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Politics viewed as tool to make wealth

Mohiuddin Alamgir

The revelations of a huge upsurge in wealth of a number of ministers and lawmakers of the present government is indicative of how politics has become an instrument of making fortune, say citizens involved with corruption - and election watchdogs.
After the Election Commission made public the wealth statements of the candidates for the 10th parliamentary polls on December 14, media reports highlighted huge discrepancies between the wealth of prominent politicians of the ruling party and the statements they had provided prior to the 9th national polls in 2008.   
Eminent citizens said the disclosures smacked of potential corruption and urged the authorities concerned to investigate the discrepancies in the wealth claims made by the politicians. They also claimed that the affidavits of the candidates submitted to the Election Commission, as shocking as it was, might have understated the actual value of the wealth they accumulated over the last five years.
‘This is a naked example of how politicians have turned politics into a profit-making process,’ said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh.
Former state minister for housing and public works Abdul Mannan Khan, who reported having assets worth only Tk 10 lakh in 2008, reported assets worth Tk 11 crore in his statement submitted to the EC this time round. Environment minister Hasan Mahmud’s wife’s income worth Tk 19 lakh annually in 2008, has shot up to Tk 2 crore in 2013.
Former state minister for LGRD Jahangir Kabir Nanak reported a rise in asset value from Tk one crore to Tk 8.25 crore.
All three have been elected unopposed to the 10th parliament.
Similar discrepancies were also discovered in wealth statements of lawmakers and former and current ministers, their spouses and dependants, including former minister-without-portfolio Suranjit Sengupta and former primary and mass education minister Afsarul Amin, both of whom have also been elected unopposed.
A number of the candidates however, when contacted, claimed they had provided accurate statements and explained their income as a result of rise in asset value or fresh inheritance.  
‘The value of a land property I have owned for years has recently shot up,’ said Mannan Khan as an explanation of a huge surge in his wealth. Hasan Mahmud, Suranjit Sengupta and Jahangir Kabir Nanak were not available for comments despite repeated attempts. 
Despite the sensation created by the revelations, the Anti-Corruption Commission said on Thursday that they would not be probing the unusual rise in value of the wealth of current candidates.
‘The ACC statement is simply cowardly,’ said Iftekharuzzaman, adding, ‘they should take immediate steps to investigate the statements.’
‘The ACC can investigate the matter if it found that the tax returns submitted by candidates to the EC are not accurate and do not cover their actual wealth,’ said former ACC chairman Golam Rahman.
Most politicians in their latest statements described their income as earnings from agricultural land or from trading in the capital market.
‘In their statements many said they possess agricultural land to hide their actual wealth,’ said Shushashoner Janya Nagarik secretary Badiual Alam Majumder, explaining that agricultural land could easily be undervalued.
‘Share price can shoot up a thousand times,’ said Golam Rahman as an explanation for the unusual rise in their wealth. The share market had collapsed during the rule of the present government, between December 2010 and January 2011.
Madaripur-1 lawmaker Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury, whose younger brother Mujibur Rahman Nixon was interrogated by the ACC during the Padma Bridge scandal, reported his annual income as Tk 10 crore, a jump from Tk 4,48,000 in 2008. AL lawmaker Mirza Azam had reported having Tk one crore 91 lakh worth of assets in 2008, which jumped to Tk 15 crore 70 lakh in 2013.
‘I inherited a lot of wealth after my father’s death,’ claimed Azam, adding that he had done some business on the side. Nur-e-Alam could not be reached by phone for comments. Both of them have also been elected to the 10th parliament.
Experts say many of the statements smack of ill-gotten wealth. 
‘If their statements show that they earned wealth illegally they should be brought to justice,’ said Iftekharuzzaman, adding that illegal wealth was unconstitutional under article 20 (2) of the constitution.
Iftekharuzzaman and Badiul both said the wealth statements probably showed a partial picture, as many candidates might have hidden their actual worth, which was possibly much larger.
‘None of them mentioned their assets outside the country,’ said Badiul.
‘Political power has become an instrument of making wealth for many leaders in the country,’ said Badiul, adding, ‘politics is now a business and the trend is turning acute day by day.’

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Politics viewed as tool to make wealth

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