'The real challenge is how Asia can shape the world', The Daily Star, June 16, 201217 June, 2012
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Former State Secretary and Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark, and currently Visiting Senior Research fellow of the
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, Joergen Oerstroem Moeller talks to A.B.M. Shamsud Doza and Shayera Moula of The Daily Star regarding Asia's supreme role in shaping world economy and Bangladesh's much needed policies to remain strong within Asian economic integrations. He is also the author of "How Asia Can Shape the World: From the Era of Plenty to the Era of Scarcities." He analyses future roles for Asian countries, where an era of resource shortages needs to be challenged and Western-based policies modified or replaced.
The Daily Star: Having celebrated 40 years of independence of Denmark's diplomatic relations with Bangladesh, how do you look at the partnership between the two countries?
J.O. Moeller: It's very good. You can say we like each other and there's a lot of common ground and even though Bangladesh is situated in Asia and Denmark in Europe, we take a common outlook on many things and both participate in the global competition. We are in sense smaller countries, even if Bangladesh is larger than Denmark, we need to participate in the economic globalisation to make sure that there is a good living standard so from the Danish point of view, and my impression is that the same is for Bangladesh, the bilateral relation is excellent.
Denmark and Bangladesh relations are mainly centred on trade and development as well as Denmark's heavy involvement in strategies against climate change, partnering with the Bangladesh Government, what other areas can we work jointly in?
Well I think an idea would be to have more cooperation in higher education. I have visited two universities during my stay here and I am impressed by their outlook and their efforts to globalise themselves. It's the same case for Danish universities so may be we could build up a deeper cooperation between the universities in the two nations.
Another area to explore is the area of economic integration. Denmark is a member of EU, and Bangladesh a member of Saarc, and I see that there is a very strong drive in Asia for economic integration where you can explore it at your advantage and division of labour. If you look at the performance of Bangladesh over the last 5-15 years, your export growth has been very impressive where Bangladesh has secured its place as an exporter of many goods. If that continues, and that is of course necessary if you want to have a high growth rate, you must make sure that the markets stay open -- one of the ways to do that is economic integration. You could look at some of the experiences of the European integration or drive to integration so that you can export your products.
TDS: You mentioned in various articles how Singapore branded itself as a trade hub, Vietnam as an exporter of sea food and Thailand for its agriculture, how do you see or hope Bangladesh brands itself in the global economy?
JOM: Looking at it from the outside, Bangladesh is known for its manufacturing -- apparel, textile, clothing etc, and experience indicates that this is good platform for economic development. If you look at Singapore, they started 40 years ago also by exporting textiles -- Hong Kong and Taiwan did the same. So Bangladesh could try to brand itself through following the footsteps of these various successful countries stating that we start by manufacturing textiles but would want to broaden that platform -- that we want to start making products with higher value added, more quality and with more designs.
This, of course, needs time but Bangladesh should be prepared to wait for that while in the meantime build up the education system. They should provide the people with more skills so as to be more advanced for higher value added goods/ products. So brand yourself as a country that is coming upstream in the supply chain.
TDS: Could you tell us a few words about the launching of your book How Asia can shape the world: From the era of plenty to the era of scarcity?
JOM: Well like many others, I think the future belongs to Asia. But it is also clear that Asia has its share of problems so the real challenge is how Asia can shape the world not how Asia will shape it.
It depends very much upon the decisions of the policy-makers and the change in Asia's population. The way I see it, the world is dominated by mass communication instead of mass consumption and we will also have to face a growing scarcity of resources, commodities, borders, energy, which means we will have to change the production, function and the way we consume everything so that there is more output from one unit of input. That should highly interest Bangladesh -- to actually save resources produced -- and the reason I think a new economic model will come out of Asia is because these problems, although global, will be felt first and strongest in Asia due to the big population growth. With the economy growing, it's likely they will response to the challenge which will hopefully be built upon by traditional Asian methods and philosophies.
