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Government secretaries should come out of BATB board soon: Planning Minister

Minister of Planning M.A. Mannan MP has commented that the secretaries should leave the board of BATB quickly so that there is no interference in tobacco control and government policies. He made this brief while speaking as the chief guest at a meeting titled 'Tobacco Company CSR: Myth and Reality' jointly organized by Work for Better Bangladesh Trust and Initiative for Public Health Research and Communication (IPHRC) at the NEC conference room of the Ministry of Planning at 3 pm on Wednesday (November 30, 2022).

M. A. Mannan MP (Honorable Minister, planning ministry) said these activities of the tobacco company embarrass me. Where the head of government has clearly declared tobacco-free, the operation of tobacco companies cannot be accepted. The commitment of the Prime Minister means the commitment of all of us. So help those working on tobacco control to find safe exit points. The government has very little stake in BATB. I will request the Hon'ble Prime Minister to withdraw it. He also said that the issue of money transfer abroad should be considered not only in the tobacco sector but also in other sectors. Everyone should consider how to include tobacco control in the Ninth Five-Year Plan. 

Tobacco control researcher and special representative Sushanto Sinha (Ekatoor Television) presented the keynote speech at the meeting. While presenting the results of the research titled 'Tobacco Company CSR, Myths and Reality: Analysis of 10 Years Financial Report of BATB', he said that BATB spends only six crores on CSR annually and promotes it. BATB increases spending on CSR when the government takes any action to control tobacco. Already 62 countries of the world have banned CSR. But in Bangladesh, tobacco companies are conducting their CSR activities anonymously.

Barrister Shamim Haider Patwary, Honorable Member of Parliament (Gaibandha-1), in the speech of the special guest in the meeting, said that the policies I am working on are very useful for the government, but these sectors have not improved. No National Board of Revenue (NBR) official wants to hear about taxes. In fact, if the state and the government do not want to change, then civil society cannot move forward with anything. Our efforts against tobacco are an unequal war. Do we have to come to a decision to fulfill the announcement made by the honorable Prime Minister to make the country tobacco-free by 2040 or not? Do we want to see our Prime Minister ashamed of the whole world? If you don't want to, then you must act according to the Prime Minister's announcement. We have seen the disagreement between the Ministry of Health and industry during COVID-19. We have to get rid of it. At the same time, the government has to take back the shares from the tobacco companies.

Speaking as a special guest at the event Hossain Ali Khondkar (Additional Secretary) National Tobacco Control Cell Coordinator said that it is a very important finding that tobacco companies increase CSR when the government takes any step to control tobacco. NTCC has already started working on a roadmap to implement the Prime Minister's announcement. All the institutions of the government should help in achieving the Prime Minister's dream of a tobacco-free country. Professor Dr. Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former Chairman of the National Board of Revenue said there is a lot of confusion about the revenue of the tobacco company. Even if money comes from this sector, the issue of public health cannot be avoided. Government has to look for new sectors to generate revenue from the alternative tobacco sector.

Meanwhile, Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin (The Union technical consultant) said, "When we talk about the tax increase, the tobacco company publishes various kinds of information. Promotes CSR campaigns. Their business is growing manifold every year. They must stop interfering. On the other hand, Farida Akhtar, Executive Director of the Anti-Tobacco Women's Alliance, said that it had been proven that tobacco companies do not pay attention to revenue and CSR. It's a shame to have secretaries in tobacco companies. How can people who are paid by public money stay in tobacco companies? We demand the government withdraw the shares of the government and stop the appointment of secretaries. Shafiqul Islam, Head of Programs Vital Strategies Bangladesh  said that the secretaries are having a big impact on tobacco policy from the board. I feel embarrassed to see various secretaries on the board of BATB. As a result, it is necessary to stop the intervention of secretaries immediately.