Awami League General Secretary Ashraf removed from LGRD ministry

Mosharraf replaces him as LGRD minister; the AL general secretary now ‘to concentrate on party activities’

Awami League General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam was made minister without portfolio after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina removed him from the LGRD ministry yesterday.

Khandokar Mosharraf Hossain, the expatriate and overseas welfare minister, has been given the portfolio of the LGRD ministry. But he will continue to serve as expatriate minister as additional duty, Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan confirmed The Daily Star.

The cabinet division issued a gazette notification in the afternoon to this end with immediate effect.

The PM has brought the major change in her one-and-a-half-year-old cabinet formed through the one-sided parliamentary election in January last year.

Mosharraf is the father-in-law of Hasina’s daughter Saima Wazed Putul. A member of Faridpur district Awami League, he was also a minister in the previous AL government in 2009-2014. In the 1980s, he served as the chief engineer of the local government engineering bureau under the LGRD ministry.

He will take the new charge at the LGRD ministry on Sunday.

Some more changes in the cabinet may take place after Eid, sources said, adding that some controversial ministers might be shown the door.

Since restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991, general secretary of the party in power has always held the LGRD ministry portfolio. In the past, no ruling party ever removed its general secretary from ministry job.

Ashraf’s removal, which came two days after the move reportedly began, surprised many in the cabinet and the ruling party.

The PM was displeased with him as he skipped Tuesday’s meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec).

Sources said Hasina immediately ordered the cabinet division to take measures for the change and the cabinet division prepared file.

Reports of Ashraf’s removal had made rounds on Tuesday, but it turned out to be rumors later in the evening.

Ashraf, who had met the PM after the Ecnec meeting and went to his home district of Kishoreganj, had himself termed the media reports as rumors.

Asked why then he was removed, a senior minister said, “I had a talk with the prime minister yesterday [Wednesday] after the parliament session. After the conversation, I was certain that Ashraf would remain LGRD minister. I myself was surprised to hear the news.”

Another source said Hasina withheld the decision for a day as she sought to know from Ashraf whether he would be able to “actively discharge” his duties as LGRD minister.

Yesterday noon, Ashraf went to the Prime Minister’s Office and held a one-to-one meeting with the PM. The decision of his removal came following the meeting.

A number of ministers and AL leaders said the PM removed Ashraf as several cabinet members had been complaining against his “inactiveness” as a minister. They also alleged Ashraf became unreachable over the phone and also in person.

According to LGRD ministry sources, Ashraf remained absent from the office often and officials had to rush to his residence with files for his signatures.

He is also allegedly inactive in the party activities and grassroots leaders are unhappy about this.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister AMA Muhith hit the last nail in the coffin by making an outburst over Ashraf’s absent in the Ecnec meeting. There, officials placed project proposals involving Tk 6,076 crore under which every lawmaker would get Tk 20 crore for development work in their constituencies in the next five years.

As neither the LGRD minister nor State Minister Moshiur Rahman Ranga was there to explain the projects, Muhith proposed postponing the discussion, meeting sources said.

Muhith also expressed annoyance at the absence of both the ministers.

The PM, who chaired the meeting, also appeared annoyed. She sought to know why Ashraf was absent and said she would remove him from the ministry, said the sources.

Ashraf was serving as the LGRD minister in his second stint. He was first given the portfolio in 2009 when Sheikh Hasina formed her cabinet after winning the December 2008 election.

Ashraf, son of Syed Nazrul Islam who was acting president of the government in exile during the Liberation War, served as the state minister for civil aviation and tourism ministry of the 1996-2001 AL government.

His removal from the ministry also raised questions over his fate as the party general secretary. His current three-year-term in the post expires in December.

Ashraf, who was made general secretary through the party’s 2009 council, held the portfolio of the LGRD ministry of the Sheikh Hasina-led government in 2009-2014.

He was re-elected in the post in the December 2012 council.

As the AL retained power through last year’s January 5 polls, Ashraf was made the LGRD minister again.

AL leaders close to Ashraf, however, claimed the PM removed him from the ministry so he could focus on reorganising the party.

Source: The Daily Star

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