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Rumi Ahmed

The recent controversy on Chevron deal and the follow up political rumblings surrounding the PM’s son and her energy advisor on one side and Amar Desh editor on the other side has captivated nation’s attention for the last few weeks. While we debate how freedom of speech is being used to trash political opponents, or how political thuggery is trying to gag free speech, the very important issue of a specific corruption allegation is getting crowded out.

Let’s keep Mr Sajib Wajed or Mr Mahmudur Rahman out of the issue. Mahmudur rahman is making full use of the victimhood, and his showmanship on this issue is ugly. And Mr Wajed is also dragged in this issue unnecessarily or prematurely. It is an unfortunate fact of life for the children of politicians of Bangladesh and beyond that they are always under close scrutiny and often victim of rampant character assassination attempts.

However, leaving these individuals aside, we are still left with a specific corruption allegation that has merit enough to demand further discussion and scrutiny. Amar Desh reports a specific corruption report with copies of leaked official correspondence.

The specifics of the corruption allegation are self revealing. A $52 million job was allocated to Chevron without required transparency that includes a tender process. And while protesting the report, PM’s energy advisor repeatedly misrepresented facts. While he said there was no bid in three tenders, the fact is that the Government cancelled earlier lowest bid from Korean Company Hyundai only to award the job to Chevron. He also lied about his agenda for the US trip.

Instead of relying on Amar Desh, let’s turn to the premiere newspaper of Bangladesh, the Daily Star. The Daily Star printed at least seven reports on this specific issue. (Interestingly, while Amar Desh report is based on government documents, the Daily Star series report, as usual, is based on unnamed sources. But let’s leave this aside, as no one would accuse the Daily Star of partisan hatred of the current government, or Mr Mahfuz Anam, its editor, of ugly showmanship.

On April 11 2009, the Daily Star warned that

a compressor station for gas distribution pipeline was being planned to be awarded to Chevron which would “… unduly give Chevron the authority to control major chunk of the country’s gas distribution system. This will definitely create a number of serious legal complications over the authority and ownership of the compressor station and the distribution pipeline” .

Another follow up report published on June 21 2009 quotes,

a gas transmission expert: “Even if we accept the idea of pumping PSC investment in compressor, I say Muchai gets no priority for a compressor station now. Because of high volume of gas produced by Chevron, the gas pressure at Muchai and onwards is 1024 pressure per inch (PSI). This pressure will stay for a couple of years at this point. But we need a compressor at Ashuganj where the pressure drops to 700-800psi. A number of new plants are being set up close to the Ashuganj pipeline system. Then why prioritise Muchai now?”

The same report also quotes another official: “Petrobangla’s extreme reliance on foreign investment in the gas sector has already created a precarious situation for the national exchequer. The cost of gas is now very high because foreign companies are producing more gas than the national companies which have been denied adequate funds for their healthy growth”.

On August 02 2009, based on undisclosed sources, a piece reports that:

…Petrobangla continues to hammer hurriedly awarding US oil company Chevron the contract for an over-priced gas compressor station project in the Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) system through a questionable process by totally sidelining a host of technical and financial questions raised by a GTCL consultant.”

The report also quotes a GTCL consultant: “Chevron has not yet submitted its detailed technical and price proposals for Muchai station. An energy ministry approval would actually give Chevron a go-ahead without scrutinising what the GTCL is buying.”

According to Daily Star’s sources the report raised the following important points,

  • The cost-recoverable Chevron’s Muchai station’s actual cost would be much higher than $ 52.7 m because this cost does not include two years’ operation and maintenance cost or that of spare parts.
  • The sources also raised questions whether Petrobangla could bypass the cabinet’s approval for imposing a cost of $ 52.7 m for a GTCL project outside a PSC area just by making an interpretation of a PSC clause in favour of it.
  • GTCL sources questions were also raised in the report “… where is the mechanism to see if it is a fair price? Where is the competition and transparency?”
  • Petrobangla’s move to award the deal to Chevron raises further questions because the GTCL board headed by the Petrobangla chairman in May had cancelled a GTCL tender to award contract to Korean company Hyundai to install three compressors with Asian Development Board (ADB) funding.
  • “Gas supply through this pipeline can be increased by 50- 60 million cubic feet a day (mmcfd) by augmenting production in these fields, even without installing compressor,” says a pipeline expert. “By installing compressor, the pipeline will be able to increase only 9 mmcfd gas.”
  • The above were also stated in the report of an independent consultant hired by the ADB.
  • It was also mentioned that PetroBangla improperly cancelled Hyundai’s initial bid.

