In most contexts, if you mess up badly - you get fired. And there is general consensus that Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury has messed up not just badly but spectacularly badly. (During his home ministry days, the law and order situation got out of hand. He has since been allegedly linked to massive corruption and being chummy with certain nasty terrorists. Most recently he has presided over spiralling price hikes. And on the international scene his commerce department has been criticised for poor performace in world trade negotiations).When he first messed up in the home ministry, the retired air force man did not get fired. He got shunted to the commerce ministry. He himself termed it a promotion. And now that he has thoroughly messed up his portfolio at the Commerce ministry he has not been fired. He has been made minister without portfolio - meaning ministerial salary, perks and privileges remain intact. He is like a cat with nine lives.

You have got to ask why the PM feels so unable to dismiss this minister fully from all offices of the state. Maybe that is a blog post for another time…

On this “sad” day (just in case he has used up his nine lives) I was wondering how I should remember him. The ex-commerce minister has made many “memorable” statements but the one that sticks in my mind was made earlier this month (9th April). He was speaking at a roundtable entitled “Social and ecological standards in the RMG (readymade garments) industry.” Let me quote him in full:

“Our valued buyers need to recognize our limitations and should not demand standards, which are too high for producers in a country like Bangladesh. The socio-economic realities as well as the capabilities of a Least Developed Country should be considered before asking for compliance with such standards, especially in social and ecological aspects.”

He basically appealed to buyers to forget about the dangerous sweatshop conditions people are forced to work in because Bangladesh was a poor country and it could not conceivably meet any standards. He was in effect saying - don’t harass the factory owners. Who cares if a few hundred men, women and children die in factory fires and collapses? We need this multi-million dollar industry to carry on making us rich…and things like unlocking fire exits is just too exacting for us to meet. Incredibly he was speaking two days before the first anniversary of the most dreadful garment industry disaster the world has seen and after four further disasters in february and march of 2006. Sensitive guy or what?

And no post seems complete these days without something about lobbyists. It seems that the honourable minister issued a press statement as recently as last week re contracting a lobbyist (= the latest form of suprlus appropriation in Bangladesh) in Geneva to press for duty and quote free market access. Read HERE.