Mahmudur Rahman | Published: November 29, 2018 22:15:52 | Updated: December 22, 2018 12:59:53


The power of the bureaucracy

In nine out of ten cases bureaucrats are labelled as spineless figures that follow His Master's Voice in preparing policy for governance. This in spite of the concerns related to the quality of the public servants. But following the adage that life goes on, it is most of their outputs added to a liberal dosage of political consideration that completes the cycle of policy. On the surface it tends to look wish-washy. At times downrightly so. Take the example of Bangladesh Bank's decision to write off Tk 500 billion (50,000 crore) as bad loans on the grounds that the collateral can't be recovered or doesn't cover the outstanding amount. While that may be the case we see no policy statements that those who defaulted are on a black list for future loans or that conniving officials are having their assets investigated. That much should be expected because many of the defaulters are contesting the coming elections.

Over the last two years media-hype over Brexit overshadowed the behind-the-scene work of negotiators (read bureaucrats) that worked towards crafting the deal the UK Prime Minister agreed with the European Union (EU). That this is only to be celebrated till UK's parliament agrees or shoots down is another factor in which case one of four scenarios comes into the scene. Then, of course, the same bureaucrats will have to return to the drawing board. That's why during these two years the British government has been relentlessly recruiting personnel to work on exit strategies that are a mix of deals and no deals. Because come what may of this deal, there are crucial sub-deals to be worked out relating to fishing rights and such. Countries declare their maritime zones and the EU have almost accepted their rights to fish in each others' territories. That brings dual benefits in cost and efficiency but impacts sovereignty in terms of a bottom line.

The crux of the problem is that the deal agreed is vague in terms of addressing details and over the years laws and rules have had additional layers of conditionalities imposed that no one ever thought would have to be unravelled. Until now no one has blamed negotiators for any of the short-comings nor is that going to surface. The British have their own polite and not so polite terminology to describe the EU bureaucrats as well as their own but at the end of the day these negotiators too have to be loyal to their masters.

The EU is not a state but the level of agreement required for all 27 states to agree almost makes it one. A tripartite state agreement between the EU, UK government and the UK Parliament highlights the dangers of a commonality of Union. No wonder it was far easier for Mr. Donald Trump to pull out of agreements he had misgivings over. A feather in the cap for US lawyers and negotiators, no doubt.


The proclamations of democracy


Barrack Obama used the power of social media, Bharatiya Janata Party educated its parliamentarians in the first phase and then had bureaucrats do power presentations to highlight existing policy and progress, Awami League used a progressive manifesto and a Vision document and it all went down well with the electorate. It was somewhat of a management tool called Balanced Scorecard.

The irony is that at the end of tenures it all reverted to propaganda and rhetoric rather than the scorecard itself. Obama's personal popularity wasn't enough to get Democrats back in office, and Mr. Modi's self-aggrandised flow of FDI and manufacture has floundered to the point of the rupee hitting a historic low. How the Awami League approaches it will be interesting, though the initial approaches are revealing enough.

The hastily cobbled together Oikkya Front hasn't announced a manifesto and has little time to highlight the wrongs they will obviously promise to correct but increasingly it seems it too is banking on the anti-Awami League voters to act. The decisive factor of the first-time voters, usually undecided, has already and shrewdly been addressed by the Prime Minister herself even as others engage in the factor of seat sharing.

Seat sharing isn't anything new in third world developing democracies but the abject openness with which it happens gives a show of thumbs to the voters. In a way it makes mockery of democracy for the convenience of a few to wield utmost power. It has come to a ridiculous situation whereby party stalwarts are having to put on brave faces about not gaining nominations. One wonders how faithful they will be to the bar on rebel candidates going rogue. Most of those who gain at the expense of those left out have no 'voter banks' and will depend on vote banks. How far they will contribute to Parliament is as big a factor for consideration.

The historic Six-point Movement of the late sixties was brilliant in the simplification with which complex issues could be broken down into everyday language. The manifestos of today remain in the realms of the initiated and at the peril of their interpretation. Like it or not, such manifestos are penned by former bureaucrats and intelligentsia, many of whom have little connect with people at the grassroots. That's where the politician comes in provided that the real grassroots are listened to. Expectations and realities change and are doing so with the passage of time. Keeping abreast of these sometimes subtle changes can make all the difference.

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