THE remarks on the state of affairs in this country made by the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Patricia Butenis, in the conference on good governance, arranged by her embassy and the local American Chamber of Commerce, which concluded in Dhaka the other day, might have sounded unpleasant or even impolite, but they are noteworthy. Quoting estimates of experts she said more than 2.0 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is lost in this country to corruption and lapses in governance. "We cannot just focus", she argued, "on the demand side of corrupt payments, we must also confront the supply side. Government, private sector and individuals are all culpable of corrupt business practices in Bangladesh".
No doubt, these were sweeping remarks in some instances. There are still many people in this country who are above reproach. But some of her accusations are factually right. Apparently, her anguish emanated from the fact that, in spite of Bangladesh having generated a lot of interest among the international investors, "governance failures prevent this interest from turning into significant investment in the near-term". But talking about good governance may not be useful in this country where most of the politicians, including MPs, are businessmen who have amassed huge fortunes within a short period, giving an impression as if they mint money. There are also politicians who are conspicuously solvent without having known sources of major income. Few government officials are in a position to be able to reconcile their wealth with their known earning. Some journalists here tilt their opinion divorcing objectivity to serve their chosen political platforms. Physicians often skid duties in hospitals where they are employed on a full-time basis, to carry on their private practices. Bank loan repayment default is a major problem here. But this is the country where its people will have to live on, survive and prosper. A change in public attitude has to come and the people should amend themselves, as their enlightened collective interest demands. Otherwise, this nation will have to regret at some stage -- not in a very distant future, for inviting its own decline.
As a state cannot be automated, it has to have a government to activate it. If governance is good, the state moves forward to deliver progressively higher benefits to its citizens. If it is bad, the state goes backward or downward frustrating its citizens to ultimately become a non-entity. Political scientists also agreed -- in theorising that people get the government they deserve -- that the political ensemble of a state conditions the over-all climate to either facilitate or restrict the activities of the government and it ultimately decides the quality of governance in a country. Obviously, the government does not include only the rulers. Who should then the silent majority blame for the persistent lack of good governance -- manifest in widespread corruption in government offices, large scale bank loan defaults, inefficient ports and train services, new power plants not functioning reliably in spite of an acute power shortage, dysfunctional public and private universities, criminalisation of politics, a bad law and order situation and what not?
What energy adviser said in the conference -- like anarchic politics, ineffective parliament and destruction in the name of political programmes retarding economic progress -- reminds one that democracy without, what Abraham Lincoln called, 'moral purpose' can degenerate into organised chaos. The ruling party and its representatives in power should display this moral purpose first in all their official and public actions to deserve and anticipate proper behaviour from the political opposition. After all, it takes two to make a clap. Can those in power swear that all their actions so far have been morally right? Will they undo those actions that were morally wrong? The nation must now realise that it is no longer a matter of good governance. For upholding its pride and self-respect, the ugly rot within the society -- that has become so exposed and prominent -- must now be removed with unity of thought and positive actions.