Ashraf’s Column

Friday, June 16, 2006

A wake up call to our politicians

It was in 1971 when the Bangladeshis got united for the last time under a political leadership and after fighting successfully liberation war liberated their motherland from Pakistani occupation. Bangladeshis marveled the world by exhibiting not only their valor and martial qualities on the battlefield, but also their political maturity. But soon after the liberation the same Bangladeshis due to poor political leadership fell apart as political splinter groups and sub-groups. Only God alone knows how many political parties we have today in Bangladesh. Let us confess that we are one of the most disunited nations in the world. Our track record from after the glorious victory in the liberation war bears testimony to the fact that we could never stand united as a nation to face a crisis, be it a natural disaster, a foreign policy matter, an aggression on our soil (Boraibari incident), dealing with India on water sharing, internal terrorism or corruption. The 8/21 incident is the last item so far on the list of our failures. The Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina is saying manina (not acceptable) to every thing the government of Khaleda Zia is doing or saying to investigate into the matter. She is refusing to testify before the judicial inquiry commission. She is refusing to hand over her jeep, an important alamat (material evidence) in the case, to the police. After the incident she has not so far said a word to refrain her supporters from destroying public and private properties. When asked by the journalists she rather gave indulgence to her supporters by saying that the aggrieved people had the right to express their anger by doing so. She is tacitly approving jalao-porao (burn one, burn all) activities committed by her supporters. Is it politics sanity and unity?

Every time there was a need to change a bad government the common people of this country never made a mistake. They obliged by putting their votes in the right ballot box. They initiated successful mass uprisings to pull down unpopular governments. But unfortunately after every changeover the new government did not appear to be better than the previous one, so far as good governance was concerned. Who are to blame for this? Definitely the common people cannot be blamed. The blame lies squarely and unmistakably on the shoulders of our politicians and the generals (turned into politicians).

Our politicians have been continually proving to the world that they are dishonest, corrupt, unfaithful and, hence, unreliable and unfit to run a democratic system in our country. Transparency International has been issuing annual certificates to this effect for the last few years. The politicians themselves also accepted this fact when they incorporated the Care Taker System of Government (CTSG) in the constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1996. Unlike those of our politicians who take credit and pride in introducing this unique system, many patriotic Bangladeshis never feel proud of the CTSG. Rather they feel deeply ashamed. It is a slur on the face of our politicians who instead of rectifying themselves prefer to a better (?) policing on them by odd 10 0r 12 apolitical gentlemen, that too during the general election only. Now the People of Bangladesh are found sharing a painful political joke that says: the Caretaker Government of three months is far superior in every respect to the “Careless Government” that follows in the next five years. Why not to have Caretaker Government then for five years!

It may be a very interesting study for our social scientists to carry out a survey to find out the present location of our young men and women who graduated from our universities and medical colleges securing first ten positions in the last 25 years. As there is no statistics available on the subject, from personal experience I can safely assume that 75% of them are not residing in Bangladesh. At the earliest opportunity they left Bangladesh to work for some other countries. Certainly all of them did not leave the country just for money. Most of them left because they suffered from physical insecurity due to the prevailing law and order situation, and did not get commensurable jobs of their qualification and ability. They also found that political links, rather than honesty, efficiency and professional competence, was the easy ladder to rise in government service or in business. Many of these persons, by dint of their merit and hard work, are making outstanding contributions in their respective professions in their present countries of residence. If an appropriate healthy political environment were created in Bangladesh many of these patriotic Bangladeshis, I am sure, would love to make contributions in the development of their dear motherland by returning to Bangladesh permanently or periodically. (Deng Xiao Bing did the same in China after the death of Mao and now we can see the result). At the same time we must take steps to stop the current brain drain. If we can improve the quality of our human resources in every field including politics with the returned Bangladeshi professionals and the present bright products of our educational institutions, we can certainly change the existing face of our country and raise our head as a nation with dignity and honor.

