The premise of promises

Mahmudur Rahman | Wednesday, 1 September 2021

On the edge of every precipice lies a moment of denial on one side and acceptance on the other. Decisions to be made from the giddy heights of statehood to the individual, the moment of truth, when something needs to be done can go either way. Circumstances, situations, considerations jumble up to add to the conundrum. For the individual or group that has to take the call repercussions can be dire. The dilemma is whether or not to break with the oath taken by the public representatives to uphold constitutions, law, covenants. For those nominated or appointed there are similar pillars, descriptively different.

Then again there are manifestos, public proclamations and promises made that are trumpeted and then conveniently  confined to shelves where they gather dust. Public memory is short. Manifestos are read mostly by those that have to. No one cares to disseminate the broad features, forget the fine print of such copious documents to the masses. Above all, no one explains that better governance and implementation of such promises will come at a higher cost.

That which used to be under wraps is no longer so. So when the Mayor of Dhaka City North Corporation glibly says public awareness and cooperation is a must for mosquito and dengue prevention people chuckle in disbelief. That wasn't part of the promise made. The "we will" has changed to "together we will". More firmly stated is that hawkers will soon have major roads blocked to traffic on holidays to allow them to sell their wares without having to pay extortion money. The open admission that extortion takes place didn't elaborate as to who benefits. Not that it's important. Those who pay, know and have come to live with it. And can there be guarantees about what 'spots' will be available, to whom and how. There is a gay abandon with which the 'cost of doing business' is passed on to the consumer. The Mayor has to be credited for taking such steps that include fines and on-going demolition drives by the City Mayors across the country. That is part of a strategy to make such business conditions economically unviable. He will earn more approbation if he follows through his predecessor's commitment of creating hawker markets.

During calamities, excruciatingly made evident by the pandemic, people without work or business look to the government for recourse. Their argument is sound. Directly or indirectly, the population pay taxes a paltry number on income and most on consumption, not to mention bribes for services that they should get free of cost. In normal times the question might well be asked why people have to pay for services and utilities provided they have paid government taxes, fees and costs. Bridge tolls, road tolls, ferry tolls and bakshish, paying three times the cost of stamp fees all in the open has two definitive negatives. Billions poured in on dykes and dams yet floods ravage and land-breaks recur.  The list goes on. It encourages the black economy and multiplies tax evasion. The developed world has similar problems prompting Joe Biden to allocate $8 billion to the Internal Revenue Service to weed out tax-dodgers.

The Rules of Business require thorough, impassioned and neutral review-free from influence of all kinds. Several attempts in the past were sabotaged in no uncertain terms. Government recruitment processes were compromised and the interference of politicians in the implementation process left bureaucrats helpless. Brighter minds moved away from joining civil service. Policy must be left to lawmakers who must go through a qualification process. The BJP put their elected Lok Sabha members through a mini-MBA programme that explained to them aspects of budgets, policy and law-making. Implementation should be a clearly accountable and defined process between bureaucracy and local government representatives. Gaps between policy and promises made to the people have to be addressed.

Others who are appointed or nominated take different oaths or sign up to official documents on integrity. They too, often reach the point of no return when decisions have to be made. Most choose to defy their commitment to integrity. Those who refuse end up victimised. The case is often made of the increased perks and facilities provided by the state. The one factor missing is freedom to operate within the rules. With freedom comes responsibility and accountability. That's what the audit authorities are all about. Was due process followed? The last we heard there were thousands of glitches reported. One thing is for sure they aren't among the thousands of cases pending with overworked judges in courts. Some mysteriously emerge, out of the blue. The blue then 'turns a whiter, shade of pale'.


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