Like goldfish, it took no time at all for the politicians to forget that it was the bureaucrats who were at the root of this empowerment. It was through these civil servants that votes were cast on the night before the polls or elections were held without voting. So it is not surprising when these civil servants dominate over the politicians.
Where there is sole authority over the cabinet, the parliament, the executive and the judiciary, there is hardly need for discussion in who rules the roost. After all, the politicians have broken their promises to separate the legislative, executive and judiciary, to ensure a balance of power and to ensure decentralisation. With Articles 55, 58 and 70 of the constitution in place, how possible is it actually to establish ‘democracy’?
Article 55 (2) states: ‘The executive power of the Republic shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be exercised by or on the authority of the Prime Minister.’ Article 56 (1) states: ‘There shall be a Prime Minister, and such other Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers as may be determined by the Prime Minister.’ Article 58(2) states, ‘The Prime Minister at any time may request a Minister to resign, and if the Minister fails to comply with this request, may advise the President to terminate the appointment of such Minister.’ And Article 70 states, ‘A person elected as a member of Parliament at an election which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he (a) resigns from that party, or (b) votes in Parliament against that party, but shall not thereby be disqualified for subsequent election as a member of Parliament.’
The politicians have rendered the local government ineffective by foiling all attempts for a bicameral parliament, proportional representation and decentralisation of power. A meaningless parliament has been established by means of Article 70, a parliament where one may be able to utter a word or two, but where the members have no vote or veto rights, other than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ voice vote in favour of the ruling party’s central decision. In such circumstances, it is naturally meaningless for MPs to be above secretaries.
The real picture is that many among the unelected ‘politicians’ have become a big obstacle to the government’s routine work because of their misappropriation of government allocations, endless corruption and nepotism. The yardstick of honesty, education and experiences is lost in this culture of unaccountability. The yardstick of competence now is perhaps the ability to carry out extortion, violence, crime and to beat up people of opposition views. A large chunk of those entering politics now are either owners of black money or big businessmen. They are competent at reaping in profits in their businesses, misappropriating project allocations or filching funds. As they have not emerged as leaders through a lengthy democratic process, they are incompetent and ineffective, unable to work with development partners, foreign quarters, corporate bodies or run a modern administration.
There was supposed to have been a strong opposition in the country, regular politics. There was to be protest, resistance. Without that, the ruler become authoritarian and destroys all institutional forces and achievements
In face of such incompetence, the ‘BCS’ bureaucrats have got wind to their sails, in postings and power. This was inevitable. This is nothing new. This is the bureaucratic model of General Ershad’s autocratic government. This is just a futile effort to overcome the inefficiency of implementing the budget in a political vacuum.
They have already completed the task of using the police administration to snatch away people’s voting rights until a political alternative emerges outside of BNP-Jamaat sphere. Now that BNP and others of the opposition are effectively repressed and the Digital Security Act has successfully been used to spread a reign of terror, the veteran politicians are lamenting, “Ah! Politics is lost!” Yet it was solely the right of the people to decide on who will be the alternative, to decide though franchise who their next leader will be.
The ‘politicians’ have been more voluble about development theories than democracy. Yet the performance of the politicians has been abysmal in implementing development projects. Costs simply increase while the projects are not being inaugurated. The people are seeing the result of politicians touting development theories for over a decade. Newly constructed bridges and roads are crumbling away the very next year. The banks are vacant while default loans pile up. City streets are waterlogged at the slightest rainfall.
After the relentless rhetoric of development for over a decade, 42 per cent of the people have sunk into poverty under the impact of coronavirus. Middle class gentlemen try to hide their faces as they queue up in front of the TCB truck for essentials. In the monsoons, the city is submerged in drain water. People gaze down from traffic jams on the flyovers at the people in boats below. After becoming so-called people’s representatives through sycophancy and subservience, these politicians cannot say anything in public interest about unemployment and poverty. They cannot protest against the unplanned lockdown enforced with no arrangements for food or funds. These ‘politicians’ are scared to make demands for a participatory, inclusive and sustainable budget, for a coordinated national taskforce to control the pandemic. The parliamentarians have little or no contribution to any qualitative change in the budget.
The people who wanted to be politicians and enter the parliament, the city and municipal corporations, should have gone to the people, seeking their mandate, but they have no need to do so. Lobbying at a few specific places is enough to get nominated, which means to get elected. How well apprised of the election manifesto are the ‘politicians’? Many of them have no institutional perception of the rule of law, transparency or accountability. What justification is there for these people to be ‘politicians’?
The politics of crushing the opposition can never be politics. This is, on the contrary, depoliticisation. And this fatal step is pushing Awami League itself into the depoliticisation process. ‘Politicians’ are no longer practicing politics, they are busy in the game of adding and subtracting. And in this depoliticisation process, politics itself is being subtracted. In the meantime, the bureaucracy is running the country.
There was supposed to have been a strong opposition in the country, regular politics. There was to be protest, resistance. Without that, the ruler become authoritarian and destroys all institutional forces and achievements. Things are headed in that direction now. Democracy is going into exile and dependence on the bureaucracy has come to the fore. In these times, where the lack of experience, accountability and competence looms large, bureaucracy is the mainstay of running the government.
* Faiz Ahmad Taiyeb is a writer in sustainable development issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir