Good governance, a much talked–about concept in political and development discourse in the contemporary world and closely related to the concept of ‘governance’ that usually indicates the process of decision–making and the process by which decisions are implemented, is obviously crucial to successfully deal with catastrophic situations caused by the COVID–19. But there is a clear paucity of good governance in Bangladesh, which was rapidly developing in economic and some other terms until the beginning of the pandemic, despite the fact that the government is occasionally prompt on this. In fact, poor governance exists with all of its indicators such as participation, consensus, accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, equitability and inclusiveness, and the rule of law.
But criticisms against malgovernance mounted at the time of the pandemic. According to available sources including electronic and print media, some remarkable allegations of poor governance practices appeared during the pandemic are corruption in purchase of N–95 masks, a lack of transparency in the procurement process of medical equipments, negligence in providing health services to COVID–19 patients, fake certifications on COVID–19 tests, inequitable distribution of food aids and financial assistance, ineffective and inefficient planning and coordination of government efforts or a lack of adequate social participation, and political considerations in the preparation of the list of beneficiaries. Even though the government later comes to be serious to address corruption, malgovernance practices can still make it difficult to mitigate impacts of the pandemic as desired.
The government obviously took some good steps — ranging from health response to socio–economic recovery — including massive economic stimulus worth more than 1.1 lakh crore BDT with 20 packages, which are now being implemented. But the undeniable fact is that millions lost their income sources including jobs and businesses owing to the pandemic, started in March 2020, even if many have already reengaged economically — and many others are waiting for income opportunities. There are also challenges of equitable disbursement of stimulus packages, dealing with the possible second wave of the pandemic and distribution of vaccine doses. Under such a context, accountable, transparent and responsive governance and effective and efficient use of limited material and non–material resources are very crucial for making all efforts — current and future — successful as expected.
But the fact is that securing good governance is obviously not possible all on a sudden, since malgovernance practices exist in government, semi–government, private and non–government organizations. In government sector in particular, poor governance is practiced from the highest tier to the lowest, even if its levels and forms differ. Despite there is a lack of adequate understanding of actor specific contributions, it is now crystal clear that different groups or individuals — political leaders, government officials, businessmen and others — varyingly contribute, directly or indirectly, to poor governance practices in diverse sectors and sub–sectors at national and local stage. Obviously, diverse groups or individuals, benefitted by and responsible for inadequate accountability, transparency, responsiveness and some other indicators of poor governance practices, are somehow powerful.
Furthermore, the culture of malgovernance, which is rendered as the outcome of underlying social, economic, administrative, political and cultural factors including the political culture of blame game, the culture of bribery and nepotism, the culture of hegemony, tendency to protect affiliated party men, economic insufficiency, bureaucratic mentality, inadequate emphasis on training needs and inadequate or no consideration of recommendations made for addressing malgovernance practices have been going on for decades. In spite of the fact that some improvements are made on several underlying causes, these still remain scant for stimulating any desired changes in good governance indicators in the country. Under such circumstances, diverse practices of poor governance widely — and, sometimes, oddly — seen at the very crisis moment of the pandemic are unsurprising.
The optimistic side is that many quarters including some political leaders of the ruling party, opposition parties, civil society and mass people presently want good governance more than ever, at least for dealing with the pandemic and its rippling impacts. Of course, this seems an opportunity that should be optimally used by the government, which has already taken some drastic efforts to address corruption with its declared zero tolerance policy; but it is simultaneously undeniable to take into account that any remarkable improvement in good governance situation ideally necessitates significant changes in all of its indicators everywhere. As expected, the government should put emphasis on transparency, accountability and responsiveness in all purchase acts, medical and other services, loan disbursements and other recovery activities as much as possible.
In this respect, both governmental and political party–based steps are obviously crucial. In my opinion, the anti–corruption commission (national anti-corruption watchdog), law–enforcement agencies and other significant government machineries should be more engaged at this moment aiming at ensuring transparency, accountability and responsiveness in government, private and other sectors. Of course, strengthened — but consistent — departmental monitoring of health response and economic and other revitalization steps with or without the formation of a strong national taskforce especially to oversee all recovery efforts may also bring out some good outcomes in economic, social and other aspects with some significant improvements in good governance practices in Bangladesh. But reflections of earnestness of the government are incontrovertibly pivotal here.
Unavoidably, leader of ruling party leaders, compared to oppositions, are usually more involved with corruption and contribute to some other sorts of malgovernance practices including lack of accountability and transparency in many countries and Bangladesh has no exception in this respect. In fact, some political representatives including Union Parishad Chairmen and Members — mostly from the ruling party — were criticized to be engaged with misappropriation of distribution of reliefs and subsidized rice in different localities. Unsurprisingly, corrupt leaders from local to national level may not be discouraged from continuing malpractices in the coming days and may increase the possibility of failure of recovery efforts, unless party–based steps are strengthened. As expected, political seriousness and commitment are of course critical.
Obviously, a national framework or guideline for the improvement of good governance may be of special significance in Bangladesh, which has huge economic, human resource and other potentials but cannot realize as desired because of widespread poor governance and some other reasons. Such a framework that can help mitigate poor governance at present and in the future needs to aim at improving good governance in planned manner at all sectors — government, semi–government, private and others — with short, medium and long term efforts. But, and above all, it is undeniable that nothing may reduce widespread malgovernance practices in the short and long run without visionary and effective leadership capable of making desired progress reflecting commitment and honesty.
Amir Mohammad Sayem Researcher and writer of Op-eds on miscellaneous issues including social, environmental, political, public health and international relations Dhaka, Bangladesh Email:[email protected]