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US Visa Policy: Some officials in admin, police ill at ease

A section of officials in the administration and police have a feeling of unease over the US visa curbs, but they would not admit it.

High officials, who have their children studying abroad, especially in the US and Canada, and field-level officials, who would be directly involved in conducting the next polls, are uncomfortable, sources said.

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The Daily Start talked to around a dozen bureaucrats and law enforcers who said they are looking at all available information regarding the matter meticulously.

On May 24, the US said it would impose visa restrictions on individuals and their immediate family members "if they are responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh".

On September 22, it said it had begun applying the curbs.

Some officials believe the visa restrictions could be applicable to some senior officials and that around 6,000 bureaucrats and 2.12 lakh law enforcers need not worry.

A number of bureaucrats said that only officials from the public administration and home ministries are involved in the election process and that officials of other ministries should be safe.

Top officials of police and bureaucracy said the visa policy won't affect their morale and that they are loyal to the Sheikh Hasina-led government.

According to sources in the police, the government will try not to assign any official, who has family abroad, to discharge duties directly involved in the election process.

Sources in the police said officers who had no significant role in the previous polls would be given important duties related to polls.

They said field-level police officers from the 24th, 25th, and 27th BCS batches have been appointed superintendents of police, who are directly involved in the election process since the law and order of a district is under the SP's jurisdiction.

During the previous two national polls, these officials had lower-level and non-decision-making posts. Police high-ups believe these officials have very little possibility of coming under the US visa curbs.

"We can't say that we are not concerned following the visa restrictions, but it is also not true that we are wrecked," an SP-ranked police official told The Daily Star, wishing anonymity.

Two SP-ranked officials said they have an impression that the polls will be free and fair and if there is a regime change, it will affect their families and careers.

Three mid-level civil servants said there is a discomfort within the bureaucracy over the visa policy but its loyalty towards the Hasina-led government is unwavering. They also said they have no alternative to being loyal.

The government has dug out that out of the 86 secretary-ranked officials, 29 have children studying abroad. It is trying to find out the whereabouts of field-level officials' children.

Many of the officials this paper spoke to said the children of most of the field-level officials, such as deputy commissioners  and Upazila Nirbahi Officers, are not old enough to be abroad for higher studies.

While making the announcement that the visa curbs are being applied, the US state department said the individuals will include current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of opposition and ruling political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.

Some bureaucrats told this paper that there was a confusion among them about how back in time the US would go to scrutinise the officials' actions. 

If the US took the last two national elections under consideration, then a large number of bureaucrats could be affected. They said the DCs who acted as returning officers in 2014 national polls are now secretary-level officials and many of them went into retirement while the DCs who acted as Returning Officers in 2018 national polls are now at joint-secretary rank and some of them have become additional secretaries.

However, US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in an interview with a TV channel made it clear that the new visa policy will not retrospectively affect individuals who have been alleged to have committed actions to undermine democratic elections in the past.

He stated, "This is a forward-looking policy, meaning that our hope is that this policy will help prevent violence and promote a free and fair election this coming year in Bangladesh."

But Lu's statement did not give Bangladeshi officials much relief as the latest state department announcement mentioned current and former officials.

The bureaucrats are also worried about the European Union following suit.

Half the training programmes for bureaucrats are done in European countries, and if the EU decides on actions similar to that of the US, then the training could become uncertain.

Talking to this newspaper, a high official of the police said the top-tier officials know that they would be in trouble if the incumbent government fails to assume power again.

"These officials have taken benefits from the government and they have no headache regarding the US sanctions," said the official requesting anonymity.  "These officials have their own exit plans and they would perform their duty."

Another police high official requesting anonymity said, "Some officials are working and keeping a low profile. They do not want to come into the spotlight and they will make their decisions depending on the situation."

Immediately after the US's announcement, DMP Spokesperson Faruk Hossain told reporters that Bangladesh Police won't be affected by the new US visa policy.

"We don't know who they are [on the US list]. If the visa policy is implemented, a small fraction of the force may not be able to enter that country [the US]," the deputy commissioner (media) added.

The DC said police work within the scope of the law, and the visa policy won't cause any disruptions to the performance of the force.

About the US visa restrictions, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Wednesday said there was no reason to worry about it.

"I don't understand one thing, why will the visa restrictions of their country should affect us here? Whom they let in and whom they don't is their  business. We will run the country according to the constitution, and the next general election will be held according to the constitution," the Home boss added.

Asked about the implications of the visa policy for bureaucracy, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told The Daily Star that time is yet to come to say the final word as things are yet to be clear.

So much depends on BNP's decision regarding the election and how the election will be held, he added.

"Elections are conducted by mid- and junior-level as well as field-level officials. Teachers and bankers are also involved in the voting process. Headmasters and principals act as presiding officers, and teachers act as polling officers.  Generally, these groups of people are not so rich and do not usually visit the USA, so it might not be their headache," he said.

But, in some cases, DCs and SPs are their monitoring authorities and thus they might be affected by the US visa restrictions, Majumder said.