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Govt authority to increase in ICDDRB?

  • Published at 04:37 pm June 25th, 2016
  • Last updated at 06:43 pm June 25th, 2016
The government is in the process of increasing its authority over International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDRB), causing concern among the country's public health experts. The Dhaka Tribune has recently obtained the draft of a law which, if passed in parliament, will make one of the world's leading global health research institutes dependent on government decision. Established in the 1960s, the ICDDRB has so far been an autonomous body, committed to solving public health problems in low- and middle-income countries through innovative scientific research. But if the new law is implemented, ICDDRB officials and public health experts fear that it will not only make the institution's proceedings more complicated, but will hamper its operations. “The reasons behind the government's decision to introduce a new law is not clear to us. They are attempting to introduce the law at a time when there is already an unstable situation at the organisation. It seems the government is preparing to fulfil the interest of an influential group,” said a public health expert, requested to remain anonymous. “There is a section in the draft that clearly indicates the government's increased authority in the management of the ICDDRB, to the extent that it will no longer remain autonomous,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. The section in question, Section 27 in the draft, says the government can implement any rule regarding the ICDDRB's operations by issuing gazette notification as long as it does not contradict with the law. The government's involvement is evident further in Section 28 of the draft, which says the ICDDRB board will have to get a no objection order from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to implement a regulation. However, when contacted, Health and Family Welfare Secretary Syed Manzurul Islam said the law was being formulated simply to make the ICDDRB operations smoother. “The ICDDRB has been operating under the ICDDRB Ordinance 1978, which was formulated during military regime. It is no longer effective to run this organisation properly, which is why we are introducing this law. There is no issue of the government taking more authoritative power in the organisation's operations,” he told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday. Tension has been brewing in the ICDDRB for a while now, with its employees blaming the management for irregularities, mismanagement and corruption in the organisation. The health secretary said there is more work to be done regarding the law. “The draft has not been finalised yet. When it is finalised, we are going to arrange a public opinion poll on the draft before it becomes a law,” he said. ICCDRB Annual Report 2015

Changes in the board

In the draft law, the ICDDRB board of trustees can have a maximum of 17 members but no less than 12, similar to the current ordinance. The number of government representatives in the ICDDRB board has been increased from three to four in the draft. One of the board members will be selected by the director general of World Health Organisation (WHO), one will be selected from a United Nations agency in Bangladesh except for WHO, and seven will be selected by WHO and UN agencies. The board will be select the centre's executive director and the rest of the three members. However, the recruitment of the executive director, as well as the deputy executive director, will require the clearance of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Under the current ordinance, the board can select 11 of its members. The public health expert, who has 30 years of experience in the public health sector, said: “Similarly as the ICDDRB, there is another international organisation working in Bangladesh – Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific, or CIRDAP. If CIRDAP does not require any ministry approval to appoint its top officials, why should the ICDDRB?” He said by initiating the law, the government is taking up a huge responsibility, which is not a wise move. “This move will harm the ICDDRB and cause huge loss in many ways. More importantly, this law will essentially nationalise an international institution, which should not be done. It will also politicise this institution, just like any government institution.”

Donors may be unhappy

This move may also make the international donors who fund the majority of ICDDRB research products unhappy. “If they [donors] are unhappy with this decision and decide to pull out their funds, the government will not be able to cover that loss,” the public expert said. Dr Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, vice-chairperson at Brac, agrees. “It is likely that the donors will not agree with this law and they will not prefer any intervention or interference by the government in the ICDDRB. In fact, any intervention and interference by the government is likely to hamper the smooth and steady functions of this research organisation,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “Furthermore, if the donors pull away, the ICDDRB will lose its famous and emeritus scientists as it will be difficult to get fund for their research at this organisation. So it is natural that they would seek other international-standard research organisations where they would be able to continue their work,” he added. “The ICDDRB is the best international platform to bring the country's brilliant and rising scientists and researchers in the public health sector. It has many affiliations and collaborations with other national and international institutions which is unique in nature in Bangladesh. Any attempt to change the nature of the ICDDRB will be harmful for the future of this institution and for its steady function in the research work,” Mushtaque said. However, ICDDRB Executive Director John D Clemens thinks that the law, if implemented, will not hamper the organisation's operations, including its policy making, fund raising, research proceedings and implementation of projects. He said the only big change introduced by the draft is in the constitution of the board, where the board no longer has the power to select the majority of its members.
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