TDS: Bangladesh, despite its growth, faces challenges such as corruption, higher inequality rates, poverty, political turmoil, etc. Denmark, on the other hand, had a holistic growth. How did they address all the matters at the same time?
JOM: The bad message is that it takes time. The good message is that it is possible and it can be done. But the way to do it is to build a stronger trust in the population inside the nation where you can enter the economic transactions without the fear of losing.
You expect other people to share their knowledge only because you are ready to share yours. You expect other people to be ready to enter into the burden sharing of distribution of benefits because you are ready to do the same. So the key to a well-run and well-functioning smooth society is actually a high degree of trust among people in the community.
Without the trust, transaction costs increase as the need for a big compass on legal system arises to cope with the problems. You need rules and regulations telling people what to do but with trust there is a shared common value, people by instinct react in the same way meaning fewer problems and the economic transaction costs decrease.
TDS: Both Bangladesh and Denmark are small nations. What are the implications of being a small country in pursuing foreign policy issues? Denmark has transformed from a traditional adaptive diplomacy to an active diplomacy, how can Bangladesh transform itself as a small nation?
JOM: The key we found was multinational diplomacy, primarily by way of economic integration into the EU which means when you deal with your neighbour you do it in a broader context.
The EU now has 27 member states soon to be 28 and formerly Denmark dealt bilaterally with Germany -- a very big country -- with difficulty due to size. But now all our relations with Germany take place inside the EU, meaning that to deal with it in a rule-based organisation everybody has to act under a common law, making it much easier for smaller nations to deal with larger ones.
That is why I say that the key to prosperity and peace in Asia in the future is economic integration. You do not need to make a replica of the EU but you need to do something of the sort -- an economic-integration, rule-based -- where everybody is equal to the law.
If you take a look at the Counsellor of Ministers of EU, all the decisions are taken by voting and Denmark shares votes comparatively high to its population. So through this system we have more influence in the development of Europe.
TDS: US has recently had a new strategic shift to Asia Pacific. How does Denmark, as a member of EU, now look as Asia as a whole?
JOM: We see the future growth taking place in Asia also admit that we are far away. Denmark's influence in Asia-Pacific is small and that is why economic integration again comes into the picture. Because our relations with Asia, Asia Pacific and US takes place within EU's framework we have a much stronger influence and say looking at Asia as an area where we need to build stronger ties, relations and future corporations. EU has made a large number of agreements with Asian countries and some of them are termed under EU as strategic-partners.
TDS: Denmark is highly influential in UN Peacekeeping and Bangladesh is at number one spot in its contribution there. How can the two countries work together for a better peace-building mission as the world remains at constant conflict with each other?
JOM: I think our peace keeping efforts speak for themselves, showing that we are ready to assume the responsibility of a peaceful development around without shying away from putting our own soldiers and people at risk. We have sent a powerful message that it's primarily about peace and we are ready to make an effort, even if it costs lives of our own people, having actually no stake at the conflicts themselves. We should proceed further and commit ourselves in the peace-keeping process as we are doing within the framework of UN.
TDS: Coming back to Bangladesh, what are its potentials and challenges according to you?
JOM: Bangladesh is geographically situated in an advantaged location close to the rising two powerhouses -- china and India. You have also already established yourself as a strong competitor in the global economy.
Rising oil prices mean that global transport costs are going up and the implication of that is the supply chain would be more compact. So where big purchasing powers will eventually be in china and India, it's a big asset for Bangladesh to be so close to these two markets.
In spite that, you need to make a few efforts: Firstly you need to focus on the education system making sure that the labour force has the necessary proficiency preparing them towards a higher degree of skills.
Secondly, you need to make logistic-based efforts of transportations and infrastructure. Investors will certainly come to Bangladesh but only if the infrastructure is good -- which will require a lot of money.
The other factor would be taking a lead in an active Asian integration so that the markets continue to grow. If you make efforts in these areas, Bangladesh will face a promising future.
