What we want from the next government
As we ready ourselves for the next general elections what is on every voter's mind is: Will the next government live up to the expectations we have of it? The expectations are no doubt huge compared to those preceding the last elections. It is a far more mature electorate that the political parties have to now convince, one that is skeptical of promises declared in ambitious manifestoes, weary of the shameless corruption of past governments and fearful of economic insecurity and lack of basic freedoms. It is also an electorate eager to exercise its democratic right and thirsty for real change. In that sense many of the seasoned political parties may find that such expectations to be a little overwhelming, considering their long track record of failing to deliver and getting away with it. But they should also feel a great deal humbled by the fact that people still prefer democracy to any other form of governance, that they still have faith in the very parties that have often let them down, enough faith to give them yet another chance.
Aasha Mehreen Amin
It would be foolhardy and politically suicidal therefore, to let this chance slip away, and the next government must take this opportunity to prove to the people that it does have the will and capability of transforming this country into the strong, transparent and modern democracy that its painful birth aspired to be.
The last two years have been a wake up call for both the people and the political players. It started as a rescue mission to save the country from the anarchy that the major political parties had reduced the nation to. The anti-corruption drive of the caretaker government was lauded by the public who recognised the grievous damage that the cancerous growth of political corruption had caused, eroding away the very basic rights of any human being - the right to food, shelter, clothing, education, good health and physical security. But despite the satisfaction of seeing corrupt politicians and their cronies behind bars and paying for their crimes, there was an undeniable unease that an unelected government could not stay in power indefinitely, that the answer lay in reform. There were attempts to break parties and create or restructure new ones. The famous 'minus two' formula to exclude the two leaders of the two major parties was tried out. Many were incarcerated and then set free, often to the dismay of the confused public. Nothing really worked and with the growing discontent of the people who were beginning to find it impossible to survive the unprecedented price spiralling of essentials, it became obvious that it was only through the political process, no matter how challenged and flawed, that this country could emerge from the drowning waters.
It goes without saying that people's trust, hope and aspirations are centred on one particular institution-the parliament for it is the parliament that represents the people and determines every sphere of governance. Our greatest disappointment can be summed up in the utter misuse of this great institution by our elected parliamentarians who have abused their power to the extreme and made a mockery of our precious votes.
Members of Parliament must attend all sessions and the opposition must discard the practice of prolonoged boycott.
The power and integrity of the parliament can only be restored by a complete turnaround from past practices and a sincere effort to uphold democratic values.
There are two major steps that the ruling party and opposition must take before they can even begin to regain people's confidence. The first is to acknowledge their past mistakes and never repeat them and the second is to learn from the achievements of the last two years and uphold them with grace and magnanimity.
Let's begin with parliamentary norms and code of conduct. In the past we have watched in dismay as Members of Parliament have carried out their bitter, petty squabbles at the expense of the taxpayers hard-earned money, which also pays for their salaries and those of their secretariat staff. The ruling party has completely disregarded the opposition's right to voice its opinion or express their grievances while the opposition has chosen indefinite periods of boycotting the parliament as a way of protest. Both practices have rendered the parliament paralysed and useless in promoting public welfare.
A culture of mutual respect and restraint must be practiced by our next parliamentarians. A code of conduct for parliamentarians should be made and adhered to; personal attacks and abusive language are not acceptable behaviour of lawmakers. There have to be sincere efforts to ensure participation of opposition MPs. Members of Parliament, moreover, must be able to operate from their conscience. In other words if a Member of Parliament thinks that a certain motion goes against the interest of the public or against democratic norms, he may freely object to it without fear of being expelled from his party and the loss of his or her seat in parliament. An intense debate on the fate of Article 70 should decide how to overcome this constraint.
From April to October 2008, Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) carried out a countrywide survey of people from all walks of life on what their aspirations for the next parliament are.
