'Institutions made dysfunctional, tough to fix even in 53 years'

The Dhaka Forum, a non-political platform, hosts the seminar on the politics and economy of Bangladesh at the Brac Centre Inn on 4 May, 2024.Prothom Alo

All the institutions in the country have been made dysfunctional to such an extent that it would be too tough to fix those even in 53 years following a change in the scenario, said experts at a seminar in Dhaka. 

They particularly mentioned the banking sector, a key component of the economy, as fragile and said rules and regulations are being formulated here to facilitate corruption. Besides, the state of accountability collapsed in all sectors of the country. 

The Dhaka Forum, a non-political platform, hosted the seminar on the politics and economy of Bangladesh at the Brac Centre Inn on Saturday. Its founding member and former governor of Bangladesh Bank, Salehuddin Ahmed, moderated the programme. 

Hossain Zillur Rahman, advisor to a former caretaker government, said the reality of elections has disappeared from the country, giving rise to a new reality in politics. The process began not on 7 January, but long ago in 2014. 

He pointed out three strategic characteristics of current economic  management – dependency on loans for development finance, multifold rise of extreme inefficiency in using development funds, and overall collapse in accountability. In the banking sector, policies are being adopted in a way that favours corruption. 

A hi-tech park in Jashore is being used as a community centre, he mentioned while underscoring the need for addressing the outcomes of an inefficient economic administration. 

Adding to the discourse, Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the economic situation is now in a complex situation. “We said a year ago that macroeconomic stability and inflation control are key issues. Two more problems emerged in the meantime – risk of debt repayment and sluggish growth trajectory.” 

Dhaka University professor Asif Nazrul speaks at the seminar.
Prothom Alo

Referring to the opposition party, Debapriya said nobody dissents from their criticisms regarding the government, but the party does not disclose the ways they would follow to address the prevailing issues after assuming the state power. They are not joining the local government polls, as per their decision to boycott all elections. But the people are well aware now and they will not take to the streets unless they are served with better alternatives. 

The key opposition party, BNP, presented 27-point and 31-point proposals before the previous parliamentary polls. Debapriya raised some specific queries regarding the proposals – How will you address the banking sector problems? Will you be able to fix an issue that the government is struggling to deal with? Did you offer an apology for the corruption of your rule? Why do hundreds of thousands people disappear after gathering in a place?

However, Asif Nazrul, a law department professor of Dhaka University, dissented from Debapriya’s statement regarding the opposition party’s participation in the elections. He noted that the CPD was among the civic society platforms that suggested an election boycott in 2014, but Debapriya made a correction that his organisation then suggested a deferment of elections, rather than a boycott. 

“How do you determine that the people do not take to the streets? The BNP has so far formed three mass-movements since 2014 and it would win around 90 per cent of electoral seats had the elections been fair,” Asif Nazrul asserted. 

While explaining the current woes, he noted that at least 12 people, including a teacher from the blue panel, have been punished due to their statements at Dhaka University. No teacher now dares to compete in the (university) elections from the white panel.   

“This is the situation of Dhaka University. The justices are now given reception by the student organisations. Can we say anything?,” he added. 

Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman echoed concerns over institutional dysfunction and projected a bleak outlook that would require over five decades to rectify. 

“Parliamentary polls that are taking place in the country can be considered as selection at its best. The institutions have been made dysfunctional in such a way, if the situation changes someday, it would not be possible to fix those even in 53 years,” he said. 

In a virtual speech, Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, said three staged elections took place in the country, while the institutions were eroded gradually. 

Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, a development studies department professor of Dhaka University, observed that a club of businessmen are sharing the public properties among themselves. 

Ali Imam Majumdar, former cabinet secretary, expressed dismay over reports on hiking power tariffs four times a year and a staggering 81 per cent of power sector subsidies being spent on capacity charges.

He blamed the government’s inefficiency and corruption for the scenario and opined that no elections would be credible without a caretaker government. 

Syed Abu Naser Bakhtiar Ahmed, former managing director of Agrani Bank, said the banking sector is a key stakeholder of the economy, but it has now been fragile.