The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has raised questions as to why the costly wristwatches of Obaidul Quader have not been deposited to the country's Toshakhana.
The civil society organisation also called on the government to inform the nation after probing whether only Quader has a tendency to accept gifts or others in the government have the same penchant, read a press release on Friday.
"The minister's explanation to media about his collection of costly watches is questionable and inadequate. It is necessary to inform the nation why he did not deposit those items to the toshakhana of the state," said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the TIB – the Bangladeshi branch of German-based organisation fighting corruption.
The TIB release said, "The nation has a right to have a definite answer why those gifts were not deposited to the toshakhana in time according to the Toshakhana Rules 1974 (revised in 2012); or, whether he has submitted money equivalent to them to the state treasury because he decided not to submit those materials to the toshakhana."
Toshakhana is a specialised treasury for gifts received by the president of Bangladesh, all members of the government, parliament and government offices.
According to the Toshakhana Rules 1974 (Revised in 2012), if any of the aforementioned persons receives a gift, they must report it to the cabinet division without making any delay. If anyone wishes to retain those gifts to themselves, they must pay the actual price of the materials to the state treasury.
Dr Iftekhar said it would not be baseless to ask Quader if he, being an influential minister and the general secretary of ruling Awami League, followed the instance [of receiving gifts in a questionable manner] created by other members of the government. Or, did he create a new example for others to follow?
"According to reports published in mass media, the minister refused to accept 'an amount' during elections offered by contractors. What steps have Minister Quader, posted in such an important position, taken to prevent the contractors' immorality and corruption?" Asked Iftekharuzzaman.
"Have they [corrupt contractors] been enlisted? Will their list be published in the public interest?" he also asked.
"Are all these issues [about Quader] congruent to the honourable prime minister's 'zero tolerance' commitment against corruption even if the corrupt are from her own party?" Dr Iftekhar further asked.
He added that an honest reply to all these questions will be convenient for raising the people's trust on the sitting government.
He also said it would not be irrelevant to note on the eve of celebrating Bangabandhu's (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) birth centennial that the Toshakhana Rules 1974 were formulated by the government led by the father of the nation. The present government has revised them and, in November 2018, launched the Toshakhana Museum.
On December 27 last year, a Sweden-based online portal, Netra News, ran a story titled "A wrist of luxury" on Quader's collection of expensive wristwatches. The report portrayed details about the brands and prices of seven watches of the road transport and bridges minister. The portal has been blocked in Bangladesh after that.
On Thursday last, Obaidul Quader told reporters at his Secretariat office that all his expensive watches and clothes were "gifts" he got from his colleagues. He also said he did not buy any of the item.
He further said Awami League has many activists abroad who return to the country with gifts for him. "On Wednesday [January 8, 2020], one of them brought three waistcoats for me. They give me gifts. What shall I do?"
Minister Quader also vowed he did not take anything from contractors. "During elections, contractors offered me an amount of money. I refused them outright. The prime minister [Sheikh Hasina] gave me my election costs."
However, the minister said nothing about the blockage of Netra News – the online portal.