Then another report on August 30 announces that: “The PMO sought the project files and explanation following a report in The Daily Star revealing this fact.” The report continues: “As the prime minister sought explanation from Petrobangla chairman why he was so eager to award US company Chevron a $52.7 million contract to install a gas compressor station over the Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) system by cancelling an open tender, the chairman gave a smoky response last week…..While seeking the energy ministry’s approval late last month for allowing installation of Chevron’s compressor station over GTCL system, Muktadir ( PatroBangla Chairman) concealed the fact that Chevron had not clarified the 16 technical questions. …Petrobangla’s move to award the deal to Chevron poses serious questions because the GTCL board headed by the Petrobangla chairman cancelled in May the GTCL tender to award Korean company Hyundai a contract to install three compressors under an Asian Development Bank (ADB) fund.”

Something must have transpired during the time when the file was in PM’s office. Either PM and her advisors took an executive decision to go for the Chevron contract bypassing the cabinet purchase commitee ( On the ground that it was advance of block 12 PSC money) to expedite the process or Chevron must have made an offer to the advisor which he could not refuse.

The follow up report on this issue on September 09 states that:

“The prime minister yesterday approved a Petrobangla proposal to award a $ 52.7 million contract to US company Chevron to install a gas compressor station to improve gas flow pressure in the Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) system under a Production Sharing Contract (PSC).”

Even in this report it is suggested that : “The approval was given amid a number of contradictions, including that the GTCL is not a party to the PSC and that earlier the Petrobangla chairman had a GTCL tender for the compressor cancelled to award the deal to Chevron. He has been pursuing Chevron to install the compressor station at Muchai on GTCL’s pipeline. Petrobangla’s move to award the deal to Chevron raises serious questions because the GTCL board headed by the Petrobangla chairman in May had cancelled the GTCL tender to award contract to Korean company Hyundai to install three compressors under the ADB funding.” According to the report, ” This project would also be a unique example where a PSC operator like Chevron would hold a stake in a national gas transmission system without any clear legal framework to support it, experts noted. This is also an unsolicited deal.”

According to another report on 27 October:

”No sooner had the government changed Petrobangla chairman earlier this month than Petrobangla raised questions whether installing a costly gas compressor station for Gas Transmission Company Ltd (GTCL) by US company Chevron has any justification. “

Quoting a PetroBangla official, this report asks: “with the recent increase of gas supply from different gas fields of Chevron, the flow pressure has already reached 1050 PSIG. Therefore, why should Chevron be allowed to install such a costly device and get that money out of gas production and sales from block 12?” .

The report again stresses that: “It is a sharp contrast to Petrobangla’s earlier position. Its past chairman M Muktadir Ali had cancelled an open tender of the GTCL for the same project; and strongly recommended awarding the job to Chevron under a Production Sharing Contract (PSC) for block 12. But the GTCL is not a party to the PSC, thereby leaving a lot of legal issues for the future.”

The report adds that:

“…Chevron’s compressor station project cost is actually $12 million higher than the cost proposed by Hyundai at Muchai point in the GTCL tender that was cancelled… This is also an unsolicited deal that is also the first of its kind in the public sector gas transmission system, which should be a monopoly of the GTCL.

According to Daily Star’s sources, PM’s approval of the Chevron contract made many related official very uncomfortable. It reports: “… following the PM’s approval of Chevron’s project, Petrobangla invited GTCL’s experts several times to attend Petrobangla-Chevron Joint Management Committee (JMC) meeting on setting up the compressor station. But these officials declined saying that they did not want to be part of the controversy.“

Although the same reporter reporting all these loved to connect all the vices that took place during BNP’s 2001-2006 rule to PM’s son Tarique Rahman, this time, suddenly he becomes mum. No further investigation why sudden change in mind of PM office, why so much push for Chevron!

There is enough here to demand an investigation. This is not about Sajeeb Wajed or Mahmudur Rahman. This is much bigger than these individuals. And we do the nation a huge disservice by clouding the message here.

