Unjust governance, loan default crisis eroding Bangladesh’s gains of 50yrs
An unjust governance, inability of state to enforce law, loan default crisis, and absence of competitive environment in public procurement have all created widening social disparities and inequalities, eroding much of the gains of Bangladesh in the last 50 years.
Economic and social injustice is also compounded by decline in democracy as manifested in the weakening credibility of electoral process, erosion in the freedom of the media and unfair access to public services, said Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
His remarks came at the inaugural ceremony of the four-day international conference on 50 years of Bangladesh today.
The CPD organised the event co-sponsored by the South Asia Programme of Cornell University. CPD Distinguished Fellow Prof Rounaq Jahan moderated the discussion.
Bangabandhu's expectations may have been realised because of Bangladesh's economic and social progress, Sobhan said.
But his expectations to take the nation towards his vision of a just society remain part of the promises that need to be honoured in his memory, he said.
He said this widening of social disparities owes not just to policy and allocative deficiencies but to unjust governance in various spheres, where laws already enacted are not fully implemented and regulations are weakly enforced.
Such deficiencies in governance originate from the incapacity of the government to discharge its commitments and an increasingly powerful business elite, patronised by the state, influence policies and public action, he said.
Sobhan said such tendencies are manifested in the growth and perpetuation of the default culture, the weakness in enforcing government regulations related to areas such as road safety, building codes and environmental protection.
This also includes the inability of the state to ensure competitive environment in all public procurement and development projects.
"In consequence, public policies, in the way of fiscal policies and subsidies, along with public expenditure priorities tend to favour the business elite at the expense of less privileged social groups," he said.
He said economic and social injustice originating in state actions, are compounded by the depreciation in the quality of democracy, and manifested in the weakening credibility of country's electoral process.
"The capture of our electoral institutions by the business elite, the dominance of money and force in our electoral contestation have further moved us away from Bangabandhu's vision of a just democratic order where the voices of the less privileged members of society could be clearly heard in our institutions of governance," he said.
He said much can be done towards bringing greater justice to the governance process if the ruling regime remains committed to realising Bangabandhu's vision of a just society.
Sobhan said Bangabandhu had his own vision for an independent Bangladesh, which he promised would evolve into a just society.
"Ensuring the rule of law for all, implementing policies and enforcing regulations, remain within the domain of a well-intentioned government and do not require revolutionary upheavals."
He said Bangladesh was well behind Pakistan in most areas of the macro-economy, had experienced levels of poverty and lower levels of human development in such areas as education and healthcare at the time of liberation.
He said all these indicators of Bangladesh's progress, compared to Pakistan, have served to validate Bangabandhu's vision that an independent Bangladesh, in full command of its own destiny, would be able to move ahead more rapidly than under the dominance of Pakistan.