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Transparency in governance

Publication Date : 21-05-2012


I wanted to write about honesty in politics, but then I realised there could not be a bigger oxymoron than this concept. Honesty and politics are like oil and water, at least that has been our national experience.

Politicians mask their actions with rhetoric aimed to please the public, or delude them. George Orwell once remarked: "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

This is where a statesman or national leader differs from a run of the mill politician. Then this is expected of the politicians, and we should not be surprised by this dichotomy in their speech and actions. A statesman uses truth to keep power in the hands of the people while a politician uses euphemism to gain power over the people.

However, we would like a draw line between a run of the mill politician and a national leader --particularly when they lead the country either as the head of the government or of the opposition. We expect a different standard of behaviour, and a different approach to politics from them when they are in charge of leading the nation.

In Bangladesh, unfortunately however, we have been deprived of this experience. We have not seen a separation of national interest from partisan interest, a distinction between actions that benefit the country from those that serve narrow personal or party gains. We have not witnessed any maturity of our political leaders growing from avaricious self-interest to larger national interests. Our leaders never assumed the role of statesmen that we sorely need. They remained and continue to remain leaders within the narrow confines of their parties with myopic view of what is good for the country and the people. They have put their own individual agenda ahead of the country's agenda.

From the look of the happenings of the country in the past weeks, and from the ongoing obstinate positions of the feuding parties that led to these happenings we have very little hope that circumstances will change in the new future. As concerned Bangladeshis, this is what we observe from abroad. There is complete breakdown of law and order; the law enforcing agencies have either become totally inept or are being restrained from performing their tasks. There is little credibility in government assurances since these are not matched by actions. People are getting away with murder, loot, and daylight robbery, while people in important positions give hollow assurances of remedies that are never fulfilled.

The list of unsolved violent crimes and other criminalities has expanded to unimaginable proportion in just few weeks.

Two journalists were murdered in a posh residential area two months ago; a foreign diplomat was murdered in broad daylight; and a housewife was brutally killed in her own house. We still do not know who their assailants were, not to speak of any arrests.

A car was found with a box full of cash with government officials; no credible information on the ownership of the money, and its origin and destination has yet surfaced -- at least that we know of. And the crowning event of this ongoing saga of crimes is the reported missing (or abduction) of a political leader of the opposition -- the event that led to shutting down of the capital for three days by the opposition. We watched in utter shock over the television (now available globally) the destruction, loot, and other acts of violence that ruled Dhaka city in those three days.

Apparently, our political leaders on both sides of the spectrum felt the events were vindication of their respective stands, and not as great losses to the country as a whole. Because this is what partisan politics does; this is what we pay for when we lack transparency between what our leaders say and what they do. This is what we get when there is complete opacity in government actions.

Many of the happenings or mishaps of the past few weeks could have been avoided if there were genuine intentions to do so. For example, there could have been more information coming from those at the top explaining the mystery of murders and disappearances, by explaining the process and attempts being made to resolve these, instead of one-line statements on the state of affairs that add more to the confusion. There could have been more transparent evidence of the government's attempt at unearthing the box full of money being carried in a government car at dead of night by government officials.

There could have been more palpable actions that testify to the government's genuine efforts to resolve the mystery of a political leader's disappearance. Transparency of information and its communication to public could have helped in diffusing many of the violent events.

We have a Freedom of Information Act in theory, and we also have an enforcer of this Act. What we lack, however, is real information and truth in communication. Rumours and speculation thrive when facts are scarce. Politicians may not like to admit to facts, but statesmen do; people who lead nations do.

Abraham Lincoln had famously said: "If given the truth, they (people) can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." We can only wish that our leaders will adhere to this principle to resolve the ongoing crisis; otherwise we only have a very bleak future ahead.

The writer works for an international organisation in the USA.


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