The survey showed that people, for one thing, are very sure about what kind of qualities they expect their MPs to have. These include: being honest, known to the people of his or her constituency and aware of what they need, someone who upholds the spirit of our independence, who is non communal and believes in equal rights for all people regardless of their gender, religion, colour or race; who is logical and open-minded, who has had sufficient political experience in development at the grassroots level. The MP must be well educated although this includes having humane qualities and political experience. The respondents were also very particular about the type of MPs they didn't want-corrupt, owners of black money, loan defaulters, individuals associated with organised crime, war criminals and opportunists who use their position for personal benefit.
An interesting finding of the survey is that people expect to have detailed information on the MPs and have demanded that information regarding their earnings and their dependents be submitted and be made public every year. They also want that each parliamentary session be directly aired through state and private media.
A strong local government has been a longtime dream of the people and the survey shows that people expect that MPs refrain from directly controlling development activities of their constituencies -- a common practice of the past when MPs would be too busy consolidating their influence in their constituencies to ensure future votes instead of attending parliamentary duties. In fact, respondents have expressed that MPs of both ruling and opposition parties cannot be absent for more than thirty days and that too only due to illness or because of important work of the state. An attendance register of the MPs has to be made publicly available each year. Cuts in pay should be introduced for those who have not taken permission from the parliament to be absent.
People must have access to their MPs. Each MP should maintain an office in his or her constituency and be present there except when he or she has to attend parliamentary sessions or is engaged in important state work.
A neutral speaker is crucial for the parliament to work. The speaker must resign from his party and he may be given the assurance that there will be no other candidate except him in his constituency in the following elections. The Deputy Speaker should be selected from the opposition bench.
The survey also found that people want that the ruling party will ensure proper participation of opposition MPs in the parliament. The opposition must use constructive criticism of the government.
The standing committees are the centre of parliamentary activities where the nitty-gritty of policy issues are thrashed out. Making these committees fair and effective is essential to the democratic process. The survey shows that people want these committees to be strong; a minister cannot be part of a committee that decides on a particular ministry and more than 50 percent of the committee members should comprise opposition members.
People want an end to the practice of prolonged boycotting the parliament by the opposition although walkouts are an acceptable means of protest.
Before passing a law, people want to know about it through websites or published material and discussions about it have to be held.
The people want an end to the practice of taking disputes outside the parliament. Disagreements must be talked out and resolved within the parliament.
Respondents have also expressed the hope that all the reserved seats for women be filled by directly elected MPs.
Standing committees for upholding the interests of ethnic and religious minorities as well as marginalised groups have to be created so that it can assess whether new laws or amendments to old ones are in tune with the rights of these people.
Political parties must practice democracy within the party if they want to be credible in the eyes of the public. People want that political parties give nominations from the grassroots level and honour suggestions from them.
MPs must make concerted efforts to bring issues concerning religious minorities and other marginalised groups to the forefront.
The position of an Ombudsman has to be created and filled. The Ombudsman will listen to public complaints against parliamentarians who have misused their power or failed to adhere to parliamentary codes of conduct, and take appropriate action.
People have also demanded that all MPs, the government and political parties will be obligated to make sure that other institutions of government such as the Anti-corruption Commission, Election Commission, Law Commission, the Public Service Commission, Justice Department and police force are kept outside political influence and can work effectively and independently.
It is a far more mature electorate that the political parties have to now convince, one that is skeptical of promises declared in ambitious manifestoes, weary of the shameless corruption of past governments and fearful of economic insecurity and lack of basic freedoms
The use of terror no matter how desirable the results, have to be shunned. The culture of extra-judicial killings is unacceptable in a civilised society and has to be abolished forever.
The newly-formed Human Rights Commission has to be strengthened and allowed to function independently. Unresolved political murders and terrorist attacks have to be probed into, to bring the perpetrators to book.
Although many of its endeavours backfired or proved to be ineffectual, the good work of the caretaker government has to be endorsed and continued. This includes the ratification of the Right to Information ordinance so that it can be used by the public effectively and easily. This act has the potential to give people the power to question anomalies in state organisations and make government officials more accountable. The anti-corruption drive must be continued with an initiative from the next government to tackle corruption within its administration. The judiciary should continue to be allowed to operate freely and without political influence.
