Pride and Prejudice: So much for image, so little for substance

Zahid Hossain

Bangladesh is a country that speaks of its language in its own name. A relatively new state resurrected from the deaths of millions, it has quite a reputation it must live up to because of its glorious past and adorable performances in many fields. However, in the recent past Bangladesh has earned a bad name in the international community, presumably due to widespread views of corruption, lack of good governance and absence of the rule of law in the country.

A relatively new state resurrected from the deaths of millions, it has quite a reputation it must live up to because of its glorious past and adorable performances in many fields. However, in the recent past Bangladesh has earned a bad name in the international community, presumably due to widespread views of corruption, lack of good governance and absence of the rule of law in the country.

Indeed, what one often encounters is the negativity that the outside world holds against Bangladesh, a country of 140 million. Little importance has been given to the positive aspects that this country has, and thus the outside world remains unaware of most or many of what the country has to offer. The patriotism we share is infectious, yet what is missing in the Bangladeshis is a commonality of ideas and notions. This is highlighted in the animosity among the leaders of different political parties, which worsens the image crisis our country is facing. This gives reasons for us to believe that there seems to be a loss of pride in our nation, our institutions, to some extent in our leaders and eventually in ourselves.

Bangladesh has emerged as a result of long years of struggle, sacrifice and bloodshed. Its creation was not an accident of history where people living in a particular geographical area were just granted independence by a weary colonial power. Bangladesh liberated itself from the occupation of another state, Pakistan. Therefore, it had to define its identity before it could exist as a nation, and its people had to identify with their new national consciousness and clear individuality. At the birth of Bangladesh - out of the fire and blood of a liberation war - its entire people were aware that they were citizens of a new nation, and could identify with their nation. Their nationality was a matter of distinction and is symbolized in its flag, its heroes, its language, its culture and its history. These significant identity and culture are the sources of pride and emotion that every Bangladeshi possesses.

Poverty in Bangladesh is a basic issue, as too many of its vast multitudes are indeed living below the poverty line. The gap between the rich and the poor is dynamic. Of course, the developed world is aware of that, because they themselves have been providing aid in millions of dollars in order to help this poor nation. What is generally known is that the corrupt government leaders and officials make away with the money that was intended for relief to the poor people. What some people fail to realize is that some of the many NGOs operating in the country are found to be spending lots of money in less priority areas like buying cars, air conditioners and such other items.

Recently an American magazine has ranked Bangladesh 17th in the Failed States Index. It is one of the 20 countries that have been considered to be the most precarious and defenseless, although not much knowledge regarding this is being exposed. Twelve social, economic, political and military indicators have been used to rank the country's level of internal conflict. The report has said that “these insecure and unstable states are breeding grounds for terrorism, organized crime, weapons proliferation, humanitarian emergencies, environmental degradation and political extremism threats that affect everyone”. This obviously casts a dark shadow over the country's status and potential as a state that has to achieve its Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015.

What we need more urgently now is the strategic vision of what the government must do, how to do and when these visions would become a reality. This would bolster the people to act as a united force of the nation on different fronts, the way the people reacted on the political front to the call for independence in 1971 by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Restoring accountability and integrity in the administration should be a major task and one of the top priorities for this country. Since the basic issue of reform lies in the issue of governance, we must recognize that a change in the political culture must be central to such a reform. Few reforms can be realized in the near future without a consensus on some of the critical issues facing the nation. Accountability will have to be established at all the tiers of government from the Prime Minister downwards. Each elected person in the government and each opposition Member of Parliament will have to account for their behaviour to the electorate. There must be no task of governance for which someone cannot be held responsible and made accountable under service rules, law or in the court of the people.

The people generally expect the state to give them peace, security, health care, education, jobs and economic opportunities. When these commitments are not fulfilled, the people hold the state and the government in power responsible, not any outside or even inside forces. To these more traditional expectations, the state must add more contemporary commitments that no citizen must go without the basic necessities of life. The state has therefore to commit itself to realizing all these expectations.

Transparency International has dubbed Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world for the past five consecutive years. This has further diminished our image and position internationally, particularly, in the USA, the European Union and some other donor countries. Since corruption has become all-pervasive in the society, we must combat this menace immediately, in order to remove the bad label from our nation. The independent Anti-Corruption Commission, although set up more than a year ago, has not yet been able to start its functioning properly and effectively. Measures should be taken without further delay to make this organisation useful in staying true to its cause and serve its much needed purpose.

What we should aim to do is to encourage Bangladeshi professionals living abroad, who are established in their respective fields, to come forward and extend their services in properly projecting the positive aspects of the country and its people, in addition to the well-organised and properly planned efforts by the government in this direction. Generally, foreign media men quite often complain about the non-availability of entry permits for covering events in Bangladesh. They are subjected to harassment in getting visas, as there exist no policy guidelines in this respect and the existing procedures are quite cumbersome and lengthy. Thus the foreign media people unnecessarily get the wrong signal from our embassies before coming to Bangladesh. We should therefore prevent any sort of “visa hoax” and allow foreign journalists to enter our land, not perceive them as threats and give them the opportunity to portray in the media the actual picture because many of the positive aspects of this country are often overlooked. The agricultural sector has made great leaps forward in the country, the rate of literacy has shown a steady increase, family planning is more effective and micro credit NGO performances have made excellent progress. These are some of the few areas in which the country is showing major improvements and the free media will allow the outside world to know about this and remove the image problem that Bangladesh faces abroad.

It is true that Bangladesh has a negative image in the international arena. However, much of it is simply not rue. Obviously, all the positive factors must be promoted through our missions abroad to minimize the negative image. Our achievements and glories must be properly publicized to remove the negativity surrounding our country.

In order to attract foreign investors, organisations such as the Board of Investment, the Export Promotion Bureau, and the Tourism Corporation should undertake short-term and long-term motivational and publicity campaign in active collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, particularly the Bangladesh diplomatic Missions abroad.

Finally, good governance in every branch of administration, reduction of corruption in every sector specially reducing the cost of doing business in Bangladesh, adoption of the rule of law properly, introduction of transparency and accountability in every sector of the society, and restoration of the well-established “rules of the game” in the political arena will gradually remove the bad name of the country, and the dream of the martyrs for establishing an exploitation and corruption free country will be fulfilled.

To bring back the proper image of the country, sincere efforts should be made without further delay to create the basis for diffusing a democratic system into a democratic culture. This will demand a search for consensus in our history and national symbols.

The author is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.

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