Friday, June 19, 2009

What the papers say, Bangladesh-style

To give you a flavour of what’s going on in Bangladesh, I thought I’d highlight some of the more interesting stories from the New Age, a local English-language paper.

  • The clocks are going forward by one hour tonight in a move designed to ensure more daylight during business hours and reduce electricity – having experienced the incredibly frequent and frustrating rolling blackouts during my few days here, I agree that something needs to be done about the acute power shortage. However, I find it slightly disconcerting when governments start to mess with time.
  • There is increasing opposition from the business community in Dhaka to the government’s plan to “whiten black money”, allowing the crooked and the corrupt to avoid legal sanctions if they fess up and pay tax on their ill-gotten gains, albeit at a lower rate than the normal income tax. Rouf Chowdhury, the industrialist I spoke to earlier this week, is one of the few open supporters of the amnesty. His view was basically that everybody is a little bit corrupt so it’s pointless having absolute standards.
  • The New Age’s rather basic magazine supplement contained a good feature about a new extortion scam that is targeting Bangladesh’s many garment manufacturers. But, in a very Bangladeshi twist, instead of trying to force the manufacturers to hand over cash, the organized criminals are demanding jhoot, the material off-cuts that can be used to make mattresses and pillows. This is a serious business and those who refused to co-operate have received death-threats. It says a lot about a country when crime syndicates are willing to murder someone over a few bags of rags. The fact that there is a market for such products also says a lot about the resilience and ingenuity of the Bangladeshi people.
  • The other story that caught my eye was the death of a cattle trader who was shot by an Indian border patrol, presumably while crossing between the two neighbours illegally. He was one of many that have met such a fate this year, in a sign of the persistent suspicion between these two nations. It’s a pretty extreme response to illegal border trade, of the kind that you’d expect from North Korea, not India.

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