1131Published on April 21, 2022
A media report published in 2005 by one of the leading dailies serves as a grim reminder of how the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami government pushed the country’s power sector to an unprecedented low.
Titled – “Three records of failures in the power sector” – the report laid bare the sordid tale of this sector that holds the key to industrialisation.
Record power shortages and outages, low power generation and the low growth of power addition to the national grid – are the three records that resulted in an unprecedented level of suffering for the public and brought industrial production to a grinding halt.
Outraged by persistent power cuts that hit homes and industrial units alike, people took to the streets demanding some respite.
Ironically, such litany of non-violent public protests was met with lethal force by the law enforcers on orders from the then government.
In another media report, it was mentioned that law enforcement agencies were deployed to provide the government with tip-offs about possible locations of mass protests.
This was in complete disregard of the public demand for power and blatant abuse, among many, of the state machinery under the garb of “maintaining law and order.”
Countless demonstrations against the shortage of power and at least 20 deaths in police firing during these protests serve as a dark reminder of the BNP rule from 2000 to 2005.
Fifteen years is a long time to erase those memories from the minds of the general people but they stand in stark contrast to the power management of the Awami League-led government.
They lend credence to a number of surveys, conducted by international organisations, including the IRI, that vindicated a significant rise in the popularity of Sheikh Hasina.
To put things into perspective, BNP Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman in a televised interview back then made a futile attempt to tame public rage fuelled by power outages.
“My own office is hit by power outages every day for five to six hours – for a country like Bangladesh it is completely unrealistic and even a luxury on part of the countrymen to expect power supply both at home and in shopping malls at the same time,” he said.
“Any plan to bring in the entire population under electricity coverage is nothing but an illusion for any party in the country to dream, announce and achieve.”
A video of the interview has gone viral on social media in the last few days as news spread about the country achieving 100% electricity coverage.
Behind such abysmal performance, major media reports pointed to a single significant factor – wholesale corruption pursued with complete impunity.
An unholy nexus of a handful of local businesses overseen at the behest of Tarique by his then closest associate Giasuddin Al Mamun reportedly gobbled up two-thirds of the money earmarked from this sector during the 5-year period of the BNP-led alliance government and siphoned it off the country, according to media reports.
Despite tens of billions of takas (Tk 200 billion according to some estimates) being pumped in during this period to meet the power crisis, the country saw the addition of a mere 80MW, according to media reports.
The state minister in charge of the power sector at that time, after resigning from the post and the party, complained that he could not make sense of at least Tk 60 billion out of Tk 150 billion that was shown to have been spent on this sector over a period of five years.
Even calling out Tarique as a “symbol of violent politics” – a confidential cable from the US Embassy in Dhaka (Nov 3, 2008), came to light thanks to Wikileaks.
It had then US ambassador James F Moriarty writing to the US State Department as follows: “Tarique (Rahman) is guilty of egregious political corruption that has had a serious adverse effect on US national interests… Tarique Rahman is the notorious and widely feared son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and a symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh…”
Interestingly, while reports of power outages still persist during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure, the scale of power generation and distribution both have taken a quantum leap forward.
After being voted back to power in 2009, the Hasina-led administration has overseen the following set of accomplishments in the same sector: power generation capacity rocketed to 25,514MW now from 4,942MW in 2009, while the maximum power production rose to 13,792MW, up fourfold from 3,268MW 13 years ago.
Of the power being generated 1,160MW is imported and 19,626MW is locally generated, according to the data provided by the Bangladesh Power Development Board.
Even last month the inauguration of the newly operational 1,320MW plant has placed Bangladesh, the youngest nation in South Asia, ahead of India and Pakistan in electricity coverage.
India has brought 98% and Pakistan 74% of their populations under the electricity network, according to World Bank data.
So a simple contrast anchored on the state of the power sector between both parties and their top leaders could answer the critics of Hasina and also offers a lesson for the BNP to take into account why their ceaseless attacks on the Awami League chief always fell flat on the face.
Importantly, BNP’s policymakers, even having been out of power over the space of the last 13 years, never realised that it’s their political duty to admit these failures.
The corruptions and irregularities of Tarique and his mother Khaleda and his deceased brother Arafat Rahman Coco still haunt the party as well as the nation as they siphoned off funds that were allocated but never utilised for building the country’s power capacity.
Yet a meticulous look at BNP’s decade-old silence from even acknowledging its outright failure to put an unchecked spree of corruption on hold involving a sector like power can lead one to draw some premises.
Even in the wake of less frequent power outages in different parts of the country during Ramadan, BNP leaders were seen sparing no time in unleashing a barrage of smears at the government.
So it appears safe to suggest the BNP leaders still remained hell-bent on defending the undefinable – intend to make the public believe that the party, despite all the miseries, would have added more gains for this sector if they were in power.
But in reality, such a line of the campaign can be described as a travesty to truth and without any correction of the course would only represent the BNP before the public as a party that lives on believing in its own lies.
The BNP failed on all fronts but their failure in power generation was the worst that impacted the people.
Now when the Awami League marches ahead by setting new milestones in public delivery on all fronts, the “Made in Barracks” party can play a hypocritical tune, raising emotive issues of religion or hoping Big Powers could come and win them the throne.
Writer: Coordinator of the ALBD Web Team at the Centre for Research and Information (CRI)