Archive for July, 2013

Longer term readers of this blog will remember that I spent quite a bit if time in 2011 and at the start of last year investigating and reporting on Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games.

In what even senior members of the 2012 Games Board later acknowledged was a shocking decision, Lord Coe’s Locog awarded Dow the right to sponsor the Olympic Stadium by funding the decorative fabric wrap.

A series of articles in the Sunday Express and on this blog highlighted some serious questions about the procurement process around that decision. MP Barry Gardiner brilliantly led the charge in the Commons and it eventually became a major frontbench row between then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Labour opposite, Tessa Jowell.

A dossier of emails I obtained under the FoI Act revealed the idea to withdraw public funds from the wrap and to bring in a private sponsor had actually been Mr Hunt’s own idea.

The row went global and even triggered talk of a Games boycott by India due to Dow’s links to the Bhopal gas disaster.

For Dow, this must have been a worrying time. So worrying, in fact, that it hired Stratfor, a global intelligence consultancy, to spy on me monitor my work. We know this because this humble blog features in the GI Files obtained and published by Wikileaks last year.

Here’s a flavour:

Blog: T Jeory on political opposition to Dow sponsorship 

11/23 Ted Jeory, Express on Sunday’s Whitehall editor, posted on his blog (attached) the stadium wrap sponsorship issue “is starting to enter pretty serious political 
territory” and listed three new developments: 

“1. Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes has today signed up to the cross-[arty [sic] campaign to force Locog to reconsider its decision. he has added his name to a letter that has been sent to Lord Coe, which I’ll detail below. Tory MP Priti Patel is also on board.

“2. Shadow Olympics Minister (& Olympics Board member) Tessa Jowell has stepped up her own rhetoric, a) by writing to the Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable 
London 2012 to demand disclosure of important tender documents around the deal; and b) asking for a meeting with Dow themselves.

“3. Locally, Olympic host borough Tower Hamlets Council is expected to lodge a formal objection with Locog about the deal after a vote next week.”

– Hughes and Patel signed on to the BMA/Amnesty/Friends of Labour letter, not Keith Vaz’ Early Day Motion. Jeory included the text of the letter and the lists of MPs 
and Indian Olympians who have signed it.

– Jeory provided the text of the Tower Hamlets Council’s resolution to “lodge a formal objection with Locog” about the Dow sponsorship, and to join and assist the 
campaign calling for LOCOG to “reverse its decision” about the sponsorship. The council plans to write to Lord Coe, Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt MP and 
LOCOG CEO Paul Deighton.

– Jeory promised “There will be further political developments by the end of this week, watch this space.”

– Jeory also included the text of Tessa Jowell’s press release reported below. 

What fun. Here are a couple of other entries.

So I thought I’d be kind and pass more work Stratfor’s way.

Almost a year on from the Opening Ceremony, I wondered what had become of the wrap. A rejected bid by another company in the original tender process had proposed sending thousands of little pieces to schools throughout Britain as a memento of the Games–a great idea.

But at the end of the Games, Dow announced here it would be working with UK aid charity Article 25 to send panels to Rio and Uganda for development projects. It added in that same press release that Manchester company Axion Recycling would “implement additional projects for reuse or recycling of the wrap within the UK”.

Maybe it was just me, but my inference was that all this would be benevolent…

Not so.

The corporate monster that is Dow couldn’t resist seeing its product converted for commercial purposes. After weeks of refusing to answer my questions and banning Article 25 and Axion from talking to the press, Dow finally admitted this week that only half (at most) of the wrap has been earmarked for Uganda and Rio.

The rest has been converted by Axion into flooring, packaging and building products…..Inspire a Generation? Yeah, right.

Dow remains, remember, a Top Tier sponsorship partner of the International Olympic Committee, so they’ll also be spinning their rubbish in Rio.

