GOVERNANCE IS THE CHALLENGE
SYED ISHTIAQUE REZA
Her party miserably failed in five city corporation elections.
The reason was clear “A good government out of a bad election.” “The best government from the worst election.” That was the essence of the high profile political gossip in the city last week. It was even said in a television talk show.
Yes, the government has the opportunity to deliver. After prolonged and violent political unrest across the country, Sheikh Hasina finally held an election on January 5. More than one month has already passed, and there will surely be mixed reports about the good and bad results over the last month.
We can recall what the prime minister said at her first cabinet meeting. She warned ministers that they would be fired if she got any corruption report.
Corruption is surely a menace in Bangladesh, and we need to remain extra cautious. But the prime minister could have actually also said that punishment was waiting if there was a failure to deliver on the benchmark set every three months.
Still, there is time to set goals and targets, and those targets should be realistic and achievable in the shortest time possible. As the opposition is weakest at the moment, and the representation in parliament is one-sided, there is only one challenge for Sheikh Hasina – governance. Her only real option is also the same – governance.
She can set a quarterly target, and after every quarter, the targets can be reviewed. If any member of the cabinet fails to achieve the set benchmark, he or she may not be given the right to remain in the cabinet.
Hasina proved that with determination, targets can be fulfilled. When she took over power through largely participatory election in 2009, the electricity shortage was at a critical level, as neither the BNP-Jamaat government, nor the army-backed caretaker government took any positive step towards formulating a comprehensive strategy to deal with the energy crisis, which had made the lives of 160 million people of Bangladesh miserable.
Hours of load sheddings were very common. Industries suffered, agricultural output touched a record low, and exports almost came to a halt because of electricity shortages. Without electricity, economic stability is always a far cry.
After forming the government in 2009, Sheikh Hasina attached the highest priority to this issue, and today, the country is nearly out of the load shedding problem.
She faced criticism from various quarters over the quick rental system. But the reality was that the wheels of the economy kept moving because the power sector moved. At least industrialists and businessmen can feel the change.
Hasina’s government also went for the development of infrastructure. A number of new roads and flyovers were constructed in Dhaka and Chittagong. New roads, culverts, and bridges were completed in various parts of the country. Yet, her party miserably failed in five city corporation elections. The reason was clear, people got development, but they were deprived of governance.
A number of issues antagonised people. These include the atrocities of Chhatra League, Juba League, some AL MPs, as well as the overall law and order situation.
Now, it is hoped that she would look at these issues. She has already given a signal that she wants to deliver better. Some of the ministers who drew too much controversy were not given portfolios. New faces were given new responsibilities. This was welcomed. But it is seen that some of the new faces within this short period started drawing public criticism for their activities.
This is the time for her to give a fresh look at some of the pressing issues. State-owned public entities are incurring losses in billions. Will she go for any concrete action to reduce the losses?
A number of options are before her. She can go for advertising a transparent, merit-based recruitment drive for hiring chief executives and other members to run the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). She can also think of privatising the units which are not in a state to run further.
Bangladesh is faced with a serious governance challenge, primarily manifested through the continuing complexity of feuding politics. The political parties are discredited because of their actions, the bureaucracy is demoralised because of bad governance, and society is divided along political lines.
Because of confrontational politics, the youth are losing hope in the Bangladeshi dream. The country’s educational institutions are in shambles, and the youth are frustrated.
It is time to rethink the country’s direction. Sometimes a crisis is also an opportunity for change. A bold step towards a minimum level of governance can change Bangladesh from within.
Bangladesh does not have the luxury of time. Its future depends on such rethinking. A frank and open mind at the top of government can really give Bangladesh a new look.
FEBRUARY 13, 2014