The issue relating to governance has been at the heart of most discussions between the successive governments of Bangladesh and the development partners. The latter has always laid emphasis on the improvement in governance. But the fact remains that governance continues to be dismally poor in spite of a few piecemeal steps to improve the same.
There is no denying that Bangladesh has made praiseworthy progress in a number of areas of the development agenda. But weak governance, no matter whichever party remains at the helm of state affairs, continues to impede its development potentials. The key governance issues such as corruption, impunity, bureaucratic resistance to reform, excessive centralisation of decision making authority, lack of judicial autonomy, inadequate transparency and public awareness of governance standards, rigid administrative orientation of public services, lack of public confidence in the integrity of the important national institutions and lack of opportunity for common citizens to participate in decision making process have remained more or less unattended.
The problem with the government is that it on its own has never felt the need for improving governance. There were a few moves aimed at improving governance at the insistence of the donor agencies. However, most of such moves failed to deliver results because of the government's lack of seriousness to overcome the resistance to changes.
If one looks at the initiatives taken so far to improve governance, one would find that key governance issues have failed to draw the attention of the decision makers. The most disappointing aspect of the so-called reform agenda is that the government has never meant business so far as dealing with the governance issue is concerned. It has deliberately made a half-hearted approach.
Take the case of anti-corruption commission (ACC). It is known well to all concerned how the government had dragged its feet on the formation of the commission. However, because of the inherent flaws--- many people tend to believe that flaws were engineered deliberately by the vested quarters--- the ACC is yet to make its first meaningful and credible move as an anti-graft body. Some people had expressed scepticism when the first move was made to create the ACC. The number of such skeptics has grown several times more because of the events that have taken place surrounding the commission.
Except for the constitution of the ACC, what else has the government done to improve governance? One may refer to the framing of Procurement Rules in the year 2003 to ensure transparency in the government procurements which is estimated at more than $ 3.0 billion annually. But many ministries and department deliberately have been flouting the Rules to continue with their corrupt practices. The multilateral donors have asked the government to enact a full fledged act on public procurement. A new procurement law is expected to be adopted by the parliament in its next session. However, there is no guarantee that the proposed law would not be flouted with total impunity.
Successive governments have remained indifferent to most of the key governance issues. The issue relating to the decentralisation of decision-making authority is an important one for a country that claims to be practicing multi-party democracy. But the importance of the issue has remained confined in speeches delivered at public meetings, seminars and symposium. The decision- making authority in Bangladesh is heavily concentrated in Dhaka and the government has deliberately kept its control over the decision making in all matters. That is why it has ignored persistent demand for strengthening the local government institutions and giving them decision-making power in the matters of local level development.
The capital Dhaka has become the centre of all power and decision making. People from long distance places are required to come to Dhaka to do tadbir even for minor issues that could be handled or resolved at the local levels. The on rush of people from different directions has made Dhaka a so-called bustling city or mega city. In reality, the capital is gradually becoming inhabitable. It is now holding a population far beyond its capacity. The basic services provided by various agencies also well below the requirement.
The government's lack of sincerity in the much needed decentralization of the decision making authority is amply manifested in its foot-dragging over the issue of Upazila Parishad. Only because of the opposition from the Members of Parliament (MPs), this important local government institution has failed to take off though the present alliance government promised to strengthen local government institutions immediately after coming to power. The MPs fear that the power they exercise in the distribution of funds at the local level development activities and other administrative matters would be diluted once elected upazila parishads are installed. The donor agencies do also have to share a part of the blame for their deliberate indifference to the holding of upazila elections. The firmness they generally show in the case of disinvestment of public sector banks or framing of public procurement law is very much absent in the case of strengthening local government institutions.
One cannot expect good governance when main organs of the state or the important public institutions perform far below the people's expectations. The situation with the parliament is well-known. In a parliamentary democracy, the main opposition, do not take part in parliamentary proceedings under different pretexts though its MPs enjoy all the perks and privileges.
Two successive governments, contrary to their promises, have failed to separate the judiciary from the executive. The people are now well aware that the governments have not been sincere in making the judiciary independent. Moreover, the vulgar display of bipartisan politics in the premises of the highest court of the country has created serious frustration among the conscious section of the population.
To ensure good governance, there is a need for strong leadership at all levels. The political leadership though holds the key to all reforms, economic or otherwise, needs to be aided by champions of reforms in its difficult job changing the traditional way of governing the country.