The political culture outside the parliament needs a drastic change. The opposition has to avoid the use of long drawn out hartals at all costs as the suffering caused to the ordinary citizen weighs far heavy than any apparent benefit to the party. Hartals are hurtful to everyone, whether it is the garments factory owner or the day labourer or school student. It is not farfetched to deduce that if the parliament works properly there will be no need for hartals.
The ruling party meanwhile must exercise restraint and tolerance when dealing with the opposition. Using cadres and goons as well as the police to squash the opposition through brute force is an abhorrent strategy that must be completely shunned.
The politicisation of every state machinery and organisation has been a major thorn in the path to democracy. The new government must ensure the autonomy of institutions such as the Anti-corruption Commission and allow it to continue its work independently and without intimidation. State-owned Bangladesh television and Bangladesh Radio have to be made autonomous.
Political appointments have reached the most sacred corners including the universities defiling the sanctity of the image of teachers. Student politics as has been practiced for the last few decades, has to be abolished. The student politics of the past that gave rise to several political movements cannot be equated with the thuggery practiced by political cadres in the name of student politics. Today student politics means terrorising the rival party cadres with guns and bombs, taking over residential halls and depriving legitimate students from accommodation and grabbing tenders for building infrastructure on campus. There is nothing noble or glorious about such practices and all they have accomplished is cripple these educational institutions morally and academically.
It is clear that the clean up process initiated by this government, is far from over. The decriminalisation of politics will be a long and often painful process. Political parties must grow up to the fact that the days of mafioso-style competition are over and learn to use intelligent strategising and sincerity rather than gun-wielding gangsters to gain power. Politicians have to exorcise the monsters of greed from within and become the honest, capable leaders we want to look up to. People will no longer buy empty promises of good governance and prosperity unless they are accompanied by true political will and action. It is high time that the next elected government does what it is supposed to do: deliver.
Will there be Real Change?
M Abul Kalam Azad
This Monday could not be more important. The election, for which 140 million people of
Chief advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed
Bangladesh has been waiting for, is finally going to become a reality. The interim government, which was supposed to last for only three months according to the constitution, ended up lasting for about two years in the pretext of paving the way for a free and fair general election and the establishment of an effective parliament. Through this long overdue election, everyone hopes democracy will take shape in Bangladesh, bringing an end to the extended rule of an unelected regime and the uncertainty that surrounds our lives.
The ninth parliamentary election, originally scheduled for January 22 last year, was postponed in the wake of severe street violence leading to killings between two biggest political alliances. Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Four-party Alliance and the interim government of Iajuddin Ahmed dictated by the alliance were obstinate about holding the election without Awami League (AL)-led alliance as they had declared to boycott it alleging election engineering.
On the other hand, the AL-led grand electoral alliance announced resisting the poll at any cost if held without them. Grand alliance leader Sheikh Hasina on January 10 last year announced hartal for an indefinite period of time to stop the polls which would be virtually a BNP controlled rigged election. Going to election without the opposition too had been introduced in February 1996 by the BNP but the 'elected government' managed to exist only a few months, and a new election had to be declared in which AL won.
Under such a suffocating environment, the military persuaded President Iajuddin Ahmed to promulgate the state of emergency on January 11. Amid overwhelming popular support, the present caretaker government under the leadership of former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed took the helm of the country on January 12, promising the people a fully participatory parliamentary election. But doubts about the election were already filling the air.
Fakhruddin Ahmed's commitment is going to be implemented on Monday.
The Chief Advisor's promises were to cleanse the country of the traditional rogue politics, bringing a qualitative change in political culture and paving the way for a functioning parliament to end violent politics on the streets and to bring stability to the country for steady economic growth.
