Six parliamentary standing committees: Conflict of interest looms
Six of the nine members of the parliamentary standing committee on commerce ministry are businesspersons. Their inclusion in the committee may lead to a conflict of interest. According to the rules of procedures of parliament, any person who has personal, financial and direct interests under consideration of the committee cannot be a member of the committee.
Analysing the names of the members of different parliamentary committees, it has been discerned that conflicts of interest are likely in at least six of the committees, including the committee on the commerce ministry. The remaining five include parliamentary standing committees on the labour ministry, power, energy and minerals ministry, shipping ministry, expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry and the local government, rural development ministry.
The main task of a parliamentary standing committee is to review the works of the concerned ministry and to investigate major allegations of irregularities and corruption. Besides, these committees also make necessary recommendations to respective ministries after analysing the bills raised in parliament. However, most of the parliamentary standing committees formed in the 10th and the 11th parliament were inactive.
The 12th national parliament has formed a total of 50 parliamentary standing committees within just five days of starting. Of them, 39 are standing committees on different ministries. The remaining 11 committees are on parliamentary affairs.
The former commerce minister of the previous cabinet Tipu Munshi is the president of the parliamentary standing committee on commerce ministry. He has mentioned business as his profession in his affidavit submitted to the election commission (EC). Of the other members of the committee, Sheikh Helal Uddin, Sheikh Afil Uddin, Shariful Islam Jinnah and Mahmud Hasan are businesspersons and the lone female member of the committee, Sultana Nadira is the managing director of Madhumati Tiles Limited.
SM Al Mamun, member of the parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry, has a ship-breaking business. Another member Shamim Osman has a garment business.
Member of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Power, Energy and Minerals, Selim Mahmud mentioned himself as a lawyer in his affidavit. He is also a consultant on international laws and energy related issues. Abdur Rauf, another member of the committee, has petrol pump businesses.
Member of the standing committee on the shipping ministry Golam Kibria is involved in the launch business. Nizam Uddin Hazari has been selected as a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment. He is involved in the human resource export business. He has been mentioned as the chairman of a company named ‘Snigdha Overseas’ in the website of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA).
Mohammad Ali, member of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, works as a contractor. It has been learnt that he also works for the local government ministry on contract, according to the local sources.
Speaking regarding the risk of a conflict of interest within the parliamentary standing committee, Chief Whip Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury told Prothom Alo that many of the committee members have business and there is no problem with that. We have to see whether they are doing business with the government.
Committee president after being dropped from cabinet
Former ministers and state ministers of the previous cabinet have been made the president of 12 of the parliamentary standing committees on respective ministries. AK Abdul Momen has been made the president of the parliamentary standing committee on foreign ministry, AHM Mustafa Kamal the president of parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry, MA Mannan the president of parliamentary standing committee on the planning ministry, Tipu Munshi the president of parliamentary standing committee on the commerce ministry, Abdur Razzaque the president of parliamentary standing committee on agriculture ministry, SM Rezaul Karim the president of parliamentary standing committee on fisheries and livestock ministry, Golam Dastagir Gazi the president of parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Textiles and Jute, Saifuzzaman Chowdhury the president of the parliamentary standing committee on land ministry, Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing the president of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Imran Ahmed the president of the parliamentary standing committee on Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, Sharif Ahmed the president of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Housing and Public Works and former state minister Zahid Hasan has been made the president of the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Speaking regarding the selection of 12 former ministers and state ministers as the president of respective parliamentary standing committees, chief whip Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury told Prothom Alo that the former ministers have the experience of working at the respective ministries. Their efficiency and experience would come as a great help for the standing committees. "It’s a prudent decision."
Asked whether a conflict of interest may emerge in case the former ministers who have been made the presidents of different parliamentary standing committees get accused of corruption or irregularities, the chief whip said the president is not the only member of the committee. The other members of the committee can run the investigation in that case.
Risks of exerting influence
Once, the ministers used to be the president of the respective parliamentary standing committees. Later, a change was brought to the parliamentary rule of procedures, which bars the ministers from being the president of the respective parliamentary standing committee.
However, there is no such bar in case of former ministers. The trend of making former ministers the president of respective parliamentary standing committees became popular after the 10th parliamentary elections.
The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) published a research report titled “Efficacy of parliamentary standing committees in Bangladesh: Problems and solutions.
According to that report, six of the standing committees of the 9th parliament had members involved in businesses related to the ministries under them. There were five such committees in the 10th parliament.
TIB said in the report that inclusion of the minister and former ministers in the parliamentary standing committees on the concerned ministry as a member and the president respectively leads to the risk of exerting influence.
Parliament researcher and former professor of the Chittagong University Nizam Uddin said choosing the former ministers as the president of the parliamentary standing committees on concerned ministries has both pros and cons. The benefit is the experience of the former minister, but the problem is the ministry will have to carry on with the works taken up in the previous terms. In that case, there are chances of no investigation at all if any allegation of irregularities in the previous term is brought up. Besides, there is a possibility that the committee will not review the works of the ministry from a critical point of view.
Speaking to Prothom Alo regarding this, former CU professor Nizam Uddin said, “It would have been better if the persons, who have personal interest with the respective ministries, were not included in the parliamentary standing committees. But the inclusion of a businessperson in the concerned parliamentary standing committee doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she would always favour the businesspersons. We have to wait for the committees to start work in full swing to see whether there is any conflict of interest or not.”
* This report appeared in the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu