None above the law

Published on Thursday, January 10, 2019

In February 2012 Chris Huhne the then energy secretary of the United Kingdom had to resign after learning he will be charged with perverting the course of justice over a 2003 speeding case despite claiming he was innocent.

The allegation was that nearly a decade ago between March and May 2003 he had committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Vicky Pryce, his ex-wife had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver.

On Tuesday, January the 8th, the newly appointed State Minister of Post, Telecommunications & Information Technology Junaid Ahmed Palak on his verified Facebook page posted two photos of him on a motorbike. He was not wearing a helmet which is a complete breach of the Road Safety Law of the country. Later because of the public criticism that the Road Safety Law has been breached another photo was uploaded claiming he had a helmet.

Photos speak louder than the words, and the attempt, seemingly, went on vain.

The social media commentators pointed out major inconsistencies and accused him of fabricating the truth that the outfit of the driver of the vehicles did not look same and if it was an unplanned random event, who was taking the selfies?

One commentator commented that he had to perform a miracle to turn a Discover bike into a Pulser. He even jokingly asked him to explain the process as he owns a Walton Motorbike and wanted to transform it into an R15.

Both of these incidents are related to road safety measures of a country.

But, ironically, for us it was businesses as usual. We already have witnessed attempts to downplay this behaviour as a minor negligence. Therefore, overlooked.

Well, not entirely. Some news outlets also have reported that the state Minister has been cautioned by senior government and party officials.

Some hope, at least, but this also raises a serious fundamental question: Does rules of business of a democratic country governed by the principles of rule of law grant any member of the cabinet or a party official decision making authority to handle a matter like this? Is this enough?

In the era of enlightenment, French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu wrote, "a nation's freedom depended on three sources of power–legislative, executive and judicial–with each having their own separate powers." The constitution of Bangladesh is written in line with this fundamental principle of good governance and restricts the legislative and executive arms of the government from Interpreting, applying, or influencing the laws.

If this had happened in any functional democracy, a proper investigation by the relevant law enforcement agencies to determine whether a legal provision was compromised by a public office holder would have been the normal practice.

Now, let's be clear, I'm not here to accuse the minister of committing a crime. This incident serves just as a metaphor for this piece as these type of occurrences are a common phenomenon in Bangladeshi politics. Speaking frankly, personally, I admire him for the youth and energy he had brought to the government.

However, this is an issue far greater than my personal perception. At the core of this rests a cardinal premise: the morality of the government and its commitment to uphold the fundamental principle of good governance- equality before the law.

Sheikh Hasina's ascension to power for the third time in a row is accompanied by a simple expectation, that the government led by her would govern in accordance with the principles of democracy and Rule of Law, on such matters as fairness, Justice, conviction, and so on.

This has also been assured again and again by the Prime Minister herself from the very first moment of the election trail that a zero-tolerance policy would be in practice on matters such as corruption and rule of law.

In recent times, contentious political misconducts including widespread abuse of power, corruption, lack of accountability, and low moral standards have proven a test of the robustness of Bangladesh's democracy. And incidents such as this serves as undeniable evidences that politicians seeking to exploit the criminal justice system, are able to freely do so.

If the government is true to its commitment of creating a clean system, then it is an obligation to make people believe the law of the land applies to all and applicable without fear or favor, even when it is uncomfortable or embarrassing for the ruling party.

Neglecting laws is a scourge and a democratic society can never tolerate that under any circumstances. All Democratic nations take appropriate measures to tackle such misconducts. Bangladesh, in principle at least, is no exception.

Unfortunately, just passing strong legal provisions to combat such events without proper implementation cannot cure the culture of lawlessness that has become a signature tenet of Bangladeshi political landscape especially when the reputation of the government rests upon it.

Chris Huhne, after resignation told the press, "I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I am confident that a jury will agree. To avoid distraction, I am standing down and resigning as energy and climate change secretary."

Isn't this the exact same scenario we expect from our elected representatives? Can't we expect from our government to set examples that politicians, like every other citizen, are equal before the law?

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