|Volume 6 | Issue 07 | July 2012 ||
Where is Bangladesh heading for?
G M Quader discusses how the judiciary and executive organs of the state are tainted by successive governments since the restoration of democracy in 1990.
People of Bangladesh have been struggling for long to free themselves from the clutches of poverty, exploitation, discrimination, and insecurity. Their struggle has been to fulfill the aspiration of establishing a society where social justice will prevail based on rule of law and good governance.
During the initial years of independence, people eagerly waited to reap the benefit of independence. But the freedom that they had fought for did not materialise. Corruption and mismanagement engulfed the nascent country. Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman who had given leadership to the struggle for independence was the head of the government. He referred to the spread of unabated corruption and his frustration emanating from this at different times. He was aware that the educated, elite class was behind the spread of corruption.
All of a sudden, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members. Subsequent to that all the senior leaders of his party who had given leadership to the liberation war against Pakistan were also murdered. Bangladesh was plunged into semi-military dictatorial rule. People were disappointed again as the situation did not improve.
People of Bangladesh were again inspired to come out strongly against those rules to establish a democratic government. People accepted the idea that democracy will deliver good governance and that will free them from all the evils of social injustice. People's struggle resulted in the establishment of a multi-party parliamentary system to govern the affairs of the state in a democratic way in early 1990s. The main two opposition political parties Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that had given leadership to this movement alternated in power from that time and they continue to do so today.
With the passage of time after restoration of parliamentary democracy, people started getting a feel that the main objective of both the parties (AL and BNP) has been to stick to power or coming to power by using irregular and corrupt means with the sole objective of fulfilling personal and partisan interest. It seems, both the parties gradually made full use of their control on the state machinery and made the democratic institutions ineffective whenever they got the scope.
Efforts were made to fill up the post of Election Commissioners and other important positions in the Election Commission (EC) with people loyal to the ruling party. Moreover, in addition to tampering with its neutrality, the EC was gradually made weaker and ineffective when some provisions of the constitution were violated. Due to this, the EC was not in a position to enforce most of the election rules under the existing law even if it desired. Money and muscle dominated election process due to the EC's failure to control the same. Success in election started to tilt in favour of moneyed and violent candidates. Election along with politics as a whole started to have more and more concentration of corrupt and violent elements of society. For those elements two major political parties became the most favoured choices due to their proximity to power grabbing and misusing it for personal gain.
Due to the reasons mentioned above, any election under the present system means a choice between the two main political parties. Situation has been worsened by dishing out favour of irregular use of public fund and authority and by capturing state institutions by party loyalists while in power. So, if there is any neutrality in the election, then the choice obviously tilts against the incumbent government irrespective of its political affiliation. This is so as the party in power was found misusing its power and people wanted to register their disapproval by discarding the government in the election. There is no visible reason that this trend will change what with the continuation of the tradition of bad governance.
Basic institutions for democratic governance under parliamentary system are the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Each of these institutions is to function independently but with close coordination with each other.
The Parliament is the place that ensures accountability of the government to the people. It provides suitable guidelines of governance and reflects hopes and aspirations of the people. When politics is dominated by money and muscle power, the objective focuses towards earning more through corrupt practices. Individual views are naturally considered irrelevant. To ensure the said objective uninterrupted, there are efforts to avoid checks and balances to flout better monitoring and accountability. The Parliament was made to become dysfunctional by all possible means to suit to that intention.
In a functioning democracy, decisions made in the parliament and all pro-people programmes are implemented through the government with the help of the bureaucracy. But actually most activities of the government are directed to benefit either individual or party interest at the cost of the general mass. Most appointments, postings and promotions of the government officials are done on partisan consideration to fulfill the said objective. All branches of government are filled up with party loyalists and officers with pro-party reputation as much as possible. Sincerity, honesty and capabilities are ignored. Capable officials are made OSD or are made to retire prematurely.
The Public Service Commission (PSC), the constitutional body responsible for the recruitment of government officials is manned by party loyalists. Their intentions and goals have been, as observed by many, to make all recruitments on partisan consideration as much as possible and not by their merit. Recruitments of other officials (mostly in the lower category) which are done directly by respective departments are also done in similar fashion. But here the influence of grassroots party leaders plays a vital role. This has opened up an avenue for corruption during selection as they accept bribe to do that. A new term 'Appointment Business' is widely used by the general people these days. It is an accepted fact that an institutional arrangement is there when the bribe money is shared amongst the party people with the result that incompetent people are recruited.
Judiciary is supposed to be the place to deliver justice. Laws are created in the parliament and any grievance is redressed and any violation punished even if the violation is done by the government. The Court needs to be independent of any influence as it is expected to act free from fear and favour, affection and ill-will to exercise their judgment.
