Bangladesh approves new road safety law to placate protesters

Bangladesh’s cabinet approved the draft of a new road safety law to placate thousands of students who have been protesting on the streets across the country. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 August 2018

Bangladesh approves new road safety law to placate protesters

  • Bangladesh cabinet on Monday approved Road Transport Act setting capital punishment for bus drivers found guilty of negligence resulting in roadside deaths
  • Thousands of student protesters had paralyzed the capital Dhaka for nine days, demanding safer roads, after two students were fatally hit by two racing bus drivers

DHAKA: The Bangladesh Cabinet on Monday approved the draft of the Road Transport Act 2018, with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) 500,000 ($5,000) for drivers found involved in rash accidents resulting in roadside deaths.

The Cabinet nodded to the new road safety law to placate thousands of students who have been protesting on the streets across the country since July 29, demanding road safety.

But the proposed new act will not make the civil society and passengers in the country happy.

According to the draft law, it will now be mandatory for a driver to have completed his 8th grade education to obtain a driving license. The new law also proposes the death penalty for drivers found guilty of negligence that results in roadside deaths.

Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam highlighted parts of the new draft while talking to media at the Secretariat after the cabinet meeting.

“We preferred a tougher law. This legislation has only added to our frustration,” said Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, Secretary of the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association.

“In the case of road transport issues, we have noticed the government always sits with the transport owners and workers. But there is no representation from the passengers who are the major stakeholders in the transport sector, and that is why passengers’ interests are not addressed properly.

“In the law, we are demanding a separate authority for the investigation of roadside accidents since it requires a different type of expertise. Otherwise, due to weakness of the investigation process, the culprits can’t be punished properly, which we have experienced in the past.”

The proposed law has failed to fulfill the expectation of the people, said advocate Monjil Morshed, President of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB). In 2016, the country’s high court gave a verdict against a writ petition filed by HRPB demanding that in the case of death in road accidents the accused should be sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.

“I noticed that in the proposed law, the maximum punishment level has been decreased, which is not in accord with the demand of the people,” said Monjil.

The draft law will now be forwarded to parliament for enactment as soon as possible.

“However, in the new law, the offense is treated as a non-bailable offense and the inclusion of 12 points on the driving license is a good thing,” Monjil added.

In the proposed law, in the case of any accident the driver will lose one single point of his license and if any driver commits 12 such accidents, his license will be canceled.

In Bangladesh, about 20 people die in road accidents every day, according to the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association. In the past 42 months, more than 25,000 people died in road accidents while more than 62,000 were injured, notes the BPWA.

Students’ protests entered the ninth consecutive day in Dhaka, paralyzing the country and forcing the government to pay heed to the issue. Clashes have been reported on Dhaka University campus between general students and the ruling party student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League. Clashes were also reported in East West and North South University campus, which are the country’s two leading private universities.

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 22 September 2019

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.