Railway minister cannot shirk moral responsibility
TUESDAY’S events surrounding the detention of the railway minister’s assistant private secretary, a general manager of Bangladesh Railways and a commandant of Railway Nirapatta Bahini certainly leave a number of question marks on the conduct of the minister himself. Firstly, Suranjit Sengupta, a veteran politician, parliamentarian and freedom fighter who has been associated with progressive politics and has often spoken about the importance of rule of law and the declining state of our national politics, certainly attracted raised eyebrows by deciding not to hand over the officials to the police, after they were released by the Bangladesh Border Guards, given the gravity of the suspicions their conduct had raised. Suranjit subsequently suspended his APS on Wednesday, which would suggest that the minister himself recognises that some offence has been committed. Secondly, despite having formed two separate committees to investigate how these two officials were in possession of such a staggering amount of money, he has already tried to assign blame on the driver of the vehicle carrying the three officials, whose efforts — whatever the motivation — led to the detention of three in the first place, by accusing him of having ‘blackmailed’ his assistant private secretary. It would seem to suggest that the minister is already favourably inclined towards the APS’s version of the incident even before the investigations have been completed.
Suranjit’s decision to form two separate investigation committees, to be headed by his private secretary and a railway official, essentially direct colleagues of those under suspicion, to probe the incident is also an extremely questionable decision which creates doubt whether a proper investigation would be carried out at all. Pertinently, Suranjit further dismissed the idea of a judicial probe into the incident, suggested by a member of parliament on the parliamentary affairs committee for the railways ministry. The minister’s straddling around the issue and a failure to come up with a convincing explanation of why and how members of his staff were carrying such a huge amount of money have certainly added to creating further confusion and ambiguity surrounding the incident. Given the outrage and levels of suspicion this incident has attracted, the minister certainly stands responsible, at least morally, for the incident.
There is common perception in the country that a lot of corruption and bribery in the highest seats of the government is carried out through the hands of the private secretaries and assistant private secretaries of ministers, with or without their knowledge. Tuesday’s incident has certainly added fuel to such suspicion, especially since Bangladesh Railways is in the process of recruiting hundreds of new employees. Given Suranjit’s stature and reputation in national politics, it was only expected that the minister would take immediate steps to allay the suspicions surrounding the incident. Regrettably, however, his conduct so far has only added to the ambiguity. The minister or any of his ministry officials are yet to come up with a convincing explanation as to how these officials came in possession of such a large amount of money. In these circumstances, the opposition’s call for the minister to step down certainly sounds convincing, at least for the sake of a proper investigation into the incident.
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