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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 36, New Delhi, August 22, 2020

Bangladesh: Janata Bank scandal and Prothom Alo’s tendentious journalism - A different look | Subhash Kumar Sengupta

Friday 21 August 2020

by Subhash Kumar Sengupta*

Time and again removal of existing chairman and instead appointment of a new one in state-owned Bank has now become a fashion or tradition in Bangladesh. In the relatively recent past (2011), following widely discussed hallmark scandal, the government terminated the whole Board of Sonali Bank. However, the chairman of the Basic Bank was given the opportunity (in 2014) to resign from his post. On the other hand, the government has acquitted Jamaluddin Ahmed (in 2020), ex-chairman of Janata Bank, without any opportunity to give resignation. The Daily Prothom Alo carried a news on 29 July 2020. It highlighted the loans, given away to the Anontex Group and the Crescent Group from the Janata Bank, leading to default loans and as a result, Janata Bank is in a most vulnerable condition among the state-owned Banks in Bangladesh. It alleged that the loan was sanctioned during the tenure of Prof. Abul Barkat as chairman an amount, causing blockage of nearly Tk. 9000 crores in these two groups.

Immediately after that news on 29 July, Prof. Abul Barkat vehemently remonstrated this ignominious news against him and sent a small 6-point written protest- a rejoinder- to Prothom Alo on the same day. In his rejoinder, Barkat explicitly stated that being appointed by the government for 5 years from September 2009- September 2014 he performed the responsibility as chairman of the Board of Directors of Janata Bank Ltd. In this context, he mentioned that responsibility of the Board of Directors and Management of Bank are not the same. Confidently protesting Barkat further said, during his tenure, no such loans were sanctioned in the name of Anontex Group or Crescent group. As he thinks, this unsubstantiated, untrue and fully false report after six years of his Chairmanship from The Janata Bank Board. He termed the news as an ill-motivated one, reflecting yellow journalism. Prof. Barkat, in his rejoinder, stated categorically that the report was derogatory for his social dignity, sincerity, honesty and prestige. He strongly protested and condemned it. As a responsible citizen, he politely urged to form an investigation/inquiry committee comprising responsible persons to unveil the real truth of the whole incident.

Quite surprising, nearly a week later on 6 August 2020 Prothom Alo published a truncated part of the protest/rejoinder of Barkat with a statement of the respective correspondent again repeating the content of his news which he made earlier. Consequently, Barkat again sent a 6-point detailed and clear rejoinder to Prothom Alo, mentioning his strong stand against this report. On 10 August 2020, however, Prothom Alo published the protest of Barkat in very brief maintaining their ego as usual.

On the contrary, enlightened circle, intellectuals and many people of common parlance in Bangladesh are very much anguished reading this heart-rending news in Prothom Alo implicating Dr Barkat. Many of them believe that there is not a single grain of truth in the said news that reflects totally false and a malicious plot against Barkat.

All-through, purely a progressive, humane, and apolitical personality (to our knowledge he is not a member of any political party), during his Chairmanship in the Janata Bank, Barkat was respected by the employees and officers of the Bank because of his most impartial outlook and search for the truth. He always guarded the interest of ordinary employees. He made the service of the ’’casual employees’’ permanent who were casual for long between 10 and 25 years, and some were on the verge of retirement age. He formed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund from which he gave financial assistance to many distressed people all over the country. He honoured gallant freedom fighters and donated money to them (Kakan Bibi, the only women Bir Protik from the Indigenous Peoples community is a glaring example. He found her after long 40 years of Freedom Fight). He promoted many employees and officers of Janata Bank and made the Bank more dynamic than ever before. During his tenure, he recruited over 5,000 young people in Class1 banking job with Janata Bank. Among many of his ideals, he nursed his dream how to raise the standard of the banking functions. During his tenure, he excelled all others in terms of almost all the banking performance indicator, and to mention one: in 2009, when he joined the Chair of the JBL Board, the Bank was in loss, but in 2013, by the end of the fourth year of his tenure, the net profit was Tk.945 Crore, which was a record highest among all the 56 banks (surpassing the Islamic Bank and all the foreign banks) in Bangladesh.

