State of Governance in Bangladesh in 2007

State of Governance in Bangladesh in 2007

Governance ordinarily means power of governing or method of government. Various agencies have defined governance in different ways and some say an intellectual “cottage industry” has arisen around the definition of this term.

The 1992 Commission of Global Governance defines governance “as the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs.”

The World Bank defines governance as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources.

The UNDP views governance as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels.

For Asian Development Bank (ADB), there are four basic elements at the core of good governance: accountability, participation, predictability, and transparency, all of which create enabling institutional environments and foster valuable interaction among the government, private sector and civil society.

Tokyo Institute of Technology describes governance as the complex set of values, norms, processes and institutions by which society manages its development and resolves conflict, formally and informally.

One golden thread runs through all the definitions is that good governance ensures the effective delivery of public services, the transparent use of public funds and the implementation of rule of law. It also emphasises the necessity and relevance of public morality in the conduct of the government for the welfare of the public.

Scope vis-a vis capacity of state:

In this connection, it is necessary to distinguish between the scope of state activities, which refers to the different functions and the capacity of state power to enforce laws cleanly and transparently, what is now commonly referred to as state or institutional capacity.

The problem of many developing countries is that in the process of reducing the scope of states, they either decrease state capacity.

This new recognition of the priority of capacity over scope is reflected in a comment made by eminent economist, Milton Friedman, dean of orthodox free market economists in 2001. He noted that a decade earlier he would have had three words for countries making the transition from socialism, “privatize, privatize and privatize”. But “ I was wrong”, he continued. “It turns out that rule of law is more basic than privatization.”

Rule of Law:

The rule of law is interlinked with democractic norm and in a democratic society, the rights and freedoms are inherent to the human person, the guarantees applicable to them and the rule of law form a triad. Each component defines itself, complements and depends on the others for its meaning.

The rule of law has been considered as one of the key dimensions that determines the quality and good governance of a country. The rule of law does not mean rule by law. Laws are made by states but states are themselves subject to the rule of law.

The rule of law includes not only equality before law of all persons but also non-discrimination among individuals, and no unlawful detention of persons. Independence of judiciary is an important component of the rule of law. Under the rule of law, accuser cannot be at the same time the judge. In some ways it refers to accountability of actions or omissions of public officials.

Democracy and governance in Bangladesh:

Democracy in Bangladesh has not been as yet institutionalized because it takes time. Politics in the country in the past, was being influenced by big money, goons and people with little background and training in formal politics. Corruption became so endemic that it had engulfed the entire society.

Some say politics was considered as “business”, not to serve people. Furthermore politics was confrontational between the two major parties.

Elections have become such an expensive affair that ordinary citizens act only as passive voters. Power and authority are concentrated at the top echelons of government.

Decentralisation of power was absent and no actions were taken to strengthen the institutions of local self-government as mandated by Article 59 and 60 of the Constitution.

The dominant position of the executive is widely known. The parliamentary system that has been in existence can best be termed a prime ministerial system. The parliament is content to play second fiddle to the executive.

The powers of the President and that of the Prime Minister remain unbalanced, the President being only a ceremonial head and some of President’s powers were taken away by the 1991 Twelfth Amendment Act of the Constitution.

Democracy is inextricably linked with good governance. They are two sides of the same coin. Democracy promotes the rule of law and human rights, transparent and fair elections coupled with a competitive political process, a free and independent media, stronger civil society and greater citizen participation in government, and good governance facilitates economic growth improving living conditions, promoting environmental sustainability and broadening inclusiveness.

A Year of Change: 2007 in Bangladesh:

One of the major commitments of the Caretaker government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, installed on 12 January, 2007, besides the holding of a free, fair and credible parliamentary election, is to set in motion the process of good governance in the country and prepare the stage for building a corruption-free society as far as possible.

The Care-Taker government continues to fight against what it described as 3-M, meaning muscle power, money power and misuse of power.

In this context, the Institute of Governance Studies, BRAC University, has released its second report on the state of governance in Bangladesh 2007, in May 2008 with its title ‘Expectations, Commitments, Challenges”.

The report attempts to depict objectively the issues of good governance by the Non-Party Care Taker government. It calls the year 2007 a “Year of Change” in Bangladesh that may set a precedent in shaping new contours of governance in the country.

The report contains six chapters and totals 174 pages. Chapter one deals with an overview leading to the state of emergency in January 11, 2007. Chapter two describes a change in political governance. Chapter three gives a brief account of perception of governance. Chapter four enumerates crime, violence and insecurity. Chapter five discusses governance of NGO and Chapter six contains conclusions.

Chapter two of the Report reviews a process of reforms adopted by the Non-Party Care-taker government. The government has adopted reforms that include some of the key government institutions, vital for good governance. For example, the Anti-Corruption Commission, Public Service Commission, and the Election Commission together with the Election Commission Secretariat have been re-constituted.

The report concludes indicating that the “Care-taker government has demonstrated its desire to rid the system of undemocratic elements by launching an ambitious anti-corruption drive”. More than 150 top politicians were arrested on charges of corruption and misuse of power. Some of them have been convicted by the courts.

The Anti-Corruption Commission has devoted all its energy under its able leadership of Chairman Lt. General Mashhud Choudhury (retd) to make the public aware how much cost corruption does to the nation’s welfare. Some economists say that Bangladesh would have double-digit economic growth if it were a corruption-free government.

More importantly the long-awaited separation of judiciary from executive, a requirement of Article 22 of the Constitution, was finally implemented by the Care-taker government with the agreement of the Supreme Court, the report notes.

The report indicates that one sector where improvements in governance “will certainl

y have the largest impact is the human security and crime and violence prevention… It is now up to the community to decide the policies that will most effectively identify and address the sources of human security.”

Human security, according to UNDP, includes economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, political security. Attempts to implement this human security agenda have led to the emergence of two major schools of thought on how to best practice human security — "Freedom from Fear" and "Freedom from Want.”


The Caretaker government has made some of the state institutions, impartial, effective and dynamic with bold reforms. There is a view that the actions taken against the corrupt people are likely to have long-term impact on the society. It demonstrated that no one is above the law and the so-called “untouchables” can be accountable under the laws.

These steps have acted as a severe jolt to the corrupt segment of society. The actions of the caretaker government, many say, are comparable to “catharsis” in tragedies. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning "purification" or "cleansing" derived from the ancient Greek word kathairein "to purify, purge," The term "catharsis" was first introduced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his work Poetics.

However, unless reforms within the political parties are undertaken for a genuine healthy political environment, uncertainty will remain for people in the country

The BRAC Report on state of governance in 2007 provides a glimpse of unrelenting efforts of the Caretaker government to ensure a robust institutional framework so that economic, political and social fabric of the country is firmly established in future. It is a commendable addition to resources for scholars, academics and government offcials on the state of governance in the country.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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