The people were happy to extend support to the caretaker government when it launched a countrywide anti-graft operation capturing alleged corruptionists and criminals responsible for pushing the country back through their destructive political culture. The support, though short-lived, was overwhelming as people were fed up with the negative politics of strikes, blockades, vandalism and widespread corruption.
Within months, over 100 high-profile ministers, politicians and businessmen, including two former Prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, landed in jail. Corruption and extortion charges were framed against them. Some of the high-profile prisoners were convicted in trials by special courts.
To accomplish their mission, the Fakhruddin regime took a number of reform initiatives, including recasting the EC and separating the judiciary from the executive branch of the government. Unfortunately, the mission did not succeed and now the question comes: What are the outcomes of the last two years? Did the desired reforms take place in the political system and culture? Have the attitude of politicians changed? Skeptics will give a resounding 'no' to such questions. But though most of the arrested have been freed and many are contesting in the polls after clearance from courts, there is a glimmer of hope that this may be the beginning and the developments over the last two years might have a long-lasting impact.
The people have always desired a fair and credible election contested by honest and patriotic citizens. With the same old political figures again in the electoral race there is enough doubt of any possible change in the political arena. Whichever alliance comes to power, the people will see the persons, arrested on charges of corruption and crimes, in the government, ruling the country again.
The good news, however, is that the EC has made an option of 'no vote' for the voters. If they do not find any fair candidate, they will use that no vote. In addition there are several positive measures that the EC has accomplished. This includes a flawless voter list, a strict electoral code of conduct, an amended Representation of the People Order (RPO), registration of a significant number of new generation voters, and a reduced number of 'dummy voters'. A change can already be detected in the restraint exercised by candidates - avoiding the use of mudslinging as a campaign tactic, refraining from the usual overzealous colourful postering and wall-writing. These are definitely positive signs.
Can we hope for a better relationship between political rivals?
But everything ultimately depends on the political commitment of the next elected government. The next elected government's course of action for fighting corruption and for good governance as well as for its approach towards opposition parties will be determining factors. The role of the opposition will be equally important too.
Since overthrowing military ruler HM Ershad through a mass upsurge in 1991, the people of this land have desired a healthy political scene so that democracy may flourish. Their dreams were shattered by the undemocratic attitudes and thuggish behaviour of the two major political parties which alternately ruled the country for 15 years, between 1991 and 2001. Critics have termed the regimes as 'democratically elected autocracies'.
Many might even question the credibility of the upcoming election too, because of the events preceding the poll including the Election Commission's frequent changing of laws, and the courts' very late reinstatement of candidates previously rejected by the commission. But so far the people seem to have accepted what is happening. Although one alliance is quite vocal about questioning the fairness of the managers of the upcoming election, the reason for their ire is well known, as their own track record has been far from clean in that respect.
Nonetheless, we are again dreaming of a true democracy. The people seem to believe this election is another chance for the politicians to make the dreams come true. Will they deliver? If not, the country will fall into a crisis once again, opening up doors for undesirable forces to come and take over.
The writer is Senior Reporter of The Daily Star
Getting Back on Track
In more ways than one, Bangladesh is on the brink. Whether it is to be on the brink of success or failure only the next elected government can truly know. Their actions will shape the future of the nation along with the lives of 150 million people. Now, if only they can set their agenda straight, the rest should fall into place. But that is a lot easier said than done, they must first truly understand the needs of our nation and then work in a bipartisan way to meet them.
Addressing poverty should be the greatest challenge for the next government, but they must look at the problem as one linked to numerous others. With a conspicuously low unemployment rate, that masks large levels of underemployment (a situation in which a worker is employed, but not in the desired capacity, whether in terms of compensation, skill or experience) Bangladesh desperately needs to find a way to provide its people with a proper means of living rather than a handout. While the answer seems simplistic enough implementing it is a whole different problem.
