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Good governance and diplomatic norms
Shahiduzzaman Khan

          It has become a regular practice for the development partners to advise the government on governance issue. Time and again, Bangladesh is becoming a subject of harsh criticism by the members of diplomatic corps and the donor community. Whether such criticism is good or bad is another debate. But the reality is that the image of the country is being tarnished in many ways.
Transparency is a very important requirement for good governance. To create awareness among the public about the activities of the government is the basic purpose of transparency. The absence of transparency shrouds the activities of the government from public view and obstructs public scrutiny. It is detrimental to the society in the many ways -- such as inequitable resource allocation, injustice, and an ineffective rule of law that permits corrupt practices and oppression of the community. Transparency and accountability are the core ele-ments of good governance. Without them, the door remains wide open to unchecked corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
According to reports published in newspapers this week, the US Ambassador in Dhaka, Patricia A Butenis, identified poor governance as the most hurtful obstacle to economic stability and growth in Bangladesh. She said weakness in governance is most visibly highlighted by rampant corruption in government to business relations. The government, private sector and individuals are culpable of corrupt business practices in Bangladesh.
Referring to expert opinions, she said that two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost due to corruption and lapses in governance. Although foreign investors are showing interest in Bangladesh, governance failure is preventing the interest from turning into significant investment in near term. "Though it was told that the Bangladesh economy was doing well but in our view it is not doing as well as it could and not as well as the people of Bangladesh deserve," she said.
The World Bank Resident Representative appears also to be very critical about Bangladesh. Unless good governance is put into effect, corruption eliminated, there is no way that the country can make substantial economic progress, she told a number of meetings. The World Bank has most recently adopted 'zero tolerance approach' in those places where its projects are being executed. If corruption and non-transparent deals are reported in any of its projects, the World Bank will stop funding such projects. This is, unquestionably, a good idea to tame corruption.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is also reported to have taken a similar stand on its projects. Over the years, the ADB has taken up a number of anti-corruption strategies to fight graft, nepotism and favouritism in the developing nations.
Why are the donors so keen to see the corruption eliminated? Explaining it a spokesman of the European Community (EC) said it is the taxpayers' money that is sent to the developing countries as development assistance. Taxpayers want to know whether their money is spent on productive purposes or not. If they know that their hard-earned money is channelled to meet the greed of a section of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, they react angrily. It is highly logical that they should be angry, the spokesman said.
When such allegations of corruption are galore, a section of country's politicians and bureaucrats are seen unperturbed. They care little about advice, give a damn to everything. These politicians and bureaucrats must be punished. Lax attitudes to such corrupt people penalise the common man. The government does seldom take punitive actions against them. As a result, the country's image has been tarnished as a corrupt one and it has become internationally known as such. The Transparency International (TI) has branded Bangladesh as the most corrupt nation of the world for the fifth time in a row.
Development partners' stand on corruption forced the government to take a number of measures to curb the menace. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been formed with a reinforced mandate as an independent authority. Tax Ombudsman is about to be appointed. Steps have been taken to reform the National Board of Revenue (NBR). Changes have taken place in value added tax (VAT) collection method. Tax administration has been streamlined. The judiciary is being separated from the executive. But the government is taking a lot of time in taking these essential measures for checking corruption. Police administration is also expected to undergo a thorough overhaul. Measures are underway to make the law enforcing agencies more corruption-free and accountable to the government.
The members of the donor's community deserve kudos for advising the government to fight corruption in order to help ensure good governance. But an excess of this is also not welcome. Very frequently, a number of diplomats or some development partners go beyond their diplomatic norms. For example, they criticise the preparation of the voters list, talk a lot about election and make adverse--often libellous--comments about the government. They allegedly violate the diplomatic norms by holding press conferences without intimating the government. Such violations of the diplomatic norms and behaviour cause frustration among the self-respecting section of citizens and commotion and frustration among the government officials concerned. How far is Tuesday Group's move to break the political stalemate is legitimate should also be judged from an independent point of view. Late Shipping Minister Colonel (Rtd.) Akbar challenged a diplomatic mission's alleged corruption charge against him in procuring ferries from abroad. The mission lobbied hard for his ouster from the cabinet but did not succeed due to his 'uncompromising' -- perhaps unbiased -- stance. The diplomatic mission in question did not go further.
Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan told a luncheon meeting this week that the foreign diplomats in Bangladesh were not maintaining 'diplomatic norms' even after being repeatedly cautioned. However, the government will not take any hard line or take action against them, he said. The main responsibility of a diplomat is to promote amity and improve business and relations between the countries, he added.
Good sense should prevail among all. While the men behind the government should listen to the rational advice of development partners, the member of the diplomatic corps should be respectful in their attitude and must not go beyond their diplomatic norms.


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