* * * * *

Rumi Ahmed is a Bangladeshi blogger from United Sates.

Also published in In the Middle of Nowhere.


Capt. Husain Imam
October 27, 2008. Dhaka.

According to adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman, the unofficial spokesman of the caretaker government, the much sought after national election, scheduled to be held on December 18, is now on the highway and it is determined to reach its target dead on time. Yet the uncertainty with the election that has all along overcast the political horizon ever since the present CTG took over the helm of affairs of the country some 21 months ago is not over.

Mr. Suranjit Sen Gupta, one of the top ranking leaders of Awami League, thinks that the election train might have got on to the highway, but the possibility of a highway crash can never be totally ruled out. So the people should still be extremely cautious about it. I tend to agree with himDespite the fact that there have been several dialogues (official as well as unofficial) between the government and the two major political parties, AL and BNP, and after the one held last Thursday both sides claimed to have narrowed down the differences significantly, three major demands, almost common to both the parties, as pre-conditions for participating in the election, still remain unresolved.

The demands are: One, the party chairperson/president has to be fully, permanently, and unconditionally freed and allowed to participate in the election. Two, the emergency has to be fully lifted. Three, the upazilla election date has to be rescheduled and held at least 15 days after the national election.If we understand what Dr. Zillur Rahman has been telling the public in the recent days, the CTG is prepared to relax emergency rules to an extent so that the political parties can carry out their election campaign and the voters can cast their votes freely and independently without any fear or intimidation from any quarters. But they are not prepared to lift the emergency rules fully.

The reason is not difficult to understand. They do not want those political leaders who have been held on charges of corruption and convicted in the trial courts under emergency rules to contest the next election. If the emergency is lifted, they will all be probably eligible for contesting the election.

The political parties might have to come to an understanding with the government at least on this issue if they really mean business. Because, one thing is for sure, people don’t want to see those who are perceived or known to have committed large-scale corruption, abusing state power in the recent past, entering politics or contest the next election.

And for the caretaker government, it is probably high time they gave up any hope, if they still have, of implementing the “minus two” formula. When Dr. Zillur Rahman can confidently say that there is no bar whatsoever for the two ladies, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, to lead their respective parties in the next election and get their party candidates elected in the parliament, but is unable to say in clear terms whether they will be able to contest in the election themselves, one has valid reason to be wary.

BNP secretary general Khondokar Delwar Hossain has clearly and repeatedly said that his party will not participate in the election without Khaleda Zia. The stand of Awami League on this particular issue is not different either. That there can be no election, let alone a credible election, in the country without these two ladies is a stark reality.

Even if the central leaders of both AL and BNP, under compulsion and in the interest of a smooth transfer of power to an elected government (for argument’s sake), decide to go to polls without Sheik Hasina and Begum Zia, there is every possibility that they will face stiff resistance from the grassroots level workers and leaders of their parties, making it almost impossible to go through the election process. The earlier the CTG realises it, the better it will be.

As for upazilla election, most of the political parties including AL and BNP think that the date fixed for upazilla election, with only five days gap from national election, is an impractical proposition, running the risk of creating a mess for both the elections, and have rightly asked for shifting the date of upazilla election by a fortnight or so. The Election Commission will be well advised to listen to the mainstream political parties and act accordingly.

One more thing the caretaker government needs to realise. With only 50 days or so left for the national election, there is no scope for them to undertake any more experiment or embark upon any further adventure with democracy. They have had enough of them over the last 22 months. A few of them might have proved productive. But most of them, I dare say, met with disappointing consequences.

The latest idea to get the two ladies sit across the table and talk, a brainchild of their common lawyer Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, died its natural death before it could even see the light of the day. And now when we hear from Dr. Zillur Rahman that they would like to continue holding dialogues with the political parties to bring about a qualitative change in politics, we welcome their initiative but when they say that they would like to get a commitment from the political parties as to how they are going to run the country after the election, one cannot but feel pity for them.

If the CTG is really serious about holding a free, fair, and credible election on December 18, they ought to resolve the three core issues — participation of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia in the election, lifting of emergency, and rescheduling of upazilla polls — before even declaring the election schedule on November 2.

