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     Volume 7 Issue 4 | January 25, 2008 |

  Cover Story
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Hoping for the Best
The latest buzzword in town is an appeal to the government to make the right moves towards the reality of an elected government coming to power. Obviously, electoral reforms have been the crucial first steps towards a free and fair election, but things are heating up in terms of a badly managed economy. People are getting restless especially by the hurtful food crisis and an overbearing rise in prices of essentials. The recent garment workers agitation that ended in vandalism and looting, the continued agitation among university students despite the release of most of the incarcerated students and teachers, are all indicative of growing impatience for an elected government. At the same time, people are hopeful of a transparent government made up of good, honest and efficient representatives, all of which translate to reforms within political parties as well as new faces in the electoral race. To get the ball rolling however, the government has to initiate dialogue with various political parties.
Former caretaker government advisor Dr. Akbar Ali Khan has been quite categorical about the need for an elected government to avert an economic crisis. At a recent citizens meeting, Dr. Khan said that it was not possible to run a country of 150 million without the mandate of the people. He termed the present economic crisis as an 'economic emergency'. The former finance advisor added that while the a state of emergency had been a necessity at the time it was declared in order to avoid the country going into total destruction, it was also predictable that it would have a negative impact on the economy.

Dr. Akbar Ali Khan at the discussion titled 'State of the Economy and the way Forward'.

Akbar further said that ideally the elected government should have come to office before the new budget had been prepared. He was a little critical about the slow pace of budgetary measures to control inflation and the food crisis. This, despite the fact that the budget had forecasted that the country might need 2.3 million tonnes of food grain. The budget had also warned that the government would have to feed 50 lakh people in the current fiscal year. These forecasts had been made before the floods and the cyclone hit the country, but government steps do not correspond to them, he reflected.
Akbar further added that in his 16 years of experience as a bureaucrat working under elected governments he had not witnessed such rise in food prices during the rule of political governments even though they may have been corrupt.
On political reforms Akbar said that they were necessary but had to be done with consensus from every part of society although it was unlikely that the political situation would be fully reformed.
At the same discussion Dr. Kamal Hossain, remarked that while democracy was desired just holding elections was not enough, there has to be suitable representatives who would be responsible to the country.
Echoes of sustainable political reforms to ensure the strengthening of the governance process have been heard from other politicians. At a recent Prothom Alo roundtable, leaders of AL and BNP as well as left-leaning and emerging parties all agreed that such reforms were necessary and that there should not be a return to the pre 1/11 era.
Dr Kamal pointed out that the age-old excuse that people cannot participate without arms or black money had to be rejected without compromise. Even AL presidium Member Tofail Ahmed reiterated this view. Former BNP Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan asked politicians to reach a consensus on a number of issues, such as holding no hartal, accepting election results, not boycotting parliament, and neutrality of the speaker of parliament.
Former president and Bikalpa Dhara chief AQM Badruddozza Chowdhury advocated the chief advisor initiating dialogue with political parties followed by identifying the most important issues should be identified and reaching a consensus on those points.
There is something quite optimistic about all this and at least on the outset it seems everybody, the political parties, the government and even the army, are in agreement about political reforms and the establishment of a democratically elected government. The sincerity of our politicians however, regarding political reforms, which would mean abandoning age-old practices that were illegal, unethical but highly effective in getting the votes, remains to be seen. But perhaps for now we can say, 'all things remaining the same', the scene looks a little less bleak than usual.

Ignoring the Past
One of the most unforgivable mistakes that developing nations make is to neglect and often sacrifice the few rare monuments of their ancient past that have survived. One such example is the Baroshivaloy temple, a 7th century structure built in Joypurhat. This massive brick-built temple with clay terracotta plaques, surrounded by smaller temples is practically reduced to rubble. The Department of Archaeology says that because of lack of proper funds, many such temples and other ancient structures cannot be maintained.
Investigations reveal that poor maintenance work and high ground salinity are the major causes behind the years of erosion of the ornamental terracotta plaques and the walls of the temple. Things got worse when locals began to paint the ancient brickworks a white lime, completely erasing the original rich terracotta colour.
It is extremely tragic that many such temples and structures have lost their charm and the ancient beauty as the archaeology department turns a blind eye towards them. The government should allocate funds for the preservation of our heritage.
A while ago, a few organisations had dedicated themselves to the protection of the heritage in Bangladesh and managed to declare the four- hundred- year- old Shakharibazar in Old Dhaka as a heritage site. Such efforts should also be made to preserve and protect the innumerable other old buildings and sites that we have all over the country.
Because of sheer negligence on the part of the authorities, the temples that were built between 700 AD and 800 AD by the devotees of Shiva, a number of plaques and bricks have also been stolen.
Locals believe that the Baroshivaloy temple and the other smaller temples surrounding it could be restored to their former glory, only if the government allotted enough funds for the maintenance and restoration work.

Hospitals or Death traps?
If you're one of those people who have been attracted by fancy ads and flashy décor at one of the many private hospitals that have mushroomed all over the city and thought they were the answer to your prayers for good medical treatment you are certainly not the only one. Most people who can afford it think that it is worth paying that extra buck for a hygienic environment where the staff are trained to provide their services without a frown on their faces.
But that, according to many patients and their families is far from the case. Recently a private hospital has been accused of maintaining extremely poor hygiene even in their postoperative rooms. A video was circulated recently on YouTube of a man who had been abandoned in a bed after a surgery without any proper attention. Apparently the doctors had just moved on to another patient and left the patient without stitching him up and there was blood all over the bed.
Recently the second largest hospital in the city has been found wanting of necessary supplies and hygienic environment at it's labour ward. Besides having an inadequate number of delivery tables, spotlights and scarce medical equipment at the Labour Ward of the Mitford Hospital, conditions were also found to be extremely unhygienic and congested, with scarce water supply, insufficient number of bathrooms and poor ventilation.
Although promising to give the best of services and certainly charging high enough to be able to do so, even at the emergency room they sometimes ensure first that the patients' families will be able to pay the fees before providing life-saving services. There have also been cases were some hospitals did not have the necessary supplies that are required to be kept at the emergency units. There have been several allegations of over charging as well.
Healthcare is a basic service. Although the government hospitals have no excuse for not maintaining proper hygiene at their premises (they regularly blame it on inadequate funds provided by the authorities) the private hospitals have even less excuses of doing so. Its about time the authorities at the private hospitals change their attitude towards their patients. They need to set their priorities right - healthcare before profit instead of the other way around.

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