I took interest in Bangladesh as I noticed the growth rate improving year after year. I realised that this was because Bangladesh was taking over a lot of the manufacturing over other countries. So that means that Bangladesh itself had discovered the first step on the road towards development, but you should not stop there and should continue to move on
TDS: Unlike most European nations who are heterogeneous in nature, Asia and Asia Pacific are more diverse in culture, values and believes. Do you think these variations of ideas and history would hinder regional integration? Secondly, if economic prosperity takes place, can we work on these differences?
JOM: First of all, you should not limit your horizon to south Asia alone, you should think of Asia as a whole. If you see what has happened in Asia over the last 6-12 months, you can see that Korea, China and Japan have got together and about two months ago agreed on free trade in north Eastern Asia. China and Japan have 7-10 days ago agreed to exchange their currencies without using dollar as an in between currency and we also have various other examples of currency cooperation.
If you observe, East Asia is already moving ahead in integration and Bangladesh's future, I believe, is not inside south Asia, it's primarily inside Asia. So don't limit your horizon. Even if we recognise South Asia as an important region, Asia as a whole is just as valuable.
Ruling party tries to capture everything, The Daily Star, February 24, 201224 February, 2012
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Ruling party tries to capture everything
Ex-CEC critical of democracy Bangladesh style
The type of democracy practised in Bangladesh is something vulgarised by the ruling party, which encourages black money and muscle power in the absence of the rule of law.
ATM Shamsul Huda, the immediate past chief election commissioner, said this yesterday, adding that electoral democracy does not necessarily mean a complete democracy as every time the poll winner tries to take all.
“Instead of building up institutions, they [the ruling party], in most cases, try to destroy institutions like the Election Commission and the judiciary,” he said. “They also try to politicise the bureaucracy, police, administration and, dangerously, the military.”
Sometimes, they even scrutinise the Public Service Commission's recommendations, he said. “Such was not possible even in the Pakistan period.”
The rule of law is something of fundamental importance, he observed. Every citizen has a right to file cases with police stations. But often police do not want to record cases.
Shamsul Huda was addressing a book launch and a seminar on “India-Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations: Challenges for Mutual Development” at Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) in Dhaka.
The book, “Democracy in Bangladesh: Political Dimensions of National Development”, a compilation of papers, has jointly been edited by Zillur R Khan and Syed Saad Andaleeb.
At the seminar, eminent jurist and former foreign minister Dr Kamal Hossain said money has destroyed democracy in Bangladesh. “Electoral democracy has fallen sick in the country,” he said.
“There is a security problem for people in the absence of the rule of law in this country. We do not want to see impunity enjoyed by some of the people,” he said. “The system is like a democratisation of corruption.”
Forty years into independence is enough time to establish the rule of law in the country and yet the political parties are still urging the people to wait, wait and wait, he said.
Echoing the views of Huda, Dr Kamal said the ruling party wants to control everything, even the police, military, media and administration.
As the chief guest, Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said four free and fair elections were held in Bangladesh. And this is a reflection of the country's making significant progress in democratic practice.
In terms of economic and human development, Bangladesh has made advances among South Asian countries, he said.
BEI President Farooq Sobhan moderated the programme. Scholars, academicians, researchers and diplomats attended the book launch.
Call to recast CG system in view of present-day perspective, The Independent, February 24, 201224 February, 2012
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DHAKA, FEB 23: Dr Kamal Hossain, president of the Gano Forum, said on Thursday that free and fair election is not possible under the incumbent government.
He was addressing a roundtable on “India-Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations: Challenges for Mutual Development,” organised by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) at its premises. He added that the 15th amendment to the Constitution does not mean restoration of the 1972 Constitution. While describing the country’s prevailing situation, he observed that people do not get protection of the law. Anyone building a house or buying a piece of land has to pay “protection money”, he alleged. Such flexing of muscles and money power should end. He stressed the need to remain united to change the corrupt system.
