• Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Pouch

Big government but weak governance

Ashfaqur Rahman

Our prime minister must be very proud to appoint several thousand physicians and 10,000 nurses by this December. She must be happy to know that she will be able to establish a viable health service in the country. There is a need for many more reliable service holders in various sectors so that this nation of 160 million can move forward. Take the case of the police and security services. The prime minister has not left any stone unturned to see that in order to curb terrorism and other security challenges she can muster enough manpower to handle them. When we see TV footages of the police on duty in the rural areas and small towns we know that the government has recruited enough police personnel to look after our needs.

Then there is the case of education workers. From the primary school level to the secondary level, we are slowly overcoming the shortage of teachers and books to cater to the need of our students. The pay and emoluments of government personnel at all levels use up much of the government revenue budget as well as part of the development budget. The finance minister has to devise new ways to raise taxes every year to meet the growing costs. Education is what will take the country to the next stage of development.

But what is happening in reality? The thousands of government employees recruited each year swell the ranks of those who are expected to serve the people. But the quality and competence of these people are much below normal. Take the case of government employees who are in the employment of the Inland Water Transport Authority and responsible for ensuring safe travel in launches and steamers.  This Eid, what happened to a launch which sank in the Padma was a disaster. The launch was a dilapidated one, and had got a certificate for 17 days for renovation. It was painted and cleaned, but was not given a license to operate. So, it was idle for the 17 days before Eid. Somehow, before Eid, it could get a certificate to run with maximum capacity of 85 passengers. The sareng (driver) took 100 passengers from the port of departure, but on the way to its destination it picked up about 200 more passengers. The overloaded launch sank in the Padma river. Hundreds of passengers, including old people and children, were drowned or went missing. Three nieces of the shipping minister were caught in this disaster. The owner of the launch and the sareng have not been traced as far as we know.

Our point is that the person who knowingly gave the certificate and allowed the launch to run is the one who is mainly responsible for being swayed to take this decision, perhaps knowing that what he was doing was possibly a criminal act.  But our Marine Law is so outdated and subject to different interpretations that the guilty are likely to go scot free. What a tragedy and how deeply fraught with consequences for the disaster-hit families. Now, the sunken launch cannot even be located and all bodies recovered. So what is the government going to do? Nothing of any serious consequence, I am afraid. That for you, dear citizens, is the nature of governance in Bangladesh.

Then again, during the Eid, a train rammed into a bus loaded with passengers. Where was the guard who is to ensure that the bus driver stops his vehicle when there is a train approaching? Is there anybody who will be held accountable for this disaster? This again, dear citizens, is the nature of governance.

Have the authorities not noticed the dilapidated state of the public and private buses that run on the streets? How can the government authority issue fitness certificates to them? Are we to assume that there is a nexus between the governing institutions and the governed?

Our neighbouring countries, including China, have designated people to monitor and regulate vehicles, launches and aircraft so that the ordinary citizens can use them knowing that they will not be subjected to fraud and bad governance. We have political leaders and bureaucratic high-ups who care for our people. But a small section of unscrupulous individuals flout good governance for personal profit. Can a proud people like Bangladeshis allow this to happen?

Look at the national image of the country. Our reputation is sliding down because of these few elements. Our government has been vested with civil and criminal powers to take corrective action without fear or favour. In this matter our focus moves to the police force, who are a force for good. See what the Dhaka Metropolitan Police did recently in checking the rampant use of chemicals in our fresh produce. Bravo to them. This is a good initiative and will be a precedent for good governance in the future.

The question that bedevils us all is how did some petty bureaucrats stoop so low as to make governance a farce? Who trained them in their respective areas? Why are they not supervised regularly? What about the big bosses in the various offices, why do they not try to find out how the citizens are suffering?

In Germany, there were trade guilds where each professional was tutored for at least seven years before he was given a certificate to operate on his own. Even today, government officials, however big or small, are trained in their professions and given the tools for ethical operation once they go to serve their masters -- the citizens.

Our prime minister has to think before allowing recruitment of large number of government employees until they are professionally fit and have high ethical standards. They must be made aware that getting a government job is not a right but a responsibility that has to be earned at each level. Let us assure the prime minister that Bangladesh will achieve middle income status soon, but she has to change the quality of governance.

We remember clearly that time and again Bangabandhu lamented that although Bangladesh was a Golden Land it could not remain as such until it produced golden people. Where are such people?

 

The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on contemporary issues. E-mail: ashfaque303@gmail.com  

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

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