The Constitution of Bangladesh made provisions for separation of judiciary from the executive to ensure non-interference from government in matters of judiciary. The provision was not allowed to be implemented for quite a long time. Recently, the last non-party caretaker government (in 2007-08) made an ordinance with necessary provisions for initiating the separation. The subsequent government of the AL-led grand alliance is progressing with the separation. But, so far, independence of judiciary apparently is on paper only. The judges are appointed by the government and there are allegations of partisan selection in this respect. It has become a tradition that lawyers affiliated with the party are selected for the posts of law officers (such as Public Prosecutor, General Prosecutor, Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, and Assistant Attorney Genial) of the government. When judges and government law officers belong and are loyal to the ruling party (sometimes party activists) it is almost impossible to ensure unbiased judgment. In case government party people are involved in law breaking or in any other litigation, it is perceived by most that the court would take sides with them and pass judgment in their favour. At the same time, the situation provides an enormous opportunity to the ruling party to use judiciary to harass and punish opponents.
Provision is there in the constitution for appointment of Ombudsman, a position which can investigate and reveal wrongdoing by any organ of the government. But till date since the inception of the country, no government has taken an initiative to install this institution and make it operational.
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the institution to fight against corruption and take measures to curb them has been turned into a toothless tiger. Efforts are still carried on to further weaken the institution. It is considered almost ineffective, except for harassing low level citizens and sometimes punishing people who oppose to government.
Human Rights Commission and Information Commission are institutions to ensure actions against oppression and to empower people by providing information, but they are almost at their nascent stage and are not allowed to being effective enough.
Both the major political parties, the AL and the BNP, that have alternated in state power after restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991, have been found to be similar in all the above respects. The evils and the wrongdoings as stated are carried on by both the parties. Continuous downtrend of irregularities, corruption and absence of good governance are the logical consequences. Situation has deteriorated so much so that it is widely believed now that allowing power to any of the two parties, in fact, means giving them the licence to impose autocratic oppression on the people and plunder public fund.
Democracy is practised to attain good governance by establishing rule of law, curbing corruption, enhancing social justice. But interestingly, illegal and irregular activities or corruption like unauthorised toll or bribe collection from all possible businesses, forcible tender manipulation, use of violence for intimidation by the political personnel from the party in power are done in the name of democracy.
To achieve visible improvement, patriotic people who consider national interest above self or party interests are needed to be elected to run the affairs of the country. Election Commission (EC) and election process should be made strong and capable enough to eliminate the influence of money and muscle in election. People should get scope to vote for the individual person on the basis of his personal merit irrespective of party affiliation. An alternate election system can be introduced. One of the possibilities is proportionate representation. People will choose the party and vote for it on the basis of the list of candidates provided earlier. The name of the candidates will be put serially on the basis of their importance. The number of candidates from the political parties will be elected from among the declared list serially. The total number from each party will be determined proportionately to the total seats as per the proportion of the total votes that the party receives in the election. But all of these may be considered wishful thinking in the present context of Bangladesh politics.
People wanted freedom from poverty and hunger, unemployment and uncertainty, discrimination and deprivation, insecurity and lack of human rights, and all other forms of social injustices. Independence from British India and then from Pakistan, and restoration of parliamentary democracy failed to provide them the long cherished freedom. Instead, it is felt by many that the situation as regards many of the above goals is moving backward.
Historically, most of the people of Bangladesh live below the poverty level. There is lack of education and awareness. Wealth tends to be concentrated in the hands of the minority privileged class. Control of state apparatus generally lies either directly or indirectly in the hands of that class. Government machinery is found to be generally repressive against common people and is utilised to benefit the elite class. Naturally, there exists a broader sense of insecurity amongst the general mass. This is being utilised to exploit them in any suitable way by the privileged class of society.
Elite group (consisting of some newly grown elites too) manipulated the situation to benefit from each struggle even at the cost of the people. This may be considered as one of the main reasons for which the general mass was deprived of the desired outcome. The same elements are still there inside both the major political parties and are exerting powerful influence. It is apprehended that they would prefer status quo and could create hindrance to any pro-people reform in future too.
People's quest for freedom from poverty, inequality, insecurity as already mentioned is yet to be achieved. No immediate relief is in sight due to the failure to improve governance in spite of different trials under various situations. People, especially the younger generation, are getting desperate to bring about a positive change soon. Under the circumstances, generally extremist politics becomes a favourite choice. Islamic fundamentalism could flourish at a higher pace. It is already noticeable in the attire and behaviour of younger people in greater numbers. Both the two major political parties whether they claim to work against it or not are in fact inviting it and precipitating its emergence by not allowing good governance to function and by refusing to establish social justice.
G M Quader is Commerce Minister, Bangladesh.
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