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Tuesday, 23 April, 2024

Two die from 'heatstroke' as Bangladesh boils under sweeping heatwave

BUET postpones exams amid boycott for politics-free campus

The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology or BUET has postponed ongoing examinations amid a boycott by students who demand the restoration of a ban on politics on the campus. The decision came during an emergency meeting of the Academic Council chaired by Vice-Chancellor Satya Prasad Majumder on Saturday, said Mohammad Al Amin Siddique, the director of student welfare. He said no decision was taken on the date of resuming the exams. “We will sit with the students and announce a new schedule after discussion,” Siddique said. The students did not sit the term final exams for the 21st batch on Wednesday and for the 22nd batch on Thursday after the end of the Eid holidays. No classroom lessons were scheduled for these two days over the exams. On Friday, the demonstrators said they would also boycott Saturday’s exams of the 20th batch. They said they would return to academic activities if the authorities file an appeal challenging the recent High Court order that stayed the notice banning politics on the campus. They also demand the authorities to reschedule the boycotted exams. BUET clamped the ban in 2019 after the killing of student Abrar Fahad by activists of the ruling Awami League’s student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League. Amid fresh protests, the university cancelled the seat in a residential hall of a BCL activist recently after he invited some central leaders to the campus. Following a writ petition by the BCL activist, the High Court suspended the ban and asked why it should not be lifted permanently.

US House passes $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package, sends to Senate

The US House of Representatives on Saturday with broad bipartisan support passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners. The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote. The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week, sending it to Biden to sign into law. The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his thanks, saying US lawmakers moved to keep "history on the right track." "The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger," Zelensky said on X. It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress. Biden, who had urged Congress since last year to approve the additional aid to Ukraine, said in a statement: "It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia." The vote on passage of the Ukraine funding was 311-112. But significantly, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with only 101 in support. "Mike Johnson is a lame duck ... he's done," far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters afterward. She has been a leading opponent of helping Ukraine in its war against Russia and has taken steps that threaten to remove Johnson from office over this issue. Greene stopped short of doing so on Saturday, however. During the vote, several lawmakers waved small Ukrainian flags as it became clear that element of the package was headed to passage. Johnson warned lawmakers that was a "violation of decorum." Meanwhile, the House's actions during a rare Saturday session put on display some cracks in what generally is solid support for Israel within Congress. Recent months have seen progressive Democrats express anger with Israel's government and its conduct of the war in Gaza. But Saturday's vote, in which the Israel aid was passed 366-58, had 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans in opposition. Passage of the long-awaited legislation was closely watched by US defence contractors, who could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other US partners. Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hardline members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes Ukraine funding as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion. The unusual four-bill package also includes a measure that includes a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine. Some hardline Republicans voicing strong opposition to further Ukraine aid argued the United States can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hardliners. "It's not the perfect legislation, it's not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House," Johnson told reporters on Friday. "This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations." Representative Bob Good, chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a "slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and (Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don't reflect the American people." But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine's survival is important for the US.