There needs to be a concerted effort to provide permanent jobs for at least one person from each disadvantaged family and this is just touching at the very surface of the problem, other issues such as inflationary pressures and the rising costs of essentials has exponentially increased levels of poverty. The 2008 FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission has found that the wholesale and retail prices of coarse rice has increased by 78 and 82 percent respectively between June 2006 and 2008, so much so that now up to 7.5 million extra people are categorised as 'Absolute Poor', while the number of undernourished people has increased to 45 percent. All of these statistics point to a worrying trend in Bangladesh, where the poor have become poorer not only due to a lack of employment but also due to the seemingly uncontrollable price hikes.
A tangible employment policy has to be made. Labour-intensive industries have to be developed in monga-prone areas where seasonal unemployment exists.
The soaring price of rice and other essentials have drastically increased the number of people in the absolute poor.
Evicted slum dwellers have to be provided with alternative housing. A ration system for industrial workers and workers in the informal sector needs to be introduced to lessen the burden of price spiralling of essentials.
While the last ruling party claims that the country experienced a 'flood of development' during its tenure the truth is that the only development that occurred was in the personal wealth of corrupt politicians and their cronies leaving millions poorer than ever. A decentralised government is crucial to Bangladesh's progress and the next government must go all out in developing the districts, shifting factories and plants to underdeveloped areas, creating jobs in the villages and improving infrastructure in rural areas.
Agro-based industries and small-medium sized enterprises have to be developed by relaxing terms and conditions (such as lowering interest rates) of loans.
Industries such as jute, tea, handlooms and shipbuilding have to be given special attention. A comprehensive coal policy has to be formulated.
Infrastructure needs an accelerated boost as improving communications in and between cities, villages, upazillas and districts is key to economic robustness. Developing the Padma and Karnaphuli bridges as well as the Asian Highway and Asian Railway are good starting points.
Farmers need more state-support to increase food production and make reasonable profits.
It is an irony that the very people whose votes each ruling party has depended on, have always been the most neglected.
It would be impossible to tackle poverty without looking into food security and the prices of essentials; one must understand the pressure they exert not only on the ultra poor, but everyone above them as well.
Like many other sectors in Bangladesh, the food sector suffers from a bit of an anomaly. While rice production has steadily increased due to both technological progress and private enterprise investment in small-scale irrigation, there is still a disproportionately large number of Bangladeshis consuming less than 1800 kilocalories, the minimum standard for nutrition as set by the World Food Program. Why is that? The answer is simple: while rice production in Bangladesh has gone up, the same has not happened for the major rice producing countries. Thus when we import rice to make up for what we can't produce domestically, unwittingly we found ourselves importing more expensive rice and as a staple food, we are now in a situation we cannot back away from.
Rice makes up a large share of the total expenditures of the average Bangladeshi. If they were better off (which they have not been because of increasing inflation), they would have preferred to eat less rice and more of other things such as meat and fish. But because they are not, they will continue to consume the same if not more amounts of rice. Thus when the price of rice rises it makes them poorer. Their incomes haven't changed, but the main item they buy with their money costs more, meaning that they have to cut back their consumption of something to stay within their budget. As a result many people consume less than the 1800 kilocalories they should a day. This, along with the rising costs of almost every other staple item, has led to a situation where millions go without proper nourishment and just as many struggle to make ends meet. The caretaker government set up fair price shops which were very helpful to the poor, but the real issue that needs to tackled by the next government is to stop the hoarding of essential items, thereby artificially pushing up prices and also they should enact greater reform in the agricultural sector, so that farmers can increase their output while still making a decent profit of their produce.
Another peripheral issue linked to food security and poverty but from a completely different side of the spectrum is climate change. It is essential that the next government takes the issue of climate change head on and realises that it has a ripple down effect on many other sectors of Bangladeshi life. Some estimates say that up to 50 percent of the population live in disaster prone areas. Most rural Bangladeshis are farmers by profession and most of them account for the 50 percent of the population that live in disaster prone areas, that means when a disaster affects people’s livelihoods and the price of essentials around the country. When a farmer loses his crop, his house and essentially his livelihood to natural disasters, the spillover effect is huge. Firstly, when the total output of rice decreases the price shoots up, which immediately sends people further into poverty (as we have seen earlier), as well as the farmers who just lost homes and livelihoods. The government will need to immediately devise comprehensive disaster management plan and then slowly build a section dealing with adaptation into it.
