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Some work on paper, abject failure in spirit

Mubin S Khan

Most experts working in fields related to good governance agree that while the Awami League-led government apparently has fulfilled some of its pledges on paper, it has failed abjectly to live up to the spirit of good governance and has, in a number of cases, taken steps that directly hinder its practice.
Good governance, a broad term used to describe a government’s performance in anything from working through consensus, establishing rule of law, to ensuring accountability and transparency in government activities, is a frequent benchmark by which governments across the world are routinely assessed.
Good governance is also among the top five priority pledges of the Awami League in its election manifesto in 2008.
Under the title of good governance, the Awami League pledged to arrange the trial of war crimes, ensure impartiality and independence of the judiciary and stop extrajudicial killings. It also pledged to reform the Election Commission and the electoral system, make the wealth statements of cabinet and parliament members public, free the administration and law enforcement agencies of politicisation and introduce right to information and e-governance, among other things.
So how did the incumbent AL-led government perform in fulfilling its election pledge of good governance?
Most experts have observed that the government has failed abjectly to live
up to the spirit of good governance, and has, in a number of cases, taken steps that directly hinder its practice.
‘Whatever good work the government may have done during its tenure has been completely undone by its behaviour in the end,’ said Tofail Ahmed, a former professor of public administration in the University of Chittagong, referring to the current political crisis while talking about the government’s performance in regard to good governance.
Most experts criticised the government for failing to establish good governance when it comes to the judiciary and the civil administration, and especially in regard to the rule of law.
‘When 28 lakh cases are pending with courts, when cases filed against government party activists are withdrawn en masse, when people are detained without trial, when the president accords mercy to death sentence convict and when extrajudicial killings continue, it is hard to develop a view that the government has pursued good governance in regard to the justice system,’ Tofail said.
‘The soul of good governance is the rule of law,’ said Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a former executive committee member of human rights organisations Ain o Salish Kendra and Odhikar.
‘The rule of law does not mean the application of law with favouritism,’ he said. ‘When it came to AL activists we saw no application of law and when it came to BNP activists, we saw an over-application of law.’
‘You cannot really say the rule of law was present under such circumstances,’ he added.
In its pledge to establish good governance, the Awami League made specific points to strengthen democratic institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission and the parliament.
‘The institutions of good governance have literally been destroyed,’ said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International, Bangladesh.
‘The parliament started well with committees set up on the first day,’ he said, ‘but soon we discovered that the committees were riddled with conflicts of interest,’ said Iftekhar, explaining how lawmakers sitting on various committees had business interests in the same areas.
‘The parliament was made ineffective with the absence of opposition,’ Tofail said.
‘Furthermore, while many bills were passed in the parliament, it is instructive to notice how most of them passed through with hardly any discussion and debate,’ Tofail said.
Iftekhar was particularly critical of the government in regard to the passage of the ACC law amendment.
‘The government played a cat and mouse game with the ACC law,’ Iftekhar said. ‘By talking about it for five years and not passing it till the last moment they kept ACC officials under pressure. It was all very deceptive,’ he said.
‘The ACC virtually played the role of a B team of the government during these five years,’ he added.
Among the specific pledges under good governance fulfilled by the AL-government are arranging the trial of war criminals, carrying out the judgement of the Mujib murder case, reinvestigation of the August 21 grenade attack and making Rangpur a new administrative division. The government has also introduced right to information and e-governance although questions remain about its quality and effectiveness while the permanent pay commission was formed only a month ago.
Among the government’s major failures in the matter of  specific good governance pledges is the failure to make public wealth statements and source of income of the prime minister and cabinet and parliament members. There were also specific pledges to appoint an ombudsman and formulate a charter of political behaviour, neither of which has seen the light of day.
‘The government has to some extent managed to fulfil its pledges,’ senior Supreme Court lawyer Rafique-ul Huq said. ‘However, many remain unfulfilled or half dome while questions remain about the real effectiveness of some of the work carried out.’
According to the experts, the real failure of the government lies in their failure to live up to promises set out in its manifesto such as: ‘the government will be made accountable for all its activities,’ ‘the administration will be free from politicisation’, ‘courtesy and tolerance will be inculcated in the political culture of the country’ and ‘the police and other law enforcement agencies will be kept above political influence.’ 
‘I do not see any real improvement in the quality of governance during the AL’s present tenure,’ said Akbar Ali Khan, a former bureaucrat and former caretaker government adviser. ‘In fact, things have worsened.’

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