Here’s the piece I wrote for the Sunday Express today:

MORE than half the controversial fabric wrap which adorned Britain’s Olympic stadium last year has been sold off as flooring and packaging products for the private sector, an investigation has found.
Dow Chemical, the US giant brought in by Lord Coe to sponsor London’s 2012 Games, has admitted most of the wrap it funded last summer has since been chopped up into smaller pieces and “recycled” for commercial use by a Manchester-based business partner.
The remaining panels, made from a form of plastic, have been given to UK aid charity Article 25 and converted into shelters for vulnerable children in Uganda and Rio de Janeiro.
Dow refused to say why not all panels had been donated to charities but insisted its decisions were consistent with Lord Coe’s “sustainability” demands.
However, campaigners in Bhopal, India, where there were large protests last year over Dow’s involvement with the Games, said the findings were a “slap on the face” to those who believed the legacy commitments would be entirely benevolent.
The decision by Lord Coe’s Locog organising team in 2011 to make Dow a sponsor of the Games brought the Indian Olympic team to the brink of boycott last year.
Their fury stemmed from the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984 when thousands were killed and many more were maimed after a toxic cloud of chemicals leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant near the city centre.
Although Union Carbide agreed a “final” compensation package of $470million with the Indian government in 1989, campaigners say that underestimated the long-term scale of the disaster.
Dow never owned nor operated the plant but because it bought Union Carbide in 2001, campaigners and the Indian government argue it is now responsible for further legal claims and for remediating the site, which continues to pollute the city’s groundwater.
Dow strongly denies any liability.
However, the company’s controversial background caused many to wonder why they were allowed to sponsor the 2012 stadium.
Locog always insisted it ran a fair and rigorous tender process for the wrap but some MPs believed it had been influenced by the International Olympic Committee’s decision to sign a lucrative partnership agreement with Dow earlier in 2011.
Within months of the sponsorship award, the Sunday Express discovered another bid by a British consortium had been rejected on the grounds its proposed material was inappropriate.
That bid had included a legacy proposal to distribute small pieces of the £1.5million wrap to thousands of British schools as a memento of the Games and to inspire children into sport.
However, organisers said Dow’s offer was by far the best choice and at the end of the Games last August, the company announced its own legacy plans for the wrap.
It said Article 25 would work on two charity initiatives, while Axion would “implement additional projects for reuse or recycling of the wrap within the UK”.
The Sunday Express asked both organisations for an update on the projects last month, but they said Dow had barred them from talking to the media.
With the anniversary of the Opening Ceremony only days away, Dow decided to issue a press release on its projects last week.
It said some panels are now being used at Rio’s Bola Pra Frente Institute, a social project for teenagers founded by ex-Brazilian football star Jorginho in 2000.
The panels act as shades at the institute’s headquarters and help increase the space available for outdoor activities.
The project was chosen to create a link between London and Rio, which will be the next Olympic host city in 2016.
Other panels will be sent to Uganda later this year.
The press release continued: “The remaining panels have been allocated for recycling and reuse by British company Axion Recycling.
“The recycled material will be used as material for packaging, flooring and building applications.
“These programmes successful fulfil Dow’s commitment to Locog on the post-Games usage of the innovative stadium wrap.
“[They] emphasise the company’s commitment to sustainable development.”
When asked how much of the wrap had been earmarked for charitable use, Dow declined to give an exact figure, but a spokeswoman said: “Axion has already recycled approximately 50 per cent and the resulting material was converted by their customers into a range of applications.
“After the announced re-purposing projects will have been completed the remaining balance will go to Axion for recycling.”
Dow declined to say whether it had had a commercial relationship with Axion before the Games, but denied it had sold the wrap to them.
“Axion is a service provider to Dow, so we would be paying them,” the spokeswoman said.
Sathyu Sarangi, a leading figure in campaign for justice in Bhopal, said the wrap would have made a useful shelter in his city, but no offer had been made.
He said: “Giving it to Axion Recycling is a slap on the face of those who believed the wrap was a symbol of benevolent sustainability.
“It is a rude awakening. The kids in Brazil and Uganda are getting the crumbs off the table.”

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There’s a great piece today on the Newham Recorder wesbite, which is so good in fact, I’m going to nick it and post it here.

It builds on the debate started on this blog about the filming of Tower Hamlets council meetings.

I’ve noted before the hugely different styles of the two mayors of Tower Hamlets and Newham. I don’t know Robin Wales well enough to make any full judgments but he does seem to be just a little more transparent than Lutfur. Of course, that may well be an illusion as Robin does have the advantage of an all Labour council.