* * * * *

Capt. Hussain Imam is a retired merchant navy officer and a contributor to New Age and Daily Sangbad

(দৈনিক সংবাদ).

September 27, 2008.

It’s not important that whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, but we are always to stuck some phrases and the political circumstances constantly precipitate our discussions to move towards those words. Prior to the January 11, 2007 coup d’état, the word banging our skulls was, ‘Dialogue’ (Bengali: সংলাপ). Every evening we were used to watch news in TV channels with video clips of Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil. Smiles they were used to have was more friendly than necessary, that many suspected whether they are on the discussion of becoming in-laws in some consent. It’s clear that they were not talking about being in-laws as they have not been in-laws till today. But, this is never to be unfolded that what really these two guys had been talking about for five long days in the North Plaza of Bangladesh Jatiyo Shangshad.

Immediately after the coup d’état of January 2007, two words that have taught us and made us through all possible levels and layers of annoying monotony on earth, were ‘Corruption’ (Bengali: দূর্নীতি) and ‘Reformation’ (Bengali: সংস্কার) After going through a high quality X-ray test, the regime finally completed the list of leaders from all over the countries whose spines were subsequently missing, although they could stand straight. May be it was their standing straight without a backbone which impressed the regime; they were all admitted to the School of Reformation. Pickups from BNP got their graduation in October 29, 2007, whereas the whole studies of Awami League leaders were a complete covert effort. They were either given high quality lectures, or the lectures were so poor that they cannot act constantly in a flow, sometimes talk completely contradictory to the lectures they were given, again sometimes talk exactly how they are supposed to talk after reformation learning. However, after Begum Zia was released in bail, the BNP reformist pickups deserted their reformation alumni at a row, so the reformation word now is a bit suppressed, or you can say dropped.

Well, these are all old stories, but important. We were talking about words at hike. And beyond all suspicions, the word that is now trailing our ears aggravatingly is, ‘Dialogue between Two Leaders’ (Bengali: দুই নেত্রীর মধ্যকার সংলাপ). With the blessings of FBCCI leader and ‘progressive’ and ‘shushil’ businessman Anisul Haque and astray involvement of the 1/11 regime, Barrister Rafiqul Haque’s slack proposal for sake of words now have been the word to entitle the lead political news reports of media. The involvement of this regime in this case is the counted one. According to straight-forward talker Barrister Haque, we’ve learnt that Advisor Hossain Zillur phoned him at that very night of his statements at High Court office, to let him know that the regime is interested immensely to be a hand to the effort to combine two leaders at a table.

BNP-AL unity, two leaders embracing each other, resolving all political complicacies, these words have shiny attractive colours at the eyes of the media, as well as Anisul Haque and others of his type feel immensely glad to come to the media with these gaudies. We must not forget FBCCI President Abdul Awaal Mintu in 2001 presented a boat-printed sari to Sheikh Hasina and a paddy-printed sari to Khaleda in order to bring peace over this country. I don’t know where those saris presently are, but what I know is the outcome of those attempts was zero. If this memory recall sounds like I’m discouraging Anisul Haque to combine two leaders, well, the recall doesn’t sound that wrong.

The government have many questions to be asked about their interest behind having two leaders together in a dialogue. First question will arise about their own stance. They want two leaders talking to each other, but for what? In what point they’ll be insisted to come to agreement? Hossain Zillur Rahman consequently hails honesty and sincerity in the intension of the regime. But by showing strictness, the regime can’t have two leaders agreeing with them. They are adamant about having the elections amid state of emergency. They are adamant about having two elections back to back. Whereas our two political parties are almost similar in following issues:-

• The election in no way and no way can be held amid state of emergency. There is no utility of lifting it hours before the dawn of election date. It must be lifted, some weeks before the election.

• Upazilla election cannot be carried on seven days after the general election. In general election, candidates will have to reach people through grass-root leaders and activists. But grass-root leaders will be already campaigning for the Upazilla election where many of them will be candidates. In the circumstances, the whole campaign will be a complete mismanagement.

• There should be councils before having the parties approving any proposal from the government. The communication with all layers of party activists must take place. This is the prerequisite of democratization of political parties that the present 1/11 regime has been hailing like তোতাপাখি (parrot).

