Sunday, January 28, 2007

Common Ground, Corruption, And Politicians In Bangladesh

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

Why people elect government in Bangladesh? First of all, it is a democracy, which means that the people rule. It is also a representative government because the people elect leaders who will represent their viewpoint when making government decisions. It is also a constitutional government because it operates according to a set of laws and principles that are outlined in a document known as the Constitution of Bangladesh.

"We're not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done," said President George W. Bush of the United States of America in his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 23, 2007. Faced with a Democratic Congress, President Bush urged lawmakers to work with him to achieve big things for the American people.

The reason to quote the speech of the president Bush is to mention the common ground where every lawmakers feel same either Democrats or Republican. A losing/winning parliamentarian may not invite his/her fellow opposition for lunch/dinner or vice versa but he/she can respect the public opinion and keep patience and play a good constructive role. Is it too hard to act like a real gentleman/gentlewoman if he/she will not get his/her desire side of the aisle to sit on!

On Monday, October 1, 2001, Bangladesh's Awami League (AL) responded to its landslide election defeat by announcing a boycott of parliament by saying that her party would neither take oath as members of parliament nor join the parliament. When Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was in opposition, she too boycotted parliament.

Citizen of Bangladesh may not care which side of the aisle the lawmakers sit on but the country’s politicians always care the specific side of the aisle to sit on. And the result was weak parliament without opposition.

In a recent interview with AFP, noble laureate of Bangladesh professor Dr. Muhammad Yunus said that there is no ideological thing in the country’s political leader. They are busy to grab power and make money whether they are in power or not. They hardly have time to give any attention to reform anything for public interest. For the first time, Abdul Jalil and Mannan Bhuiyan, representing the two corrupt and rival political dynasties, the AL and BNP respectively, have found a common ground to grind their axes in public.

Corruption has never been treated at the core of the priority concerns in Bangladesh. The World Bank estimates that corruption exacts a toll of 2-3% on annual GDP growth each year. The links between corruption and organized crime, terrorism, conflict, human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and poverty are now universally recognized in the country. Having brand name ‘most corrupt country’ for five consecutive years, the policymakers in Bangladesh hardly react positively as many of them are closely involved in it.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) raised its voice once again against the policy makers of Bangladesh on Thursday, January 25, 2007 at Dhaka Press Club for not ratifying the ‘UN Convention Against Corruption.’ As many as 83 countries out of 148 signatories have ratified the convention that was adopted on October 31, 2003 and opened for signature on December 9, 2003.

After signing the convention, Bangladesh might need to enter into a legal obligation to criminalize an array of corrupt practices, develop national institutions to prevent corrupt practices and to prosecute offenders, cooperate with other governments to recover stolen assets, and help each other, including with technical and financial assistance, to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence and reinforce integrity. And everyone in Bangladesh knows it very well that why the government didn’t sign it.

The influencing corruption always runs with high speed; no matter who is in the driving seat. Latest experience of corruption is also following its master gambler when ex-energy adviser major general (retd.) Ruhul Alam Chowdhury was issuing four licenses to unknown companies for exploration of mineral resources between late December and early this month while the country's future was looking bleak due to political turmoil.

Although, Mr. Chowdhury countered that he didn’t do anything new and his job there was a routine task, the beneficiary companies are not capable with financially, professionally, or technically to complete the awarded deal. No need to say that this hasty deal has been awarded due to the political proximity of the previous BNP alliance government.

Mentioning the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in Bangladesh as most ‘corrupt’ organization of the previous government, adviser to the Caretaker Government Major General (retd.) Abdul Matin alleged that the ACC could not perform as per the expectations of the people. The previous government intentionally handicapped the ACC suspending Bureau of Anti-Corruption and its 13 laws, which actually made the ACC inactive.

Actually, the rules to govern the party funding need oversight, enforcement and monitoring with reliable judges or electoral authorities, and active investigative press. This will contribute to a meritocratic public service, which will resist party bias and encourage decision making in the public interest.

According to the 'Human Development in South Asia Report 2005: Human Security in South Asia' prepared by Pakistan-based Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, released on Thursday, January 25, 2007 in Dhaka, human security in South Asia is in the stake. Past lawmakers of Bangladesh didn’t pay any attention to pave the way for strengthening human security. Weak governance institutions fail to provide the security net for the most vulnerable people and increases human insecurity.

In addition, the report indicated that 40 percent people in South Asia are suffering for food while 40 percent of South Asia's population lives below the poverty line. Committing suicide due to food in Bangladesh can be found very often but unfortunately it is not a common ground for the policymakers to raise their voice.

Lawmakers of different political parties in India always give common opinion when they talk about Kashmir issue. Bangladeshi lawmakers don’t have any common ground to react positively either for people, state, or foreign affairs. They have common ground when they need to raise their voice against Dr. Yunus, to avoid UN convention Against Corruption, or to have a quick election so that they can grab/share power quickly. #

New York, 01.26.2007

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York