BB restrictions: Has the finance minister nothing to do?

The incident that happened at the press conference of the finance minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali following the unveiling of the budget for the 2024-24 fiscal was not normal. Among others, Bangladesh Bank governor Abdur Rauf Talukdar was also present and he was supposed to reply if any related query came up.

But after finance minister Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali’s opening speech, president of the Economic Reporters Forum (ERF) Mohammad Refayet Ullah Mirdha took the floor, calling the attention of the finance minister, saying, "The Bangladesh Bank governor has prohibited entrance of journalists into Bangladesh Bank. So we have decided we will not listen to his speech. We draw your attention so that he does not make any statement. If the Bangladesh Bank governor delivers a speech, we will boycott it."

After that, governor Abdur Rauf Talukdar made no statement throughout the press briefing. For most of the press briefing, the governor sat with his chin resting on his hand. Previously, journalists also boycotted a press conference of the governor at the Bangladesh Bank.

Also Read

The incident started with a decision of the central bank in April. Bangladesh Bank decided that journalists can visit only the spokesperson with a temporary pass, or if any official provides a pass, journalists then can meet that official. Journalists would no longer be allowed to visit freely at any department of the central bank like before.

The journalist community protested this decision of Bangladesh Bank. In addition to the demonstration, ERF leaders held meetings with the governor and tried to settle the issue, but it was not successful due to the rigid stance of the governor. Journalists demanded prior rules on their entry to Bangladesh Bank be kept in place. Previously, journalists could enter all buildings of the Bangladesh Bank with a special pass after issuing their name on the logbook at the reception.

Even though this practice has been in place since its inception, there is no answer to the question as to why it had to be changed so suddenly. And the decision has been taken at a time when news about corruption, irregularities and mismanagement in the banking sector was being published in various media continuously.

If we take this context into consideration, there is enough room to doubt whether Bangladesh Bank has imposed the new restrictions to suppress information of corruption, irregularities and mismanagement in the banking sector or not.

On the one hand, the government is talking about transparency and accountability, about zero tolerance against corruption and irregularities, on the other hand, it is adopting tactics to hide information. This is not only self-contradictory but also unethical.

We had hoped that the finance minister would take necessary action quickly after taking cognizance of the anger and protest of the journalists. But unfortunately, neither he did take any action in this regard before, nor did he say anything in the press conference that day. Should we assume then that the finance minister also endorses the decision of Bangladesh Bank?

What happened in the press conference that day must have been embarrassing for the governor as well. But what is the solution to this problem? No solution can be found by ignoring the legitimate demands of newspersons. To avoid such untoward incidents, the government should withdraw the restrictions on the entry of journalists to Bangladesh Bank and reinstate the previous rules. Finance minister also has an opportunity to play a role in this regard.