The advice to philanthropists to acknowledge the benefits some of them have reaped from a system of social and economic inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, has captured some readers' attention. Thus,Ford Foundation President Darren Walker emphasised their greater transparency to ensure accountability for expenditure of tax-exempted dollars.
"The work of philanthropy should be to pursue justice and dignity, which requires the philanthropists to get uncomfortable because it requires the philanthropists to acknowledge his or her culpability in the conditions that bring about injustice," he told the Reuters Next conference last week.
That's the story of a corporate-philanthropic America where a reported tax evader, who is also a psychic attention seeker, managed to exploit the system for capturing the most powerful office only to prove that dishonesty brings a humiliating exit even from the White House.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a recently imported trend in Bangladesh where examples of altruistic activities by daanbir (philanthropists) were available much before the West publicised the term CSR.
Schools, roads, hospitals, ponds, temples and mosques and such establishments were made with the spirit of serving the masses.
Bangladesh, be it then called British Bengal or East Pakistan, was not so resourceful. Still, students were taught: 'Honesty is a novel quality' or 'Love your motherland'. The rise of educated class was coincided with the struggle for self-rule based on democratic will.
When the country started coming out of the shadow of famine and making records of economic growth over the years, corruption has perhaps surpassed the pace of development. Indices like corruption perception index or cost of doing business index don't offer any soothing feeling for us as a nation.
If a youth was asked only a few decades back about his/her aim in life, s/he would have referred to a few professions, which eventually could be blamed for major corrupt practices and poor service delivery.
The answer to the question nowadays may indicate the longing for earning money - often at any cost and by any means- to ensure a 'financially secure' life. These are 'smart' boys and girls, some of whom have been disillusioned by the fates of idealist seniors, alongside influence of the 'realist' ones.
In a most recent video that has become viral, a man from Gangni municipality in Meherpur district is seen swearing ignominiously that he would never contest any election."I noticed how my supporters turned into other candidates' voters. This kind of ballot is not for good people and I will continue to advise honest persons not to join any election," an apparently naïve Mokhlesur Rahman is heard saying.
This is one of many discouraging cases of public life. If honest people bunker in their house or go into exile, how will honesty be established as a social order?
How far opportunistic standpoint can be considered honesty remains another question for those who don't want to take any hassles for upholding their integrity in professional and social life.
Before the Covid-19 pushed 20 million people to join the army of over 20 million poor, as studies indicate, the income gap in society had already widened, the disparity which was often justified as a side-effect of economic leapfrog.
That inequality is, stakeholders would say, not the creation of the people who do their business honesty or farmers who struggle to grow rice but are deprived of fair price. That corruption is the single most contributory factor of widening resource gap is no longer reflected even in poetry or drama that could have motivated millions.
Despite widespread corruption, maybe, a good thing is that people still talk about honesty, at least publicly. In today's world, Donald Trump, too, alleges election fraud the same way genuine victims of rigged polls in a Third World country do!
According to an old adage, amusement costs Tk 80 a tola (equivalent to 10 grams). In keeping with such culture, some people loved to brand themselves as honest, no matter if they are tested with temptation of power and money or in the court of law.
Not many people are ready to sacrifice a so-called normal life to prove an ultimate honest life.