Saturday, May 26, 2018

Who owns and/or controls Bangabandhu-I?

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This was a historic week, as Bangladesh formally entered the space age by successfully launching into orbit its first geostationary communications satellite, the Bangabandhu-I.

However, rather than acknowledge this significant technological advancement, which is a matter of national pride as well as being a development milestone, the most senior leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), including its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, have embarked on smear campaign against the satellite.

While all the relevant experts, industry insiders, policymakers and personnel engaged with the satellite project unanimously agree that the satellite opens up huge technological and financial opportunities for the country, BNP has attempted to water down its impact and often claimed the very opposite.

After unsuccessfully attacking its efficacy, BNP has now resorted to questioning the ownership of the satellite, with MirzaFakhrul saying that 'the ownership of the satellite has passed on to two people'. The onus is on MirzaFakhrul and his party to explain and amplify their statements. In the meantime, we can resort to publicly available documents and information to verify as to the status of ownership and/or control of the satellite.  
The first thing to note in this regard is that Bangladesh owns and operates the Bangabandhu-I, and not France nor USA nor Russia, despite their significant involvement in the project. The French company Thales Alenia was commissioned by the Bangladesh government to construct the satellite and its necessary infrastructure like the ground stations.

The US company SpaceX in turn was contracted to launch the satellite into space using its rocket and necessary launch infrastructure. While the Russian company InterSputnik has simply leased an orbital slot to Bangladesh for payment. The ownership and control of the satellite and its necessary infrastructure like the ground stations, rests with the government of Bangladesh.

Second, the government has formed a separate company called the 'Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited (BCSCL)' for operating the Bangabandhu-I satellite. The BCSCL was established on 15 August 2017 with an authorized a capital of TK 50 billion and paid up capital of TK 5 billion. Each share is being valued at TK 10 initially and each director has been provided with 200 shares each. The formation of BCSCL came as a result of a Cabinet decision chaired by HPM Sheikh Hasina in July 2017.

The board of BCSCL consists of 11 members, with the Telecommunications Secretary as the Chairperson and Managing Director of the BCSCL as the Member Secretary of the company.

The rest of the board members are also government employees, including an Additional Secretary of the Post and Telecommunications Ministry, representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Information and Defense, a representative of the Armed Forces Division, the Chairman of Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization, the Director General of Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd (BTCL) and two other persons to be nominated by the government.

Further information about this company can be found in their website at http://www.bcscl.com.bdIn both theory and in practice, the satellite, for all intent and purposes, is owned and controlled by the government of Bangladesh.

 Thus, it is sad that having failed to acknowledge the country's entry into the space age, and then having failed to gather traction in besmirching it by calling into questions its benefits, BNP is now spreading lies and misinformation about the ownership and control of Bangladesh's first satellite.

The writer is a lawyer, researcher and political activist. He is currently serving the Center for Research and Information (CRI)
as its Senior Analyst

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