So well done to the Newham Recorder for asking the pair to discuss their thinking on allowing in cameras to council meetings.

Last week, the East London Advertiser ran a piece in which Lutfur’s pitbull, Cllr Alibor Choudhury, criticised Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as a hypocrite. Alibor said it was double-standards of the minister to demand council cabinets be filmed when cabinets in Downing Street are held behind closed doors.

When I read that article I tweeted to ask whether he was a bit thick.

Lutfur repeats the line in his piece in the Newham Recorder. Maybe he thinks we’re the ones who are thick. Council cabinets are, of course, already open to the public. No one is seriously suggesting that should be the case in Downing Street – or are they?

He also says Jim Fitzpatrick is a hypocrite for not allowing cameras into Labour’s Parliamentary party meetings. Again, thick. A clue for Lutfur: those meetings you attend are part of the open democratic process. That’s why the public are allowed in. Which is why the public should be allowed to film.

Anyway, here’s the debate:

Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales

Newham Council has voted to allow filming of all future meetings of our council – including its committees – from our public gallery.

The public have placed their trust in us, to spend their money on services that matter to them.

There is a very good reason why they are called “public” meetings. How could we therefore possibly argue that the public does not have the right to see democracy in action?

Our decision, to open up our democracy and engage further with our residents, is the opposite of what is going on at Tower Hamlets.

I watched – on the internet – appalled as Cabinet members and officers of Tower Hamlets council tried to silence an elderly community campaigner as he argued passionately for his right to film, and for others to be able to see the result.

What do the Mayor and Cabinet of Tower Hamlets have to hide? How can they possibly justify banning filming, Tweeting and live blogging of public meetings in the 21st century?

And what does it do to build public trust in politics more widely when a clique seeks to shut the public out from decisions made on their behalf?

Of course there should be sensible safeguards. Residents should be able to protect their privacy from those who seek to film.

Commercial negotiations and decisions cannot always be made in public.

But with common sense, the vast majority of our discussions and decisions can be opened to wider public scrutiny.

Labour leader Ed Miliband was right when he argued passionately for a new kind of politics to rebuild public confidence.

That has to based on values of openness, engagement and accountability.

A well-run and accountable council should have nothing to hide.

That is why Newham has made these changes.

In the 21st century it is not enough for democracy to simply happen. It has to be seen to happen.


Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman

I am grateful to be asked where I stand on the filming of council cabinet meetings. For the record, and as a believer in open government, I am in favour of it—as long as it is governed by the same rules that govern the filming of Parliament.

As a believer in open government, I’m in favour of it – as long as it is governed by the same rules that govern the filming of Parliament. I’m also in favour of the filming of our full council meetings, providing they conform to standards set by Parliament, respecting the public who may not wish to appear on film, and filming only those speaking.

Our MP, Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse), and his political ally Cllr Peter Golds (Conservative, Blackwall and Cubitt Town), have not asked me where I stand. This has not stopped them from trying to create a storm in a teacup, going to the press and Parliament with tales that do not represent my position.

Mr Fitzpatrick asked local government secretary Eric Pickles his opinion in Parliament, while taking a side-swipe at the council.

Sadly for him, Mr Pickles didn’t appear to know what his own policy was. It’s not compulsory for local authorities to allow filming, whatever the secretary of state may think. He seems to think that Cabinet meetings should be filmed while full council meetings should not. What logic is there in this?

That’s why, when we do it, we must get it right and at a cost that residents are prepared to pay.

The issue has come to prominence after a member of the public produced a camera phone at a meeting and was asked not to film.

This is because the council has yet to have a system in place for filming meetings and the public may not have wished to be filmed.

These concerns are those of Parliamentary authorities which is why the same individual would have been prevented from doing the same in the Commons.

I know Mr Pickles likes to be filmed eating burgers. But will he argue with David Cameron to allow cameras into Downing Street to film his Cabinet meetings? Or will Mr Fitzpatrick allow cameras in to film his parliamentary Labour Party meetings? Somehow I doubt it.

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Given the person quoted, I thought regular readers would like this story in today’s Sunday Express.


I wrote it before today’s fire at a tower block in in Bromley-by-Bow in which thankfully no one was hurt.

