No wonder whispers and whining
have begun to echo around the world about the news that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was honoured with a ‘poverty reduction award’ during the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 68th session by the UNDP’s South-South Cooperation (SSC).
The controversy follows publication of news in the Bangladesh media, quoting Bangladesh’s official news agency BSS and the private news agency UNB as sources, that the award was given for the PM’s commendable role in poverty reduction.
A picture captioned “For her special contribution in poverty alleviation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina receives an award from South-South News Honorary President Ambassador Francis Lorenzo at the headquarters of International Organisation for South-South Cooperation in New York on Monday (September 23)” added much fuel to the fire.
The South-South News is an appendage of the SSC, launched in February 2010, to distribute news of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the members of the Southern (developing) nations.
Award: an investigation
An exhaustive investigation reveals that the news of the Bangladesh PM receiving such an award is either false or twisted. In a press statement issued on September 19 by the SSC in its official websites the organization declared that “The 2013 South-South Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, September 22 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The awards recognize governments and private and public sector leaders who have made significant contributions to sustainable development.”
The statement added, “This year’s Global Governance Leadership award recipients include: Her Excellency Laura Chinchilla Miranda, President of Costa Rica; His Royal Highness Khalifa bin Salman Al – Khalifa, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain; and His Excellency Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji.”
The Press Release further states, “The Global Governance Leadership Awards are presented to individuals who have made distinctive contributions to sustainable development, the youth, e-governance, and information and communications technology. Other award recipients this year include His Excellency Nelson Mandela, Madame Graça Machel, and Mr. David Paich.”
Nowhere the name of the Bangladesh PM is found, either in the Press Releases, or by any other searches; except in the news published by Bangladesh media outlets.
New York-based News One reported on September 23 that: “The 2013 South-South Awards were held in Midtown Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel Sunday evening. The awards honored global leaders who’ve made contributions to sustainable development in their countries, with a particular nod to technology and innovation. The award recipients included Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, but the primary focus was on Nelson Mandela, who, along with Madame Graca Machel, was honored with a Humanitarian Award for his decades-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Confusion and controversy relating to the Bangladesh PM having received the award arose due to some other obvious reasons. First: The PM flew for New York on September 22 and arrived on September 23, a day after the awarding ceremony’s conclusion. Second: Viewers failed to find the name of the Bangladesh PM in this year’s recipients list, as well as in the pictorials made available in http://southsouthawards.com/southsouthawards. The third reason is: Neither the SSC and its affiliates’ websites, nor any other internet searches, yielded any result of the Bangladesh PM receiving the SSC’s poverty reduction award, except in the cited Bangladesh media.
Concerns are growing why the Bangladesh media not only did not verify the authenticity of the news, quoting the UNB and the BSS as the main sources, while one of the leading English language dailies of the country published on September 25 that, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has received an award for Bangladesh for its stellar performance in poverty reduction during the present government’s tenure. The International Organisation for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) gave the award at a function at its headquarters in New York on Monday. Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, president of the South-South News, handed over the award to Hasina, PM’s Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.”
For sure, the award given by the South South Cooperation’s main body and the South South News are quite different in content and context, and, Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, who’s shown in the published picture as giving the award to the Bangladesh PM, is a Honorary President of South South News (SSN), not South South Cooperation (SSC). The picture published in the Bangladesh media too clearly shows the background banner reading, “South South News.”
Yet, the State-owned news agency, BSS, reported that, “The International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC), an initiative of the UN to advance the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals through the sharing of best practices in the area of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, handed over the award to the Bangladesh Prime Minister at a function at the IOSSC headquarters here in the evening.”
From such published reports, one is tempted to surmise that the spin has been primed by the PM’s own aides. Especially the UNB’s quoting of the PM’s Press Secretary, Abul Kalam Azad, as the main and the only source of the news makes such an apprehension likely. It also seems surprising and surreal that, of the five journalists who comprised the PM’s 140-strong entourage, none was present in the reported award winning gala which was perhaps the most important event of the PM’s eight- day- long tour to New York.
In order to control the flow of information, something else also happened. The UNB-sourced report claimed, “PM’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, her daughter Saima Hossain Putul, AL leaders Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, and Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon, among others, were present on the occasion.”
Upon being contacted to shed lights on the swirling confusions, an SSC official referred to the Press Releases available on their official websites and refused to make any further comment. Asked about the news already published in the Bangladesh media, the official responded: “We’re not answerable for what the Bangladesh media writes or says.”
The SSC itself being silent on the issue, analysts can hardly be blamed for sprouting wild and imaginative theories about what exactly happened. That suspicion has been heightened by the publication by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, along with its news item titled ‘AL to celebrate Hasina’s South-South Award,’ a 2-year old photo, instead of the one reportedly taken during the latest UNGA session.
Others say, it may as well be that the PM was awarded by the SSC in the sideline for her contributions in other fields of MDG’s targets, not for poverty alleviation in particular. A survey of the SSC literature revealed that such a plausibility does exist; given that the SSC had already recognized Bangladesh as a ‘high achiever’ of MDGs and supported a proposition earlier to establish an ‘International Institute on Southern Development’ in Bangladesh.
In making that recommendation the SSC opined, “Bangladesh’s success in achieving many of the MDGs is internationally recognized. Bangladesh deserves a right position in the SSC as it has got many good practices to offer especially in the areas of disaster management, adaptation of climate change, women and child development and using IT for public service delivery at grass-root level. People are resilient and innovative here. Therefore, the proposed international institute on southern innovation would certainly add new dimension to the innovative efforts of Bangladesh in managing the development challenges and moving forward.”
None of such admiration can help overcome the budding conjectural assertions and the swirling of hyperbole around. The SSC and the Bangladesh government can do themselves better services by clearing the obfuscations that have begun to taint their respective images.