The blaze at the Chittagong port container area has shocked Bangladeshis like few major disasters before. It's not just the body count which is many but the way the deaths occurred, burnt and charred by a fire all too avoidable. The fact that several free fighters died while trying to put down the blaze in the call of duty has made it an even greater tragedy. But the fact remains that blazes are common and everyday affairs in our life and every year, many die. Reality has forced us to become beholders of short memories so the pain of the last disaster is always wiped out by the next one.
The old city fire, the Banani tower blaze and now this blaze are three serious headline grabbing incidents but barring these all others have faded away and no one remembers what happened to them as promised follow up actions. The demand as always is that actions must be taken so that such disasters are not repeated but they are. If not in godowns, it will happen in slums. If slums are spared, the tall skyscraper must fall.
This is a country of many built environments and each is made with great lack of care and disdain for safety. Like the road safety issue which the authorities always fail to remember with great efficiency, the tragedies will continue to happen not because it's about ignoring safety rules but because it's a situation where safety rules can be ignored safely.
The crashing governance system
It's true that the ruling party is firmly in power and there is no serious opposition in reality. Whatever may have existed is very much weakened by the efficient contest management mechanisms that the regime has in its hand. However, the issue is not about politics at all. It's about managing the system which the people also share. It's not about citizens and their rights. It's about people as consumers of governance and their entitlements given what they have put in as payments by living in the land sharing with the ruling class.
The problem stems from three misunderstandings about the state.
- State means only politics and that means managing political groups and parties is the prime responsibility of the power structure not governance.
- As long as people are busy economically they will not be interested in governance which is confused with politics.
- Efficiency is not of dominant importance in the management of the governance system whatever exists.
It's true that general public interest in electoral politics and politics in general is not high. But historically, it has never been high but governance is a service and that is a tangible one which concerns everyone. It's here that the delivery system has wonked significantly and that is causing disappointment and serious resentment.
Amlas: Politics or governance?
Politics matters a lot to a growing group of people who are not party political but unhappy with the current state of governance. And this segment is growing. The expatriate media which is far more popular than any pro-government outlet is one indicator of that. Of those who listen, most are not activists but simply resentful that so few actions are taken when things do go wrong as it did at Sitakunda.
The issue therefore means that given the low level party activism present, its governance performance takes the centre stage and it's a weak space. Politicizing governance happens because everyone does it including the ruling party. The Padma Bridge is a good example of that. By mixing both politics and governance, the regime is showcasing achievements but is not moving in when it falters. And this is not working.
Four segments of the ruling class are the army, the bureaucracy, the business community and the politicians. Of the four, the army is above the other three and not political. But the latter three have the bureaucracy as the pivot. They have has also taken up political duties and so it's more significant than the politicians now.
However, it's this segment that has power and clout but lacks significant efficiency that is a systemic stumbling block. Its role is more in facilitating political issues given the weakness of the political segments and ensuring delivery of economic goods in alliance with the business class. It's good at that and politics but it's in its own job of facilitating governance, it has not succeeded much.
Given that Bangladesh has become a bureaucratic state, the focus should have been on its efficiency. But having moved into the political space, it's behaving more like politicians which is now a crisis as that space hardly exists. The current model of the amla as the pivot of politics and unable to offer governance is not going to work for the long term but the immediate results are not of passing grades.
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