But I don’t think today’s incident in any way alters the “health and safety gone mad” argument in the Sunday Express piece. It concerns Dan McCurry and the houseplants he’s placed in the communal landing outside his flat in Clare House in Bow.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist in the area and a regular commenter on this blog. He and fellow Old Ford Housing Association residents are a bit peeved by letters they’ve recently received. Similar letters have also been sent out by Tower Hamlets Homes, but I’m hoping they’ve got more common sense than Old Ford…

So some fun Sunday reading for you.

A GROUP of tower block residents has been ordered to remove the pot plants that spruce up their drab communal corridors… because they are a fire risk.

Tenants were told their pots in the ex-local authority building are “combustible” and would endanger the lives of firefighters if a blaze broke out.

Old Ford Housing Association, part of the Circle Anglia group, last inspected the plants about three years ago when leaseholder Dan McCurry wanted to enter them in a flower competition.

Legal executive Mr McCurry, 47, who lives on the 19th floor of the 21-storey block in Bow, east London, said: “They disqualified me from that, not because they were combustible but because they’re not flowers. They didn’t mention anything about fire hazards then.

“I’ve tested one of them outside with a lighter and I can assure everyone that they’re definitely not combustible. They’re just leaves.

“They make the place look nice. Without them, it would be just drab.

“It’s important to have decor here but they’re just being heavy-handed and lacking common sense.

“Pensioners are frightened to complain but they’re furious about what they’re being told. It’s bureaucracy gone mad.”

Old Ford sent out its health and safety ­letters earlier this month. It said it recognised its decision was distressing but it had a duty to act as a responsible landlord.

Its customer services team told Mr McCurry the fire at the Lakanal House tower block in south London four years ago, in which six people were killed, had changed the face of health and safety. They wrote: “The landings have to be cleared of everything, which includes the plants. Items that are deemed combustible must be removed.

“Our concern as a landlord in the first instance is the safety of our residents.

“The plants as well as other items have to be removed to ensure that we can get you out of the block in the event of a fire.

“When a fire breaks out, smoke is one of the main causes of death and when people are trying to escape they become disorientated and are not sure if they turn left or right and the smallest thing can be an obstacle for some of us, especially those that have poor or failing eyesight as well as other disabilities.

“We also have to ensure the safety of the firefighters when they are entering the block and trying to rescue people.

“I am aware that these letters that are sent out are distressing for residents and cause frustration but we all have to adhere to the rules that are set out so lives aren’t needlessly put at risk.”

An Old Ford spokesman added: “We took this decision following clear advice from London Fire Brigade.

“They advised that personal items in common parts and corridors must be removed. We understand our residents want to add a more personal touch, however it is in everyone’s interest that we put safety first. Taking these very simple steps could potentially be the difference between life and death.”

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said it was no longer its role to judge whether plants and other obstacles were risky. He said its job was to ensure landlords carried out checks and the landlord decided what was acceptable.

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It’s Ramadan, so belated best wishes to all readers of this blog who are fasting. I’m told it’s gruelling but also incredibly fulfilling.

Some are also intent on making it politically fulfilling. You can’t beat a deeply religious occasion for a bit of political opportunism, I suppose.

As dawn broke on the first day of Ramadan, this appeared on Lutfurite Facebook pages:


It’s funny how our Mayor Lutfur Rahman, so shy and silent in the face of questioning in the council chamber, never misses a chance to plaster his name and boasts everywhere else.

He’s also just posted this newsletter to specially selected homes throughout the borough.

Mayor's news p. 1 001Mayor's news p. 2 001The Mayor’s News. Quite why he needs it when he has the multimillion pound machine that is East End Life at his disposal is something of a mystery. For the avoidance of doubt, this leaflet will have been funded privately not from our council tax.

At the bottom of the second page, it says it was printed by Faith Business Ltd in Greatorex St, Whitechapel. This is a business whose former directors include Shah Yousef, the ex-owner of the London Bangla “newspaper” who was responsible for printing these smears against Cllr Helal Abbas in 2010, and a certain Mohammed Jubair, the talented multi-tasking journalist who manages to combine a chief reporter’s role with Channel S and a £175 a day job as Lutfur’s “community media” adviser.

