Iinternational treaties kept secret!
None of the international treaties that Bangladesh signed with different countries over the last three decades has been placed in parliament.
This clearly undermines article 145A of the constitution that says: “All treaties with foreign countries shall be submitted to the President, who shall cause them to be laid before Parliament.”
The provision was introduced in 1978 to ensure transparency of the government and let people know about the treaties through parliament, a number of senior lawmakers told The Daily Star.
In an amendment to the Constitution in 1991, a clause was included which says if any treaty involves national security, it would be placed in a secret session of parliament.
Bangladesh later signed numerous treaties, conventions, protocols, and charters. Though they all are considered as treaties, none of those has been placed in parliament in the last three decades, said the lawmakers.
According to foreign ministry officials, more than a dozen treaties are signed between Bangladesh and different countries every year.
A senior official at the Parliament Secretariat said in the beginning of the ninth parliament, the communications ministry sent copies of a treaty, which Bangladesh signed to join the Trans-Asian Railway network, to the Parliament Secretariat for placing those in the House.
The official said they moved to have the treaty placed in parliament but the government did not allow it to be placed in the House.
The present government signed several treaties with different countries in the last three and a half years. Bangladesh and India on November 30, 2010 signed a crucial deal to allow heavy Indian equipment to be transhipped through Bangladesh territory to India’s landlocked northeastern state of Tripura for a proposed power plant.
Six months earlier, the two nations signed an agreement declaring Ashuganj as a new port of call for transporting heavy Indian consignments for its Palatana Power Project in line with an earlier decision taken during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India visit in January 2010.
Bangladesh inked the land boundary agreement with India in Dhaka in September last year formalising a 1974 treaty between the two countries for exchange of enclaves and land in adverse possession.
During Hasina’s visit to Turkey this year, Bangladesh and Turkey signed several agreements to boost bilateral trade and investment on April 12. They include agreement on reciprocal promotion and protection of investment; agreement concerning mutual abolition of visas for holders of diplomatic, official and special passports; and agreement on customs cooperation.
But none of those was placed in parliament.
When his attention was drawn to the indifference to the constitutional provision, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shafique Ahmed defended the government’s stance of not placing the treaties in parliament.
“No treaty signed earlier is worthy of being placed in parliament as none of them was international treaty,” he claimed.
Asked why treaties are not placed in parliament for discussion, former law minister Moudud Ahmed said it happens for lack of the government’s seriousness about exercising the provision.
“I think some treaties include points that the government does not want to reveal,” said Moudud, who held the law portfolio during the tenure of the last BNP-led government.
“It is our failure and we have undermined the constitution by not placing the treaties in parliament.”
Fazle Rabbi Mia, chief of parliamentary standing committee on law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry, said it should be a routine work to place in parliament the international treaties that Bangladesh signs with other countries.
“People could have known about the treaties had those been placed in parliament. The constitutional provision could have been honoured,” said Rabbi, lawmaker of ruling Awami League.
“But as far as I know, no international treaty was placed in the House since the second parliament in 1979.”
Rashed Khan Menon, chief of parliamentary standing committee on education ministry, said if the provision was exercised it would have ensured transparency in government activities.
“We have demanded many times that the treaties be placed in parliament. But no government responded to our calls,” said Menon, also chief of Workers Party.
Former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru said discussions on international treaties should be held in parliament after they are placed in the House.
“The aim of placing a treaty in parliament is to let people know about it. People can understand them better if discussions are held,” said Khasru, also chief of parliamentary standing committee on private members’ bills and resolutions.