There is an avalanche of literature arguing that "cross-country empirical analyses, in combination with micro-level studies, provide strong support for the overwhelming importance of institutions in predicting the level of development in countries around the world. Protection of property rights, effective law enforcement, and efficient bureaucracies, together with a broad range of norms and civic mores, are found to be strongly correlated to better economic performance over time:. It argues that "institutions support economic development through four broad channels: determining the costs of economic transactions, determining the degree of appropriability of return to investment, determining the level for oppression and expropriation, and determining the degree to which the environment is conducive to cooperation and increased social capital".
How are institutions in Bangladesh doing? The Asia Foundation and BIGD of BRAC University conducted a collaborative survey recently on citizens' perceptions about "The State of Bangladesh's Political Governance, Development and Society" with a reference to their attitudes towards institutions and ICT. About 10,000 respondents across the country constituted the sample, male and female equally divided, but two-thirds of the sample were drawn from rural areas. A volley of issues was placed before the respondents for their reactions but we shall today pick up 'trust' on institutions and ICT as they perceived it.
First comes citizens' trust in institution. A little over half of the respondents found Upazila Parishad and Union Parishad Chairman "highly trustworthy" thus apparently indicating peoples' positive perceptions about them . For national parliament, this percentage is roughly 60 per cent -- possibly not so bad - in a regime of a lot of allegations. But feeling of trustworthiness on Judiciary (45 per cent) , the election commission (38 per cent) followed by political parties 36 per cent seemingly shows bad state of affairs as far as citizens' security and voting rights are concerned. Regarding other agencies, the Bangladesh Army was highly trusted by 72 per cent of respondents, followed by 64 per cent who trusted the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). In contrast, the so-called 'peoples' friend' police were deemed trustworthy by only 29 per cent of the respondents pointing to the perilous condition of the service. When asked about trust in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media, approximately 42 per cent of respondents found NGOs to be highly trustworthy, while around 44 per cent expressed similar views about the media. Thus it seems that neither the media nor the NGOs could bag significant sympathy from people they vow to serve.
A comparison with the past could possibly cast a dynamic view as the survey used panel data based on repeated sample surveys from 2014. In contrast to 2019, trust in certain institutions such as the judiciary and police experienced a slight increase, while trust in the majority of other institutions faced a downturn. Again, in 2019 Army and RAB had a higher percentage of respondents expressing high trust in those two institutions (83 per cent and 78 per cent respectably). A similar trend is noted with respect to political parties and parliament. By and large, the survey seems to say that trust of people in institutions declined over time which might have constrained good governance in the country. Erosion of trust could also negatively affect economic growth.
The said survey also sought opinions about digital transformation, especially ICT. Needless to mention, ICT has been affecting lives and livelihoods of people on the heels of massive increases in the use of mobile phones and the internet. The survey findings reflect this trend quite well. A high majority of respondents have their own mobile phones, higher among men (91 per cent) than women (76 per cent) but the ratio closes in when urban-rural comparison is made. The somewhat obvious outcome is that mobile ownership increases with higher education, for example, two-thirds of those with no education compared to almost cent per cent with graduate and above level education have a mobile phone.
Respondents who have access to the internet were asked what platforms they use to communicate with others. A majority reported use of Facebook (85 per cent), Messenger (72 per cent), and IMO (71 per cent). Interestingly, all the platforms, except IMO, are more popular among men than women.
Facebook remains the most popular platform across all education categories. Except for IMO, the use of all other platforms increases with education. Preferences vary by division. Facebook is most popular in Rangpur, while Messenger is most popular in Mymensingh. Preference for WhatsApp is high in Sylhet, whereas IMO is more popular in Dhaka, Chittagong, and Sylhet.
Respondents who use Facebook/Twitter were asked why they use these platforms. Over a fourth uses Facebook to obtain national news, one-fifth uses it for entertainment purposes, one-sixth shares news/ideas/concerns with friends and family, one-tenth communicates with family and friends, and 6 per cent to watch movies.
To assess ensuring governance through Facebook, half of the respondents felt that Facebook cannot be used to ensure governance responsiveness of the state. Less than one-third of respondents believed citizens could ensure governance responsiveness (almost all the time or often) through Facebook.
Seventy-three per cent opined that it is never or not very often safe to post political opinions on Facebook as against only 7 per cent considering it generally safe. Reticence toward political opinions on Facebook increases with education. Eighty-three per cent of respondents who have a graduate degree say it is not safe to post their opinions regarding political governance, compared to 60 per cent of those without a formal education. However, 63 per cent of the respondents think it is never or not very often safe to post opinions about social issues in the country. Respondents with higher levels of education are more cautious about posting social issues on Facebook.
There is a relationship between trust in different media and education. As education levels increase, so does respondents' tendency to follow the news from various media. Talk-shows are mostly popular for respondents who have completed their graduation and above. A majority of respondents trust private channels (76 per cent) and BTV news (73 per cent). Overall trust toward Facebook news is higher (55 per cent) than trust in newspapers (27 per cent).
Findings show respondents feel Bangladesh television (60 per cent) and print media (50 per cent) are the most trusted as mostly free. Private radio and private television are rated as less free.
Overall, while Bangladesh has made significant progress in inclusive development, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all members of the society can participate in and benefit from the country's economic and social development. Respondents were asked what they understood by the term 'development' of the country. Two-thirds consider the development of infrastructure to be the 'development' of the country - an important message for the critics of mega infrastructure projects. For about half of the residents, development implies everything including economic, agricultural, health systems development, education and improving quality of life etc.
The Asia Foundation and BIGD of BRAC University survey brings forth issues to ponder on: how could institutions be more trustworthy to the citizens they intend to serve. Without credible institutions, sustainable socio-economic and political development is a forlorn hope.
Prof Abdul Bayes is a retired professor of economics, Jahangirnagr University.