Ministries that monitor development projects to help vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and the disabled have to be strengthened. Important development indicators such as maternal and child mortality rates have to be significantly reduced and life expectancy increased to 75 years.
As for mitigation all Bangladesh can really do is to add its voice to the global call to reduce greenhouse gases and it must push developed countries to pay for the effects of climate change on our country. Worst-case scenarios put Bangladesh at losing 17% of its landmass within the century and displacing more than 30 million people. All of this, along with more frequent and severe floods and cyclones, puts Bangladesh in a very precarious position. Climate change can no longer be after dinner conversation material. It has to be acted on decisively or else the whole country stands to lose irrevocably.
Health and Education go hand in hand in the development in the process. Currently the public healthcare service is organised around the Upazila Health Complex (UHC) which works at a sub-district level as a health-care hub and at a lower level there are Union Health and Family Welfare Centres (UHFWC). The public sector field-level personnel better known as Health Assistants (HAs) are supposed to make home visits every two months for preventive healthcare services. The system seems fine, but more often than not the HAs do not make their rounds every two months and often the Centres are understaffed and underused. What happens is that all patient traffic is directed to district hospitals because they are larger and better staffed, this leads to those hospitals being over burdened with too many patients and too few doctors.
The problems are multi-fold. Generally, there are not enough doctors in the country to serve our people, and at the ground level people do not use their facilities properly, rather cramming up secondary and tertiary level facilities. To rectify the problems of the health sector the next government must make a concerted push outward for people to use their nearest facilities while at the same time encouraging more students to enter the medical profession. The World Health Organization's medium term strategic plan for Bangladesh also highlights other areas the government should take action on such as reducing the health, social and economic burden of communicable diseases, reducing the health consequences of emergencies, disasters, crises and conflicts, and minimising their social and economic impact. Policies and programmes have to be initiated to enhance health equity and integrate pro-poor, gender-responsive and human rights-based approaches.
Restructuring the education system has to be top on the list of priorities. While the primary education figures look great, only a tiny number of them actually go on to secondary and tertiary education, thus changing this trend is crucial. Education has to be made accessible and relevant for every child or teenager. Aside from that, Madrassas must also be looked into and reassessed, as the increasing number of Madrassa graduates cannot find places in university. The University Grants Commission should also go through an overhaul, and the list of so-called 'private universities' has to be checked again, throwing out sub-standard institutions. Apart from increasing the literacy rate, computer literacy has to be enhanced and made widespread so that every village can be brought under e-governance. For Bangladesh to move forward we need to become a knowledge-based society, and education is the centre of that proposition.
The next government has to balance development commitments with creating a pro-business atmosphere; it must first take care of its most productive and profitable sector, readymade garments and knitwear. The figures point to a good trend, exports in readymade garments increased by 15 percent in 2007-8 in comparison to the previous year but behind the scenes businessmen are worrying how long they can keep up such figures without concerted government intervention. The absence of a long-term policy for the industrial sector, coupled with political turbulence which results in questionable decisions and a near constant energy problem, it is a wonder that the sector has reached so far on its own. With the global recession looming the fourth quarter for Bangladeshi exporters looks to be the worst yet, as orders have declined and they have had to slash their profit margins merely to keep them. The question of what has to be done for the sector from the government's side is actually easier than one would assume. The first step would be to provide continuous gas flow to the factories dotted around the country. The government has to realise, if they are not provided with enough gas then as a nation we will be losing our largest export (currently garments accounts for a massive 76 percent of all our exports) which would greatly hurt our already slim foreign exchange reserves. Most business owners would settle for continuous power and an inept government, but often in Bangladesh they are faced with a curious mix of inept power and continuously inept governments.