The event was presided over by BEI president Farooq Sobhan. Professor Rehamn Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, former chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda, Abul Hasan Chowdhury, former state minister for foreign affairs, former election commissioner Brigadier gen. (retd) Shakhawat Hossain and Enam Ahmed Chowdhury, former chairman of the Privatisation Commission spoke on the occasion. Dr Zillur Rahman Khan, professor emeritus of the University of Wisconsin, presented his paper on “India-Bangladesh-Myanmar relations”.
Dr Kamal Hossain narrated his experience of elections under the incumbent government and recalled hijacking of ballot boxes to manipulate the result. He underscored the need for strengthening the Election Commission.
Prof. Rehman Sobhan mentioned that four elections were held in relatively free and fair atmosphere under the caretaker system, and that articles on the caretaker system should be rewritten in view of today’s perspective.
Dr Shamsul Huda said that electoral democracy is generally seen as a way of perpetuating power. Referring to the present scenario, he said it is difficult for any ordinary citizen even to file a case nowadays. “The ruling party has captured all institutions. Even recommendations of the Public Service Commission (PSC) is subject to scrutiny,” he added.
He alleged that the ruling party wants to put its own people in all important positions only to return to power.
In his paper, Zillur Rahman Khan said that Bangladesh, India and Myanmar can immensely benefit by a coordinated approach where they can tap off-shore resources within their overlapping maritime belts.
“The environment that triggered a downslide in trilateral relations involve territoriality, water sharing, trade and investment, off-shore exploration for fossil fuel, Asian highway and transit routes, smuggling and ethno-religious violence, among others,” he read out.
Earlier, a book, “Democracy in Bangladesh: Political Dimensions of National Development”, jointly edited by Dr Zillur Rahman Khan and Dr Syed Saad Andaleeb was launched at the same venue. Syed Andaleeb gave a brief description of different chapters of the book.
EC should be more legally, economically empowered, The Daily Star, Monday, February 20, 201220 February, 2012
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Speakers say at BEI discussion
The Election Commission should be more empowered, both legally and economically, so that its decisions go unchallenged and it can bear its expenses without depending on the government, said speakers at a discussion yesterday.
It must also be completely neutral and independent to hold free, fair and credible elections to sustain effective democracy, they added.
The discussion, “Effective Democracy: The role of elections”, was organised by Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) at its Gulshan office in the city.
The EC should have its own fund collected from citizens or private sectors to meet its staff allowance and other expenditures. There should also be provisions so that none can challenge it whenever it declares an election null and void, they said.
They also observed that the present caretaker government system “corrupts” the country's judiciary.
Addressing the discussion, Chief Information Commissioner Muhammad Zamir said accountability is also an important factor in sustaining effective democracy.
This factor comes up as all parliament members, including the prime minister, are paying taxes, he said, adding that free flow of information safeguards human rights and national security.
Officers who try to keep their information on their income a secret have a “colonial mindset”, he said.
The colonial government enacted the official secrecy act over ensuring national security in 1923 but now national security will be threatened if the flow of information is barred, he added.
He also emphasised the need for a proper record management system. “If you do not have a proper record management system, you cannot provide the information asked for.”
The discussion saw two presentations -- “Embedded and defective democracy: Elections, rule of law and the power to govern” by Prof Wolfgang Merkel of Humboldt University in Berlin and “Election and democratic consolidations in Bangladesh” by Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University.
BEI President Farooq Sobhan presided over the discussion where German Ambassador to Bangladesh Holger Michael was present.
Country at a crossroads: Sakhawat, bdnews24.com, Sunday, February 19. 201219 February, 2012
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Dhaka, Feb 19 (bdnews24.com)—Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain has said the country is at a crossroads and it is difficult to predict what would be the political scenario in the next two years.
He was speaking at a roundtable on Effective Democracy: The Role of Elections organised by Bangladesh Enterprise Institute in the city Sunday.
"The new election commission will face difficult times," he said.
German ambassador Holger Michael said political parties should play their due role.
"Germany can provide inputs in this regard," he said.
Professor Wolfgang Merkel of Humboldt University and Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah of Dhaka University made presentations in the roundtable.