Coming back to the point, to run a state we cannot do without politics and politicians. It is politics, which formulates, executes and supervises the implementation of all other policies that are required to govern and develop a state. One cannot have good politics when bad politicians are at the helm of affairs. Bad eggs never make good omelettes. We need to improve the quality of our politicians if we want to see good governance and development our beloved country in the future.

A state cannot be governed with duffers. (Well, one may need some duffers to shout zindabad-murdabad, ‘joy’, etc.). Therefore, the politicians who are entrusted with the governance of the state should be people with at least high average IQ. Gone are those days when illiterate or uneducated sovereigns used to rule the countries. In this age of missiles and satellite communication, to succeed, a present day ruler must have the basic education to understand the complexities of international politics and the notes prepared by his or her own bureaucrats and give decisions on as diverse subjects as animal husbandry to space science. If the honorable members of our present parliament kindly agree, they may be made to sit for taking a quiz test on our national budget which they passed the other day to find out how many of them really understood what they had passed! The result will be, I am sure, very interesting to all of us who elected them to the parliament.

I am like one of those millions of music lovers who never touched a harmonium in their life, but can easily identify a discordant music. Like many common viewers I can see the difference when things go wrong in politics. But I am not an expert to comment on why things go wrong in politics. As a layman, without going into finer aspects, I lay before your learned readers the following lines for their (Honorable MPs) consideration to improve the quality of our national politics with the hope that this will generate a healthy and constructive discussion to show the nation a way out:

a.With their entire drawback results of our public examinations are accepted as the index of IQ and academic ability of a person. We may lay down a minimum educational qualification for a person to be a candidate for a seat in the parliament. For any Class-I job in our country one must have a bachelor degree in any field of study. To be a recognized politician of the highest status, as the honorable MPs are, the PM must have at least a bachelor degree.

b.The criminal record of a person is always a very important matter to consider before s/he is given a job in the governance of the country. The police records of all candidates for government jobs, and many private jobs, are verified before any appointment is made. When this regulation is applicable even to the appointment of a police constable, who is the most junior law enforcing person, then why should the criminal record of a person who will be entrusted with the supreme duty of making laws for the country be kept above this regulation? Politicians often say that the people are their (politicians’) best judges. It is right. But people must have access to all relevant facts about a politician. Otherwise how would they make the correct judgment? Last 20 years’ criminal/police record of a candidate for the membership of the parliament must be submitted to Election Commission (EC) by the candidate himself/herself for verification. Rules should be inducted for the EC to disqualify a candidate for a serious criminal record.

c.A politician is a human being to. S/he has a family for which s/he needs a source for living. People have a right to know how does s/he, when not in power, makes a living. People have the right to know how much property s/he inherited from his/her parents, how much money his/her parents spent monthly on his education, and finally what assets s/he acquires while s/he is holding a public office. Before an election our politicians make solemn promises in their election manifestos to declare their assets after they are elected. But so far they have been conveniently and without facing any challenge forgetting the promise after every election. Rules must be introduced to compel a candidate to declare his/her assets and the assets of his/her wife(s)/husband, children and dependants to the Income Tax Department before the filing of the nomination paper to the EC. S/he must also submit a similar declaration to the Income Tax Department on vacation of the office to explain where from s/he got the extra assets, if there is any. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation the person concerned should be prosecuted under the relevant law(s) of the land.

d.For any game the teams need to be registered with the regulating authority. Doing politics is not a child’s game that does not need any registration. Rather, it is the highest game that decides the destiny of a nation. Political parties must be registered with their regulating authority, that is, the EC. Organizing and operating a political party without registration should be a criminal offence under the law.