As for who funded the leaflet, I don’t know. But it seems that Lutfur has made amends with his former self-proclaimed backer, Shiraj Haque, the millionaire housing association tenant  who was convicted by the council last year for relabelling cheap Italian plonk as more expensive Australian shiraz at his restaurant in Brick Lane.

He’s such a man of the people is Shiraj. A true champion of workers’ rights…

Which is why, I’m sure, another media darling of late, Unite general secretary Len McLuskey, was so happy to be pictured with him at the end of last month. Red Len went on a walkabout with Lutfur and Shiraj, citing the EDL threat to Tower Hamlets as their guiding motivation. I wonder.

Now what might Lutfur, still ostracised from Labour, want from Len? Funding? Is Lutfur part of Len’s grand plan for an alternative party of the Left? Does Lutfur still have ambitions beyond Tower Hamlets? For Westminster or City Hall perhaps?

Watch this space.

Meanwhile, here’s a selection of amusing photos of the new Best Friends:


MLR_&_Len_M_with_Community_Leaders1(In the background to this one above, you can see Lutfur’s £55k a year media consultant, the journalist Mark Seddon, but does anyone know who the taller chap is to his right – the man with greyish hair and glasses behind Shiraj’s left shoulder?)





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Just a quick post to publish a press release sent by the Tower Hamlets Labour group regarding the filming of council meetings.

They express sympathy with John Wright who was quickly surrounded by the council’s media blackout guards as he tried to film nine days ago. Anyone interested in this issue should watch the Sunday Politics show on BBC1 this weekend; the London edition has done a piece on featuring John.

In Labour’s press release, we start to see John Biggs formulate his line of attack on Lutfur for next year’s election. It seems he will tackle all those issues highlighted on this blog regarding mayoral excess, self-aggrandisement, accountability and transparency.

Here are John’s comments:

“Openness is fundamental to democracy. By attempting to hide away and refusing to answer residents’ questions any Mayor brings his office into disrepute.

“If elected my administration would tear down the wall of secrecy around the Mayor’s office and, as much as possible, make sure that transparency permeates everything we do – this includes having the decency and respect to actually answer residents’ questions at Council meetings, which the current Mayor refuses to do.”

Here’s the rest of the Labour press release in full:

Following an impassioned protest by long-term resident and campaigner John Wright at last week’s Council meeting, Labour councillors have reiterated their support for the live streaming of Council meetings and called on the Mayor to drop his opposition to openness and transparency in the Council chamber. 

The councillors pointed out that they had previously proposed that all Council meetings were live streamed stating in their 2012 Budget motion that “the Town Hall is inaccessible to many residents and in order to increase transparency the council should live stream council meetings.” 

Labour argued for investment in live streaming facilities for the Council Chamber and other Executive meetings in 2012 but this was specifically blocked by the Mayor who refused to accept the amendment to the budget.

Whilst the councillors recognised that the Speaker had little choice but to follow officer advice at last week’s meeting, they have called on Council officers to ensure that a recorded or live stream of the meeting is in place by the next Council meeting in September.

Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said:
“John Wright was entirely right when he said that as councillors we should be transparent and accountable to those who elected us.

“All residents have the right to hear what their elected representatives think about issues affecting the borough, not just those who are able to make it to the Town Hall.

“Labour Group fully support the opening up of Council meetings and have previously tried to introduce a live streaming system in the Town Hall but this was blocked by the Mayor. With the issue rightly back in the spotlight we are calling on the Mayor to drop his opposition and to introduce a live streaming system in time for the next Council meeting.

“With the technology widely available I can’t see any reason why democratically elected politicians would want to hide away from the public. The Mayor is always the first to jump for a photo call, maybe with cameras in the room he will finally have the decency to answer residents and councillors’ questions himself.”


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I’d left by the time of this little outburst at last week’s full Tower Hamlets council meeting. It would have been nice to have posted a video of it, but the council has of course banned such transparency.

Anyway, well done to Mike Brooke and the East London Advertiser for staying the course and reporting this (which I’ve only just seen):

Families living next to east London’s Victoria Park have been shocked by a member of Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s administration urging them to move house if festivals in the park upset them.