Abul Barkat’s personal achievement is glorious as a distinguished professor and former chairperson of Economics Department in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Moreover, he is the Founder Chairman and currently Professor of Japanese Study Center at the same University. He is highly respected as one of the most prolific and farsighted political economists in and beyond Bangladesh. More striking, he is an erudite educationist, invincible social thinker, noted philosopher, an eloquent speaker and valiant activist. On a plethora of human development issues, he has over 650 illuminating research works including research books, journal articles, chapters, edited books, volumes, journals, monographs and thought-provoking papers presented as Keynote Speaker, Plenary Speaker, Public Speaker, Convocation Speaker at prestigious occasions.

Over three decades, through his analytical and convincing research on political economy, Barkat constantly asks the most fundamental questions about ’humane development’ in the light of multiple poverty-inequality-discrimination-deprivation and proceeds to answer them critically. Sharp-witted Barkat, without an iota of doubt, is a key figure in the growing worldwide movement and challenges against fundamentalism and fundamentalist extremism.

In recognition of his fundamental contribution towards research in social sciences, he was conferred twice ’Justice Ibrahim Memorial Gold Medal’ (1999-2000 and 2004-2005), the highest prestigious award for academic excellence by the University of Dhaka. He was also honoured with UGC (University Grant Commission) Gold Medal 2017 for his masterpiece book on ’Poverty of Philosophy in Economics’ (in Bengali). Among his 29 books on different issues, ’Fundamentalism in Bangladesh: External and Internal Dimensions of the Political Economy of Militancy’ is undoubtedly outstanding, in-depth research.

An enlightened thinker and leading scholar Barkat has keenly researched, published and being invited extensively lectured on development issues, in numerous seminars and conferences in 70 countries of the world. Overall, he is a true humanist by faith, devoted economist by profession and philosopher by conviction.

Patriot Barkat is always keen to uphold the ideology of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He is a gallant freedom fighter in the Great Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971.

Currently, Barkat is the elected (2018-19) President of Bangladesh Economic Association, the largest professional body in Bangladesh. He is also the Chief Advisor of Human Development Research Centre (www.hdrc-bd.com), widely known for her groundbreaking work in the various arenas of humane development. Barkat’s unending journey for the cause of humanity is a story of his grit, perseverance and determination to battle against all the odds. He has founded a welfare-oriented organisation ’Abul Barkat Peace and Progress Foundation,’ which is immensely contributing to the cause of human welfare.

It is a matter of astonishment that as Chairman of JBL, Barkat strictly restricted the occasion of receiving any formal reception, garlending and giving slogan with praise. He did not use any lift kept reserve for the Chairman and instead used the common lift and while working sat on a very simple chair in his office. On 16 September 2009 he went to join as Chairman riding on his personal car. He never had a single cup of tea out of bank money. Though clearly mentioned his entitlement in the Banking Regulation and Policy Department (BRPD) circular of Bangladesh Bank, Barkat never enjoyed the benefit of latest model mobile phone, one Laptop, TNT phone in the residence, newspaper-magazines, car facility including other accompanying benefits.

One year after his joining as Chairman a very curious incident happened. Bir Protik Kakan Bibi, the lone tribal gallant freedom fighter was brought at Dhaka from the remote village of distant Sunamganj in a car which was allotted in his name as Chairman. It is only due to Barkat’s personal magnanimity as a renowned freedom fighter that arrangement was made for Kakan Bibi to stay in the Hotel Purbani and majestic honour was given to her on behalf of the Bank. Not only that Kakan Bibi was given a FDR of an amount Tk. 15 lac which she was lucky to receive from the hand of Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The money was given for her life-long maintenance. Barkat also took the initiative to arrange residential accommodation for her.

During the tenure of Barkat, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was introduced at a large scale. In 2009 CSR budget was Tk. 25 lac only which increased to Tk. 35 crore in the year 2014. This CSR was of much help for the poor and distressed people. He also sanctioned Tk. 1300 crore and a maximum ceiling of Tk. 60 lac as house building loan in favour of nearly 7,500 executives, officers and employees. Along with this, the ceiling of credit for motor cycle and computer was also increased two times.

Among other major steps: Barkat ordered in the meeting of Board of Directors to pay all dues to officers and employees within a month after prime lending rate ( PLR) . He arranged the posts of officers /employees of different positions in orderly manner; created many new posts for officers/employees; car loan for executives at zero percent interest and maitenance charge; increased incentive bonus three times; in three years (2009-2012) gave appointment of 6,500 educated youth in different positions; took initiative to write a book on life-history of 676 freedom fighters.

All these steps moved forward for the cause of humanity and personal glorious achievement of [freedom fighters]

Author:

* Former Principal, Government Titumir College, Dhaka, Bangladesh email: subassengupta[a]gmail.com

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