The state of governance in the country has gone completely awry because of the absolute disregard for all the eight or nine essential elements that ensure good governance. But the most important of these, which are being defiled by all the stakeholders, are accountability and participation.
People seek good governance from the government of the day, but while seeking the panacea in being well-governed, we forget altogether, and all too often, that we individually and collectively must participate in the process of governance to ensure accountability and the application of the other elements. Because, as they say about conflict, disorder cannot survive in society but for our participation. If good governance is a collection of public good and delivery of public good, then it also requires “good public” too to accomplish that. And that is so because bad governance or misgovernance degenerates to “non-governance” when there is collusion of state agencies and some individuals or groups to transgress laws for acquiring “individual good”. What we have today is not bad governance or misgovernance but “non-governance” being inflicted on us. Some examples occur below.
As for accountability, take the legal system or the process of law for example. Money helps criminals escape punishment but the innocent is framed in false cases. Lack of accountability accords impunity to state agencies who arrogate to themselves the right to be judge, jury and executioner. And when the floor of the parliament is used to support breaking of the law by those that are supposed to ensure its application, as was done by a member of parliament on April 9, speaking in favour of extrajudicial killings, one cannot but shudder at the imports of such utterances.
Power or close proximity to it lends the transgressors invisibility, only to the law enforcing agencies though, even when their images have been captured in CCTV. Some law-keepers become law-breakers and do the biddings of powerful quarters in exchange for money. And all because of the absence of accountability at every level, and unlimited power going to the head. Sensational murder cases are virtually swept under the carpet since the suspected perpetrators possess money or power or both.
Judiciary is neither separate nor independent. Can that be possible when magistrates perform twin functions of both executive and judiciary, an undesirable arrangement in the interest of justice, and the service of district and session judges, their transfer, promotion, etc. are controlled not by the Supreme Court but by the law ministry? And what does one make of the BCL cadres playing the role of an auxiliary force of the police in beating up agitating students? It was not for the first time that they had done so when BCL cadres beat up anti-quota protestors inside DU on Monday. Has law enforcing been outsourced to an ancillary organ of the ruling party?
Another aspect that has refused to be governed, and which we as individuals contribute a great deal to, is the traffic in Dhaka city. I guess it is the same in other large cities /towns in Bangladesh. Our respect for traffic rules is demonstrated by our diligent and steadfast violation of them! The efforts by the police to use ropes when the red-light comes on to prevent the motorists, pedestrians and two-wheelers from jumping the light demonstrate our indomitable propensity to violate norms.
And where in the world would one find concrete pillars on footpaths to keep motorcyclists off the pavements? And there is a High Court ruling against the use of walkways by two-wheelers. Once when I accosted a young man using the pavement to avoid the usual jam, his prompt and befitting reply was, “Go and stop the cars with flying flags from using the wrong side of the road.”
It is only on our streets that you would find people so wilfully risking their lives to cross the street. Only yesterday this paper carried a picture showing a few young men crossing a road divider on Dhaka-Aricha highway that was reinforced with pointed spikes to make it impassable. But nothing can deter a Bengali. They seemed to be totally unconcerned about the fact that they were putting their own matrimonial prospects, if not their life, at risk. It not only reveals that as Bengalis, violating rules is our inherent right of birth; it also betrays either the inability or unwillingness of the traffic police to enforce the law.
The roads and highways are at the mercy of the reckless drivers. Their wantonness is responsible for the large number of deaths on the roads. They feel they are at the control of a “nascar” and the road is their racing track. The fate of two young people, one fighting for his life after being crushed between two jalopies, and other facing invalidity for life after the rickshaw she was travelling in was hit by a reckless bus driver, speaks of the total breakdown of traffic discipline. And nobody can touch the errant drivers because their boss happens to be a powerful person.
Ensuring good governance is the function of the government. And the consequences of bad governance are revealed in the following quotation. “Once Confucius was walking on the mountains and he came across a woman weeping by a grave. He asked the woman what her sorrow was, and she replied, 'We are a family of hunters. My father was eaten by a tiger. My husband was bitten by a tiger and died. And now my only son!' 'Why don't you move down and live in the valley? Why do you continue to live up here?' Confucius asked. And the woman replied, 'But sir, there are no tax collectors here!' Confucius added to his disciples, 'You see, a bad government is more to be feared than tigers.'” (Lin Yutang - Chinese Author)
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.