Former caretaker government adviser Wahiduddin Mahmud yesterday called for "real tests" in the elections to make democracy sustainable and curb corruption in the democratic system.
“It is not possible to check corruption in democracy if there is no real test during elections. There has to be a minimum contested election to have accountability,” he told a seminar in the capital.
The noted economist, however, did not make any direct reference to the 10th general election, due on January 5, which will be marked by the absence of the main opposition BNP.
"In every five years in the last two decades, voters have rejected incumbent governments after corruption and lack of good governance crossed a perceived un-written limit," he said.
Wahiduddin spoke at the seminar, “Development Ideas: Linking Research to Policy,” at The Daily Star Centre.
Based in London School of Economics, the International Growth Centre (IGC), which aims to promote sustainable growth in developing countries by providing demand-led policies, organised the daylong discussion.
Wahiduddin, a member of the UN Committee for Development Policy, said
See page 4 col Bangladesh's democracy was fraught with corruption, cronyism, nepotism and autocracy.
He, however, does not think that Bangladesh will go backward given the country's strong gains in areas such as economic growth and various social development indicators in the last 20 years.
"We don't think that women who have come out of their homes and attended school will retract themselves. But it remains to be seen whether we will be able to maintain the progress we have achieved and advance further.”
“The growth journey might face disruptions between 2010 and 2015 due to political disturbance. But if we don't have any major disaster, we will be able to maintain the accelerated growth in the current five-year term.”
Wahiduddin observed that still there are areas of concern, as the country is lagging behind in maintaining its achievements.
"Bangladesh has become a laggard from an over-performer in the case of secondary school enrolment rate for both boys and girls," he said.
He said Bangladesh was able to outperform many developing countries including some neighbours in social development indicators thanks to effective application of low-cost solutions and successful social campaigns.
He credited social campaigns by non-government organisations and some schemes by the government for the internationally recognised social development records.
"But Bangladesh is increasingly falling behind when it comes to public spending in terms of GDP for sectors such as education and health."
He said Bangladesh would have to increase its public spending and improve good governance to advance the gains in education and health sectors, as the scope to further records riding on low-cost solutions and awareness campaigns was fading gradually.
Wahiduddin said the quality of services would have to be increased, as a World Bank study several years ago showed that about 70 percent doctors did not remain present at hospitals.
"We also know the amount of time teachers spend at schools. If the current situation continues, we will not be able to make progress in these sectors."
While speaking on World Trade Organisation's Bali Conference, Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed said Bangladesh needed to conduct research to identify potential sectors and markets and modes of supply to benefit from the historic deal struck earlier this month.
Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said Bangladesh needed to conduct a study to see the demand where the country was planning to tap the markets following the WTO agreement on services.
Sultan Hafeez Rahman, country director of IGC Bangladesh Research Programme, Salim Rashid, professor emeritus of University of Illinois, and Biru Paksha Paul, associated professor of economics at State University of New York at Cortland, also spoke.