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The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Public service vs responsible citizenship  

| Updated: September 09, 2020 21:11:36


Public service vs responsible citizenship   

More than 11,000 out of 15,000 hospital beds meant for Covid-19 patients remain vacant whereas thousands of corona-infected people are struggling at home. This is a proof of the level of public trust in the country's healthcare system.

The recent rise in the number of the poor, as studies indicate, just confirms how far people at the bottom are socially protected from recent economic uncertainties. Their desperate efforts defying risks of the deadly virus to earn a living cannot be called reckless behaviour.

At the higher echelon of society, all schools and universities cannot smoothly run online classes as students and guardians complain about slow internet and power outage. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the Bangladesh children do not have access to digital learning facilities.

Most of the companies, which are considered large taxpayers, are not comfortable submitting value added tax (VAT) returns via online. They, representing telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, consumer products and banking sectors, are reportedly so because of flaws in the official system.

The widely reported phantom bills for electricity consumption during the corona-induced shutdown are only one sample of services to people. In this country, according to the World Bank, it takes 271 days to transfer a property title, a process that requires 47 days on average worldwide. None can bet that for any ordinary citizen it's easy to get a licence, secure other regulatory services and draw money from official channels, officially.

In such a governance system, less powerful people love to avoid official procedures and sometimes public offices also for raising complaints. Many of them have hardly any choice other than accessing services via dalals (brokers), be it for going abroad, doing business or depositing money. Some poor-quality hospitals and educational institutions as well as casinos have emerged, taking advantage of the lax regulatory system.

For falling prey to human traffickers, temptation for share market bubble or trap of multi-level marketing (MLM) practice, one may criticise the poor judgement of the commoners. Should these people be blamed for the backlog of 3.9 million cases with the Bangladesh's court system? Or, are the tax evaders alone responsible for the whole malpractice?

We may debate for decades as to whether people should remain constantly vigilant to ensure public services or whether public officials themselves should be loyal to the taxpayers who pay for their salaries. However, the treatment the masses receive from public servants is not what the former deserve.

Allegations have it for years that hundreds of foreign exchange earners, expatriate Bangladeshis are harassed at the airport when they return home. A few hundred of them have been detained recently after some were cheated by recruiters and suffered in Vietnam and others completed jail sentence in the Middle East for minor faults. Some returnees were allegedly extorted and intimidated in their own villages.

Undermining or disturbing people's enterprising efforts is contrary to Article 13 of the Constitution, which says: "The people shall own or control the instruments and means of production and distribution."

In fact, excessive discretion of the officers often gives them scope to exploit the ones who seek services. This also stops the people from being proactive to demand services as a matter of right. That is not what is written in Article 21 (2) of the Constitution: "Every person in the service of the Republic has a duty to strive at all times to serve the people." It's frustrating for a generation of citizens to see the constitutional provisions emphasising compliance with laws, maintenance of discipline and rendering of honest services to the people going largely unheeded.

The coronavirus crisis has posed a serious question as to how far old institutions and methods of life would remain functional. The terms, such as transparency and accountability that have already turned vague may lose appeal and meaning. In such a context, we may have to search for new kind of relations between people and the state.

 

khawaza@gmail.com

 

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