THE Bangladesh Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust had to lay off all its 20 industries because of corruption and inefficiency after flawed policies of the government had made them sick. The last of the industries to have been closed was Eastern Chemical Industries Ltd in Chattogram in October and the latest before this was Mimi Chocolate Ltd which was closed in August. The 18 other industries were closed between 1983 and 2009. But what makes the closure of the industries worrying is that the trust, which was set up as the Bangladesh Freedom Fighters’ Welfare Trust in 1972 mandated to bear the cost of wheel chairs, prosthetic limbs, medicines, educational expenses, daughter’s marriage and the burial of freedom fighters who were wounded in the 1971 war of liberation and families of the martyrs, has rendered ineffective in doing its mandated job. Ultimately, the freedom fighters, who laid down their lives and who became wounded in the war, come to suffer. The closure of the industries also shows that successive governments, including the incumbent Awami League the two latest consecutive tenures of which saw the closure of two industries under the Freedom Fighters’ Welfare Trust, have been negligent in their commitment towards the freedom fighters.
Eastern Chemical Industries Ltd is reported to have incurred Tk 15.6 million in yearly losses because of the corruption and inefficiency of trust officials and Mimi Chocolate Ltd had to incur Tk 7.2 million in losses every year. The situation became so constraining that the trust had to borrow Tk 92.5 million from the government to pay for utility bills and salaries and benefits of 104 regular members on the staff and 136 members on the Tabani Beverage stuff who were retrenched. In addition to the 20 industries that the trust had — nine in 1972 and 11 in 1978, the trust also had 12 profitable concerns, including a cinema, a filling station and a publishing house. Almost all the industries were making profits when they had gone under the trust and most of the enterprises still make profit after they have gone under private ownership. This suggests that successive governments have not tried to attend to the issues of corruption, mostly by trust officials, and inefficiency that let the industries down. Trust officials are reported to have leased out shops in markets that the trust set up on the spaces left vacant by the industries at throwaway prices and lined their pockets.
The government must, under the circumstances, institute investigations to find the people responsible — by way of their corruption, inefficiency and greed — for the plight of the Freedom Fighters’ Welfare Trust and hold them to account in due process. The government, especially the incumbents who do not miss any chance to claim having the spirit of the liberation war, must also work out a plan to see if the industries now closed could be revived and be run in a profitable way, even if the trust needs to be wholly overhauled. It would be unwise to let such a trust, meant to support freedom fighters who earned independence for the nation, go down the history in such a manner.
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