But all of this is merely looking at the sector from the manufacturers' side, currently over 2.5 million people, mostly women, work in the garments sector and while their employers make all the money, they are paid a pittance for gruelling 10 hour work days. A challenge for the next government will be to fix a reasonable minimum wage for the workers, ensure safe working conditions and stop sexual harassment in the workplace. Already the process has started with better working conditions although wages are still not enough to make ends meet. If the garments workers demands are met then in a small way it would also tackle another area of concern for the next government, law, order and security. 151 Garments factories have been damaged in the past year alone from riots caused by garments workers, this is a habit we cannot afford to fall back into.
Developing Chittagong and Mongla is also essential to economic growth through increased international trade. The creation of a deep-seaport is essential.
The rule of law has to be strictly implemented by the next government if it is to take control of the country. That does not mean party cadres should get away with what they want, as that has been the case before. The next government has a point to prove to the citizens of the nation that they are secure within their own country. This will entail an increased intelligence capacity to deal with the threat of terrorism as well as a properly regulated police force not only for the urban areas but more importantly, for the rural areas.
While the garments sector is the backbone of the economy the power sector is its spinal cord. A recent World Bank assessment report claimed that Bangladesh's annual growth rate is as much as two percent lower than it could be simple because of its shambolic power sector. The current three-year (2008-11) power sector road map which was updated in May, suggested that Bangladesh's electricity demands would increase at a rate of eight to ten percent which would leave the demand at over 6000 megawatts by 2010. To put it quite plainly we are nowhere near those figures, and unless the issue is tackled with swiftness Bangladesh will become a regional non-entity. The latest release of the Bangladesh Economic Outlook, the Asian Development Bank said that worsening infrastructure constraints, especially gas and power shortages could investment and deter growth. It proved to be a telling statement as recently even the Executive Chairman of the Board of Investment (BoI) said, “The BoI has decided to discourage foreign direct investment (FDI) in gas-run industries. FDI in service sectors will be given priority.” For a nation that is clutching at straws trying to attract any foreign investment, especially after FDI fell 16 percent from 2006 to 2007, this is the last problem we should be facing.
The newly elected government should move towards helping private power producers who are more efficient and cost-effective, as well as searching for new gas fields, many of which may be off the coast of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission is operational and needs strengthening. The recent unbundling of distribution companies, and their corporatisation should bring improvements, but the next government will have to follow up on that immediately. There is also great potential for public-private partnerships in the power sector and several recent initiatives have proved to be promising, commercial losses have been somewhat reduced, a general restructuring of power utilities is underway and the prospects look bright. While this goes on there should also be a concerted effort to look into alternative energy as a way to provide basic power to many people in rural Bangladesh. Some solar power projects have proved to be quite successful and the government should analyse their results and see if a pilot project could be started up. The energy needs of the country must be met if our economy is to move forward and this is the time to act.
Everything that has been talked about so far has been rather tangible, but there are others that need immediate attention of the country which are not so easy to pin down need to be looked into as well. An enormous number of Bangladeshis are abroad as migrant workers, they send back over 6 billion dollars in remittances, more than all the aid agencies combined provide to Bangladesh yet their voices are still to be heard on the national stage. In fact their very honour is not even defended. They are regularly beaten and mistreated abroad, and even though they send back billions of dollars the government of Bangladesh does nothing about how they are treated. Non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) have to given better facilities such as specialised banking and counters at airports, to help the smooth flow of funds that are invested in the country; most importantly our government has to stand beside each and every citizen and help safeguard his or her human rights. The next administration has to deal with nations that mistreat Bangladeshi workers as well as inviting them (the workers) back to take part in the development of our nation. The relationship has become increasingly one-sided as we greedily accept their money but do not fight openly for their rights. This national negligence has to be addressed by the next government as a sign of good faith that they will take care of each and every citizen of Bangladesh. By simply being elected they don't have the peoples mandate, they must listen to the people and address their problems, only then will they truly gain this privilege.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008