, both within and outside the US. After the geo-political changes because of one september morning of horror, the world is now ready for another course correction. The question remains as to which quagmire the US must get out from and which one to concentrate on.

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