e.From our experience of last 33 years it can be well said that the lack of financial accountability in the political parties is the root cause of institutionalized corruption in our country. During the autocratic rule of Gen Ershad there was a mayor of Dhaka City who used to take huge amount of money in cash as bribe for leasing out shops in DCC markets. People gave him the nickname ‘thief of Baghdad’ (That is how Gen Ershad, having been in the jail for long 6 years, has enough money to run politics even today). It was widely believed that the mayor in question used to deposit 50% of the bribe money to the party fund and keep the remaining 50% in his own pocket. As a routine matter it is seen that every government, the present one being no exception, has few politicians who earn such bad names. To eliminate these corrupt practices there must be some financial accountability for the political parties. Some government agency under the direct supervision of the EC must carry out periodical audit of the income and expenditure of the political parties. The EC can formulate rules to regulate the matter.

f.Rules must be made so as not to allow any political party to have any student front under its own name. Financing any student organization by a political party must be made a criminal offence. Students may have their own organizations financed by themselves.

g.Some government servants, mostly senior ones from both civil and military, while in service indulge in rampant corruption. To enjoy immunity from legal actions while in service, and also after retirement, these officers share their ill-gotten money with a section of politicians. No sooner they retire from service than they join the political parties of their choice. Political parties not only accept them as lost children coming back home but also make them ministers and MPs as a reward for the services (illegal) they rendered earlier to their party. This is another root cause of corruption in our bureaucracy and politics. This most despicable practice by the most privileged needs to be stopped immediately. Rules are to be made so as not to allow a retired government servant to be a member of a political party and also to contest for a public office before s/he spends at least 5 years after the date of his retirement. 5 years after retirement s/he will be at liberty to do politics, the way s/he feels like to.

h.Our political parties are well known for not practicing democracy within their respective parties. How can a party, which does not practice democracy itself, uphold democracy at the national level after coming to power? The EC must be empowered by law to disqualify a party from participation in an election if it finds that council meetings at national and lower levels, as required by the constitution of the concerned party, were not duly held.

i.The EC must be under obligation to supply to a voter on demand, and on deposition of certain fee to cover the administrative work involved, any or all of the above information about a candidate or a political party participating in an election. A voter has a right to know about a candidate or a party for whom/which s/he intends to cast his/her vote. It is one of his/her fundamental rights. It is sacrosanct upon the EC to protect it.

There may be many other measures necessary to reform our very existing rotten political system. I leave it to you, the learned a readers to point them out. We must all remember that the biggest enemies to a reform are the existing beneficiaries of the present faulty system. While these enemies of reform always fight amongst themselves on matters of individual interest, they readily get themselves united with full force to fight against any move to reform. I understand, in the present case our political parties, and their leaders, may not be willing to accept the reforms suggested above, as they did when the EC tried to bring in some positive changes in the electoral laws before the last general election was held in 2001. But how long the poor people of this country will continue to suffer untold miseries due to presence of an unhealthy political system, which instead of serving exploits them? Dear politicians, can you see the cloud forming in the horizon? The lessons from the history clearly indicate that the storm is not far off. Still there is time. Dear honest and dedicated politicians, will you please wake up to save yourselves and the nation? Why must you give protection to godfathers, terrorists and all sorts of criminals who have infiltrated into the rank and file of your party in the garb of politician? Shed them off from the party. Don’t feel you are alone in this war against unhealthy politics. The whole nation is standing behind you. In case the politicians fail to wake up clear the garbage, the EC must come forward to do the needful, if necessary during the rule of the next Care Taker Government by issuing necessary ordinances by the President. The nation cannot afford to leave its destiny to be decided by a handful of those politicians who are the products of a corrupt system and who unfortunately prefer to remain so.

Last of all, where are the members of our civil society, which includes the journalists too? Isn’t there any one whose heart, mind and pocket are not mortgaged to any local political party or foreign agency? Dear sirs/madams now is the time for you to come out. We have hardly two years to go before the next general election. We must do it now to save ourselves from another spell of 5 years of corrupt politics. Please come out and help this poor nation by motivating the common people in favor of necessary political reforms. Are we expecting too much from you?

Syed Ashrafuzzaman

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