But here this is the other part of regime’s deliberation of arranging Khaleda-Hasina dialogue, where they’ve sternly turned down all these three points of unity of two parties. CEC Shamsul Huda in Dhaka, Hossain Zillur Rahman is Washington and D. Fakhruddin Ahmed in New York, have been saying, “There will be no problems with back to back elections!!! There will be no problems with back to back elections!!!” But we must not reproach the reality. It’s easy for a school to take back to back exams in its rooms. Teachers won’t have it as a big deal to invigilate back to back exams if they are provided with enough rounds of tea with biscuits and most importantly special allowances. But the students will be losing momentum and confidences to sit for both the exams. What would happen if the CEC Shamsul Huda were set to sit for matriculation exam and intermediate exam in one week? In that case he were not the one be the CEC today for sure.

Many have become quite relaxed after D. Fakhruddin’s addressing to the nation that the confusion over state of emergency is almost over. This is ridiculous. At the initial stage of 1/11 government when almost only person who knew to talk in Bangladesh was Barrister Mainul Hussain, who subsequently tried to debate in favor of carrying on election amid emergency rules. Barrister Hassan Arif several times stated that it’s possible to go for any election amid emergency rules. Gen. Matin, because of not being a guy of the courts, didn’t stated anything directly, but told the regime will consult its lawyers to explore resorts to hold the election amid emergency rules. Because of this is the emergency rules, nobody dared to ask any adviser that why the emergency ain’t lifted. This question will be a direct hit to the foundation of this regime which is extremely weak and fragile. Having a lawsuit being carried on in Supreme Court which challenges the regime of its legality and lawfulness of existence, this regime’s situation is enormously vulnerable and in the circumstance, they must come to agreement with political parties in issues of emergency rules and back to back election controversies. Before looking for the agenda of two leaders’ dialogue, they must take care of the one which is already an agenda at the agreement of BNP and Awami League.

icon for podpress The New Age Editor Nurul Kabir speaks to BBC Play Now | Download

Now, about the dialogue between two leaders. My personal observation is no such thing is going to take place in near future. I can see the attitude of Amir Hussain Amu. I can see the statements coming out of Suranjit Sengupta’s mouth. Shameless word selection of Abdur Razzaq in working committee meeting is also taken under consideration. This is almost clear that these three leaders, Amir Hussain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta and Abdur Razzaq, in no way are interested to have the two leaders dialogue to turn to reality. Sheikh Hasina still ain’t a free lady as Khaleda Zia is. But the momentum is stepping ahead in such way where we will have her free in some days. After getting free, she should recollect what happened to the party in last 18 months and what roles these three leaders played. This will be totally unexpected if these three leaders are taken back to positions those they held before 1/11. Bashing the family members of opponents is the way Amu, Suranjit and Razzaq have chosen to reconcile whatever they have learned from School of Reformation. But Sheikh Hasina must be good enough to recognize this. This will be a total discouragement for other loyal AL leaders if they see these three are forgone untouched. If Sheikh Hasina is going to take steps against backstabbing tendency of these three leaders, we can have hope of a dialogue. Otherwise, there is no way for the dialogue to be a reality. Though a dialogue (may be of month long) cannot solve all political disputes overnight, but the socialization of two top leaders I think should be considered.

Not in order to have political solutions overnight, just for sake of being less aggressive in future, the socialization of these two leaders are very important. And FBCCI President Anisul Haque is not the guy for this job. Barrister Rafiqul Haque is okay, he helped both of the ladies to bail out of the hell, and he is trusted by both of the ladies. Two parties too can take the initiative. I’ll prefer initiatives taken by Khandoker Delwar Hussain and Zillur Rahman. B

icon for podpress BC Interviews Syed Ashraf and Khandoker Delwar: Play Now | Download

But FBCCI, BGMEA, Anisul Haque and bla bla, really should mind business.

[Considering the difficulties of Bangla fonts, the article have been presented in three segments one after one, each as gif image. After the article bellow the heading will start loading, you can simply start to read and the article load will complete as you will go ahead -Editor]

Mahmudur Rahman
6 September, 2008. Dhaka.

Mahmudur Rahman is the former Chairman of Bangladesh Government’s Board of Investment and formerly the Adviser of Fuel to the cabinet.

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