Shahed Ali suggested they could go on a housing exchange register and swap with tenants living in his own Whitechapel neighbourhood.

The outburst came in a debate in which the council voted to call on the Mayor to “respect the democratic mandate of the authority” which has twice agreed to limit event days to six a year, end them by 10pm and put a cap on noise levels and crowd capacity.

But instead, the mayor has put out a tender inviting companies to bid for a three-year contract for up to 30 commercial event days.

Cllr Ali said: “I’d be interested to know if local ward councillors have considered asking these families if they would go on the exchange register.

“Many residents in Whitechapel would happily exchange with them and move into their houses. They can come and speak to me—I’ll help them make that move.”

The suggestion brought outrage from Labour’s Amy Whitelock, accusing him of “starting a class war” and pointing out the noise and disturbance reached a housing estate in Bethnal Green, not just families living by the park.

“Ali’s arrogance is unbelievable—it’s an outrageous remark,” she said. “It’s not a class issue, so why are you making it one?”

The row followed an earlier spat involving Cllr Ali during Public Question Time when resident Janet Wade asked why the Mayor failed to bring in the six-day limit agreed by the council.

Cllr Ali, speaking for the mayor, referred to “these difficult times” when priority was housing, education and protecting the most vulnerable from welfare reforms.

Mrs Wade slammed back: “We appreciate these are difficult times—but that doesn’t mean public parks should be used just to raise revenue rather than benefit people.

“We’re beginning to think the council isn’t a fit and proper body to manage the park.”

The big events were “not family friendly,” she maintained. They were too big, too noisy and go on too late.

Quite what Mayor Lutfur and his councillors have against the people who live near Victoria Park is really something of a mystery. But they do seem to be fond of making little digs against the “middle classes” they believe to live there.

I think they need to get out more. Talk to the people in Bow and Mile End, even. I’ve always liked Shahed, but well done to Amy Whitelock for having a pop at him in the council chamber. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if she raised Shahed’s own personal business interests.

His declared register of interests on the council’s website says he owns an events company called Global Arts Village Ltd. There’s more about this outfit on the council’s website here, where it says:

Established since 1998 to raise the media and public profile of Bangladesh and the Bengali arts industry, we have organised the biggest and largest Bangladeshi concert events at venues such as the former London and Wembley Arena’s, Royal Festival Hall, Millenium Dome and taken shows to the USA and Bangladesh, including outdoor events. 

Founder of the BIMA AWARDS (Bangladesh International Media Awards) in the year 2004 as an annual event to recognise achievement in Bangladeshi talent worldwide.

This event is broadcast live to a 30 million+ audience worldwide. We have worked with all A-list celebrities of Bangladesh. 

We have also produced TV drama’s for ethnic televison channels, filmed in locations throughout the UK and Bangladesh with a mixture of local talent and A-list celebrities. 

Shahed Ali, the founder and Artistic Director, was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets, educated and still currently works in Tower Hamlets.

But the funny thing about this company is that it doesn’t actually exist. Well, not any more anyway.

According to records at Companies House, it changed its name to Arts Worldwide in June 2009 and was dissolved in September 2010.

So why is it still on Shahed’s declaration of interests? Well, that’s because he hasn’t updated it since October 10, 2007.

His form also says he has a substantial interest in Sangeeta Ltd, a books and CD distribution company. However, that, too, no longer exists. It was also dissolved in October 2010.

And the same goes for his declared political party: he says he’s a member of Respect….but oh, hang on a sec, having defected from them to Labour to Lutfur, that part is actually about right.

A declaration of interests that is six years out of date. And neither he nor the council have bothered to ensure it has been corrected in that time.

What we do know is that he runs a successful restaurant in Frinton-on-Sea in Essex (now there is a middle-class stronghold if ever there was one – how ironic).

But where else is he getting his income from? How are we able to check if he has any conflicts of interest in relation to big events in Victoria Park? A few years ago, he lobbied to take over the Boishakhi Mela from Shiraj Haque…

Shahed is a regular reader of this blog and he does, unlike other councillors, have the guts to comment under his own name, so perhaps he can explain why he hasn’t updated his register and maybe even take the opportunity to lodge a new one..right here on this blog.

We await…

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