The stupendous electoral victory has put AL under pressure. It had said before the elections that it had been performing well and after the elections has claimed that the people had rewarded them for it. However, now that its political challenges are all but over, the AL is left with no option but to make governance related promises. They are doing that with much energy. But whether this is a running challenge or not and how deep needs clarification by the party.
The zero tolerance sectors
The Government has declared that it will have zero tolerance on corruption. In that case, this has been on for long and not much had been done about it in the past. The way ACC has gone after the small fishes after the elections show that it is not without intent but may act only when directed. When a law exists to prevent summary arrest of GOB officials, suffice to say that the gatekeepers are going to be the same who are being scrutinized. Given the established links between the two top layers of the administration, one will have to wait and see.
The next sector is the bank loan department and that is the mother of all sectors. Very few businessmen are not familiar with this rather easy way of money making and this includes many members of the ruling class. The new Finance Minister has said that bad loans will stop from day one. Does it then imply that the previous regimes had willingly given bad loans? In that case, what about the rewarding of the Government by the voters for its splendid performance? The simultaneous correctness of both statements are a bit difficult to understand.
The third is the services sector both health and education. The PM has said that she will OSD those doctors and nurses who will not go to the districts. The situation of absentee health services professionals is so well known that it doesn’t merit a discussion and it has been on for decades including the last one. It has become part of the system and the various lobbies and trade unions are very powerful and political. This group has proven its strength when they have gone on strikes and the Government wasn’t able to do much.
Teachers are the legends of governance and not delivering their tasks. The education sector is in the worst mess possible and has looked comatose and yet untouched by orders to improve. In fact Nahid of the last edition was the most vilified minister, giving a hard competition to Muhith on who has let the public down more. The ACC Chief went down to visit some schools in Chittagong recently and reported that most teachers were missing from duties. What by the way, was he expecting? Everyone knows what they do but he was shocked. Nobody is shocked by lack of performance. If anything everyone is shocked that he is shocked.
Political loyalties and corruption
These sectors have become what they are now since their journey began and have been fairly unstoppable. It means they are part of the system. No consumer thinks they will not have to pay bribes, every person taking a business loan knows he has to bribe. He also knows that if he pays the right amount of bribe he doesn’t have to pay it back and ACC will also not chase him either. That is unless he is a BNP loyalist.
It means that political loyalties and connections determine immunity and performance. No official job is only task oriented but has a political dimension and that is accepted and given. While it is not publicly discussed but almost all GOB job entails bribe giving, every encounter with any service gaining is the same. Nobody actually expects much from the Government and people try as much as possible to stay away from the official sector as possible and lead a public life.
So why is Sk. Hasina pushing an already tried horse which people don’t expect to run any harder?
The problem for her is that, in an increasingly administrative state –the formal part- she has to promise something. Politics is informal in Bangladesh and is not systematically established. Keeping the country safe from BNP works around electoral times and bringing Tariq Zia back has an AL priority but not a public one. Not many care anymore if Khaleda Zia remains in jail or not. So the crisis is that what worked before elections won’t work so well after it’s held. And what matters is pubic services performance.
The problem for the incumbency is, can what didn’t work for so long work now? And what happens if despite efforts the performance doesn’t improve? If AL is putting all their promises in those sectors which have resisted efforts to improve performance satisfactorily for so long, why should they do so now? What has changed that such a big risk can be taken in governance that is becoming a fact politically?
Unless of course the Government is confident that the sectors will changed radically and become servants of the people. It means the authorities have information which we don’t have.
The other could be that the incumbency has seen that no matter what, the people love the ruling party AL so much that they will always vote in thunderous numbers.
All of the above are possible but it is obvious the state is moving increasingly towards an administrative version rather than a conventional electoral politics based one.