Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on Tuesday came under fire from opposition members in parliament for failing to control commodity prices and market cartelisation.
Lawmakers from opposition BNP and Jatiya Party said the minister had failed to break the commodity market cartel despite being an experienced businessman.
They referred to Article 70 of the Constitution, which, they noted, has prevented the ruling party lawmakers from talking about price hike of daily essentials.
According to Article 70, if MPs vote against their party, they automatically lose their seats.
Citing members of parliament are unable to speak freely in the House due to the provision, several members of the opposition called for its repeal.
In reply to the criticism, Tipu Munshi said he has been in business for 40 years, and has been in politics for 56 years. "Is this a crime if I happen to be a businessman?"
Jatiya Party MP Pir Fazlur Rahman said, "The truth must be acknowledged – syndicates increased the edible oil prices and pocketed several thousands of crores. The minister could not take any action."
"The minister said he went to market yesterday and bought 5kg of onions at Tk28 per kg. But if the minister had announced earlier that he would go, people could also go with him and buy things at lower prices," the lawmaker from Sunamganj-4 said sarcastically.
He said the VAT withdrawal on import of essential items failed to provide consumers with a respite.
Another Jatiya Party MP Md Mujibul Haque commented that the syndicates cannot manipulate the market without the cooperation of the government. He demanded reducing prices of daily essentials even if it requires government subsidy.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Rowshan Ara Mannan said, "If the government takes over, the price goes down and when the government shows resilience, the price goes up again. It is like hide-and-seek."
Noting extortion en route to Dhaka from faraway districts is raising vegetable prices, Jatiya Party MP Shameem Haider Patwary said people are now being forced to compromise on nutrition.
"Lemon that costs Tk2 each in Sreemangal is being sold at Tk22 in Dhaka," he clarified his claim.
BNP lawmaker Md Harunur Rashid said there are questions about whether businessmen are amassing wealth by becoming public representatives.
"The syndicates are controlling the market from the sphere of power," he added.
BNP MP Rumeen Farhana said the syndicates have pocketed Tk1,000 crore in 15 days by increasing edible oil prices.
"The syndicate is the government. There is no difference between government and syndicate," she said.
Gonoforum MP Mukabbir Khan said Russia-Ukraine war should not be put as an excuse in explaining the market. The syndicates had manipulated the market even before the war started.
Responding to remarks by opposition lawmakers, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said he never blamed the Russia-Ukraine war for the surge in edible oil rates. "Oil prices are set every month. Now the price of edible oil has risen on the world market," he said, adding the government does not control business anywhere.
There is no reason to think that the government is the syndicate, said the minister.
"The government is trying (to control price hike). The prime minister is constantly following up," added Tipu Munshi.
Article 70 'deterring' MPs from speaking their minds
Jatiya Party MP Shameem Haider Patwary said he asked Dr Kamal Hossain as to why the article was allowed in the Constitution. Referring to the explanation by Dr Kamal who led the formation of the Constitution after 1972, the lawmaker said, "The article was included to the Bangladesh Constitution from the Pakistan-era experience while the MPs used to cross the floor abruptly."
"But the article is now obstructing lawmakers from saying anything against parties that nominated them," Shameem Haider commented, adding, "As a result, the aspirations of the people are not being reflected in the parliament. The article of the constitution should be repealed."
Criticising the article, Jatiya Party MP Md Mujibul Haque questioned whether the House has the adequate power to exercise.
"All power is in the hands of the leader of the majority party in the parliament. Does anyone have the power to say anything outside the decision of the party because of Article 70 of the Constitution," he raised the question.
He said, "As long as the article exists, the lawmakers will not have the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, and they also would lack participation in budget sessions."
BNP MP Rumeen Farhana also questioned the ability of the members of the parliament due to Article 70.