Governance with inapt appointments
The Supreme Court shelved a recent High Court order on October 4 for granting bail to BNP's Khaleda Zia in one of her graft cases. Obviously, that didn't sit well with her cronies. But had she been released on bail, these cronies would have championed her as the "born again" leader of the party.
Her counsel, Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, asserted that because his clients are politicians they should come out of prison through politics. "It is impossible for them to come out from jail through court," he added.
The constitution guarantees legal counsel to every citizen, and an immutable right to a fair trial. When politicians clamour for justice for their respective party chiefs -- forgetting others who have been incarcerated for similar crimes -- they're not really asking for justice. Rather, they are looking for a pretext to create trouble, or are simply extending lip-service to their demoralised party workers.
Using legal loopholes to win release of high profile alleged political criminals may bring personal fame for legal acumen, but at what expense to the country and its governance? Everyone wants justice to be served -- but that doesn't mean escaping from punishment for criminal mischief by legal trickery.
Many corrupt politicians have already started thinking of an escape route by taking advantage of the provisions of the proposed truth commission being contemplated for the corrupt business people. I feel that any accommodation of the pleas of the corrupt politicians would serve only to obstruct our collective march along the path to good governance.
The question is: who is the bigger sinner? Politicians almost always initiate wheelings and dealings with the private sector for sumptuous paybacks. Adviser Mainul Hosein is right: the country needs the businessmen to resuscitate the economy -- and no clemency for corrupt politicians who bred corruption, throwing the economy in shambles with a domino effect on big business as well.
Add two other recent proposals to the truth commission: The formation of a Constitution Commission and the Right to Information Act (RIA) proposed by General Moeen Ahmed in his July 10 key-note speech.
The RIA is a whistleblowers' act -- and a code of conduct for elected officials and public servants, which will make their dealings while in office more transparent.
The constitutional guarantees of citizens' freedom of speech are hamstrung without the concomitant right to freedom of information. Until now, such guarantees patently remained as lip service; instead of enacting laws facilitating people's right to information previous administrations maintained the colonial tradition of secrecy and suppression of information while emboldening them with new acts (examples: the 1979 Government Servants Rules and the 1996 Rules of Business acts).
The issue of a national constitutional council was underscored in my October 2 article "Parameters of good governance." That piece suggested that the present chief executives of EC, ACC, and PSC are three outstanding examples of appointment of the right people to the right positions at the right time.
Don't forget that, for the first time ever, the country's chief executive is truly a renaissance man, with the experiences of a university teacher, a civil servant, and an economist with World Bank and Central Bank experience. The cabinet members around him testify to the belief that the right people in the right jobs can execute good governance.
Inapt appointment of elected people to cabinet positions (a geologist becoming health minister, a religious party leader becoming industries minister, an accountant becoming finance minister, just to name a few), shuffling of senior public servants from ministry to ministry, and promoting them on partisan considerations rather than aptitude and qualifications was the modus operandi of all past governments.
Considering all the facets, the country's overall governance can functionally be conceived as being delivered by four overlapping branches: Judiciary, legislative, executive, and constitutional institutions (EC, ACC, and PSC). I have integrated the three constitutional bodies as one single entity because of their operational independence from the other three branches. Of course, I have another legitimate rationale for their integration.
The famous Leon Walrus's law treated an economy as a system of four inter-related markets -- those of goods, labour, money, and bonds. He showed that if any three of the markets were simultaneously in equilibrium then the fourth market would automatically converge to equilibrium.
Arguing broadly along the same lines as Walrus's law, one may hypothesise that if any three of the four branches of the government (judiciary, legislative and the three constitutional bodies) function efficiently, the executive branch -- possibly the most corrupt branch of a government -- would have no alternative but to fall in line with the others.
For realisation of good governance, the executives of all government departments and ministries (from joint secretary to secretary) must appoint dedicated and qualified officials to these higher positions based on past performance plus knowledge and aptitude-based evaluations, preferably through interviews and written examinations to be conducted by the PSC.
For cabinet level positions, the prime minister will nominate candidates from elected politicians whose qualifications ought to be debated in the parliament and then confirmed. Selection of non-political professionals to cabinet appointments should be raised from the current 10% to at least 30%, which would also require confirmation by the parliament.
Finally, what remains for good governance is "checks and balances" for the vast executive branch. That would be guaranteed by the judiciary, ACC, EC, PSC, and the free media, all working as team players, backed by the lawmakers. The corrupt, whoever they may be, would be like rats in the bilge of a sinking ship, with little chance of escape.
Regardless of whether one is a misanthropist or a pragmatist, one may start nurturing the idea of creating a separate ACC cadre service along the lines of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The recruits must be pooled from fresh graduates in law, psychology, economics, tax accounts, etc., and must qualify for the job through separate competitive examinations -- then undergo rigorous training for conducting investigation of high crimes and corruption. These officers would start their careers with upazilla and district level postings, and would be required to stay on the job learning curve continually.
Cultivating the culture of good governance will need a leader in the ACC -- one who could stimulate the commitment and dedication of his officers and staff to do their jobs better than anyone else. Ask yourselves if we have that leader.
Dr. Abdullah A. Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University.