BB finds irregularities of Tk211cr in dollar purchases by Pubali Bank

Pubali Bank spent an additional Tk211 crore through a single branch to purchase dollars from exchange houses at rates higher than the set rates, according to an investigation by the Bangladesh Bank.  In the process, the private sector lender wasted Tk5.28 crore of government funds, which was provided as a 2.5% incentive on top of the additional amount. The investigation report stated, "Such irregularities were found in only one branch of Pubali Bank. It is evident that several more instances of irregularities will be found if other authorised dealer (AD) branches of the bank are inspected." The investigation has revealed how the bank purchased dollars at higher prices from August to November 2023, flouting the set rates and draining public money. According to the report, the bank purchased dollars at rates ranging from Tk113 to Tk123.60 during a period when the rates were set at Tk109 to Tk110.50. From April 2022 onwards, a dollar crisis was created due to declining remittance inflows and increasing import liabilities. Consequently, banks began offering different rates for remittance, imports, and exports. Against this reality, in September of that year, the central bank authorised the Association of Bankers, Bangladesh (ABB), and the Bangladesh Foreign Exchange Dealers' Association (Bafeda) to determine the dollar exchange rates. Beyond the fixed rates, many banks continued to offer a premium for remittance dollars and imposed higher rates on importers. These actions contributed to the escalation of the country's forex market crisis, resulting in the dollar rate increasing from Tk90 to as high as Tk128. At the time, the central bank conducted a special visit to the banks and ordered the removal of the treasury heads of six banks. Later, they were allowed to return to their positions. Subsequently, the treasury heads of 10 banks were fined Tk1 lakh each on the same charges. However, the fines were exempted in February this year. Irregularities found in Pubali Bank  A special inspection by the central bank's inspection team revealed that the private sector bank had purchased foreign currency from various exchange houses at prices higher than the fixed rates on multiple occasions. As a result, an additional payment of Tk211 crore was made through an AD branch. The report also showed Pubali Bank charged customers extra amounts on import bills, despite the foreign exchange rate being set by the centralised trade processing unit at its head office. Consequently, the bank collected an additional Tk148 crore from importers. The additional money received from importers was transferred to multiple accounts at its Motijheel foreign exchange branch, where the bank opened seven accounts in the names of foreign exchange houses without obtaining permission, the report added. A senior official at the central bank said that after finding the irregularities, the inspection team wanted to inspect other branches of the bank. However, a deputy governor of the department concerned did not allow further inspections. Furthermore, no disciplinary action has been taken against the bank. Mohammad Ali, managing director and chief executive officer of Pubali Bank, told that "We have conducted all transactions according to the rules. Transactions in the accounts of exchange houses were conducted to purchase remittances." When asked about the irregularities found in the central bank's special inspection, he declined to comment, stating that he was unaware of the matter. "If this is the case, please get comments from the central bank," he suggested. However, according to the Bangladesh Bank report, among the seven accounts opened in the names of various exchange houses, Pubali Bank received approval from the then managing director (current charge) for four of them. But it is unclear whose approval was given for the remaining three accounts. Mohammad Shahadat Hossain, deputy managing director of Pubali Bank, admitted that dollars had been bought at an excessive price. He said the actual market rate has been higher than the fixed dollar rate for the past one and a half years, which has forced many banks to buy dollars at higher prices. "We have a large number of importers who conduct their imports through our bank. To meet their import obligations when dollars are not available at the fixed rate, we have to purchase dollars at slightly higher rates," he added. "The Bangladesh Bank inspected our dollar buying and selling practices, and we are now conducting dollar transactions based on their advice." "Remittances have significantly decreased because we are now purchasing dollars at a fixed rate. Consequently, we are receiving fewer remittances than before because those receiving remittances have to buy at higher prices," said the deputy managing director. He, however, denied opening accounts in the names of foreign exchange houses without their consent and said, "We opened accounts with their consent, and transactions were conducted in those accounts." The seven exchange houses  According to the central bank report, Pubali Bank was found to have conducted transactions with seven accounts opened in the names of exchange houses to purchase dollars at higher rates. Pubali Bank bought $15.2 million in remittances through Arabian Exchange. At the time, the market rate was Tk109.50 to Tk110, but the bank purchased the dollar at a maximum of Tk117, resulting in an additional payment of Tk7.55 crore. The bank also bought $55.2 million from Merchantrade at the maximum rate of Tk123, leading to an additional payment of Tk40 crore. Additionally, the bank collected $48.7 million from Gulf Overseas Exchange at the highest rate of Tk122, resulting in an overpayment of Tk26 crore. Pubali Bank purchased $7.7 million from Universal Exchange Center at the maximum rate of Tk122.50, resulting in an additional payment of Tk6.19 crore. Furthermore, $4.5 million was collected through NBL Money Transfer at rates of up to Tk117.50, resulting in an overpayment of Tk2.42 crore. Additionally, $1.06 million was obtained through Continental Exchange Solutions (RIA) at the highest rate of Tk123.60, resulting in an additional cost of Tk110 crore. Moreover, the bank bought 5.86 crore dirhams through Multinet Trust Exchange at a rate of Tk33.21, which was higher than the fixed rate of Tk30.08. This resulted in an additional payment of Tk17.85 crore. Mezbaul Haque, spokesperson for the Bangladesh Bank, told that "We had fined many banks for irregularities in buying and selling dollars. However, recently their fines have recently been waived." "In the case of Pubali Bank, the central bank has taken appropriate measures regarding the irregularities," he added. What's more in BB's special inspection?  The additional funds charged from importers by different branches of Pubali Bank were transferred to various branches and even to different customer accounts outside of the seven accounts opened in the names of exchange houses with the Motijheel foreign exchange branch. The central bank report revealed that an additional Tk56,850 was collected against a letter of credit by Pubali Bank's Hospital Road Branch in Barishal. Additionally, there have been numerous such transactions, a central bank higher official said. A central ban higher officicial mentioned that Sharmin Group has a significant number of transactions in its bank account with Pubali Bank. Despite discussions about regular inspections, a deputy governor of the central bank did not allow further inspection in this matter.
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