Reinventing Bangladesh now!


It may be surprising to many that at this critical juncture of our political times, such a call to reinvent Bangladesh is being made. In fact, many will call it misplaced: what reinvention? Bangladesh needs smooth transference of government through an electoral process now. It is seeking the right mantra for a peaceful changeover. Get that going and Bangladesh is again on the way.
But Bangladesh is in deep trouble today. There are many thinking minds who are disturbed by the reality. Many know that, in spite of Bangladesh achieving 6 % average annual growth over a decade, there is something seriously wrong. But they do not know what it is. They are the seekers and explorers in our society. Some of them are politicians, some economists, some foreign friends, cultural activists and even innovators and professionals both at home and abroad. However, this deep concern is not seen in our policy makers.
These people, who determine the direction in which our society should move, base their thoughts on the fact that this country was born out of a bloody War of Liberation. So, only the ideals that prompted the liberators should guide the course of development. So far, governments have worked hard to achieve food autarky, home for the homeless, education for girls, and medical assistance for the poor. So they pat each other on their backs, thinking that Bangladesh is already in many ways a success story. We are doing well and they want to continue on the path in the future. The idea of reinventing Bangladesh is audacious to them. They feel their mission is to govern the people. However, today, good governance is a complicated matter.
Throughout history, when a country faced old political and economic issues which had remain unresolved, it reinvented itself. These old issues created vast new problems. But the people also saw vast new opportunities in their way of life. Our country, after 40 years of independence, is also in a state of flux because we have not cleared many of the political and economic detritus of the past. We need to reinvent, recreate, re-engineer our future in order to face the emerging realities of a post-industrial world. Today, the world is knowledge-based and the economic opportunities are vast and global in nature. Wonderful opportunities and frightening problems are being created before our eyes.
It is time now to rethink and create a clear outline of a new way of conducting public business in Bangladesh. We hope some of these ideas find a place in the election manifesto of the political parties contesting the next elections.
Take the case of conducting politics in Bangladesh. A generation of geriatrics is in control of the levers of power. Their thoughts and their political background belong to the sixties. They are, therefore, slow to change and take the people as pawns in their political games. They take pro-active steps to checkmate their political opponents. They will never cooperate and collaborate with political opposition lest they lose control of the levers of power. The new generation of politicians also shows similar tendencies. They come with hackneyed thoughts and ideas and spout venom against political opponents thinking that they have scored political points.
Top leaders, in many ways, are alleged to be politically bankrupt, bereft of new ideas that engender cooperation and collaboration with the opposition and their political opponents for growth and development. They are in the business of staying in power only. They have used people and played with their honest interests for their political gains. Yet they call themselves politicians, but they could be termed as political manipulators. Their articulations through pious words are no substitute for real intent.
Our Annual Development Plans are devised by using remittances sent by our labour abroad and tax payers’ money as well as grants from foreign governments. Our political leaders merrily place foundation stones on bridges and sluices, on buildings and edifices with their names on these ADP projects. Bangladesh is perhaps is one of the few countries in the world where politicians have hijacked development in their name and put up signs to legitimise their time and position.
It is perhaps time that Bangladesh starts to reinvent itself. The first thing in the agenda is to bring change in politics and politicians. There is no reason to continue supporting old ideas and political tactics. The use of hartals to demobilise people, the call to declare legitimate governments as illegal ones without giving reasons that conform to the constitution of the land, the persuasion of people to confront each other and the law enforcing agencies with threatening weapons are tactics that are almost medieval and need to be stopped. The tendency to have politicians’ children anointed into national politics should also be checked.
Let us, therefore, point out some of the ways Bangladesh must begin to reinvent itself after the elections. Everyone knows that our bureaucracy is bankrupt of ideas and knowledge. This has to change. Then our politics needs a thorough overhauling. The present political crisis in Bangladesh should bring out some innovative, imaginative and creative leaders. Let them gradually take over the helm of affairs. The old should make way for the new.
The government itself should consider whether it can run like a business. It must think of transforming rule-driven organisations into mission-driven government. It must be result oriented, looking only to perform well. The government as well as private organisations should start listening to the voice of the people, who are their customers and not their bonded clients.
A major reinvention of Bangladesh should be the government solving problems rather than only delivering services. We all know that any efficient provider can deliver services. Governments in the 21st century are not in the business of providing services only. Our government is content to do this and forgets to solve legitimate problems that people face in their areas.
Reinventing government in Bangladesh must include active participation of local governments in all areas of the country. We need small government in Dhaka, while we expect powerful and resourceful local governments to carry out the day-to-day governmental responsibilities. Teamwork among government personnel should replace the creation of new cadres of officers to run the affairs of government.
Our political system is unraveling now. It would be a good time to think about changes after we elect a new government fairly and peacefully. Bangladesh needs to reinvent itself or stagnate. We have no other choice. The writer is a former ambassador and a commentator on current affairs.

Source: The Daily Star