We're Live Bangla Wednesday, December 07, 2022

"It's a son-of-a-pig economy"

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The heading of this article borrowed. It's taken from the second chapter of 'Porathor Porotar Orthaniti', written by the recently demised Akbar Ali Khan and published around 20 years ago. The book was hugely appealing due to the simple manner in which it juxtaposed difficult economic theory with the stark picture of our harsh reality.

I cannot resist the temptation to quote a few sentences from the chapter, "It's a son-of-a-pig economy": "... it won't be easy to uproot corruption. These sons of pigs are not born overnight and so won't disappear overnight either. The first step in this lengthy process is to cut down the size of the government. The people will have to understand that if the government tries to do good for them within this present framework, they will not benefit. They will be harmed."

"The people of developing countries must tell their governments: 'Sir, we do not want your help, kindly just keep your sons of a pig away from us."

"In recent research, four consequences of corruption are being highlighted. Firstly, the stability of macro-economy is disrupted in a corrupt state. Due to corruption in the revenue department, it is not possible for the government to arrange the required resources.

"On the other hand, a corrupt government has a propensity to increase expenditure. As a result of the discrepancy between income and expenditure, the budget deficit grows and inflation spirals.

"Secondly, there is rapid social degeneration in a corruption-prone society. Environment-related laws are not implemented properly in the machinations of corruption.

"Thirdly, corruption exacerbates economic disparity in the society. The poor and hapless population bears the entire burden of corruption.

"And finally, various studies also indicate that corruption discourages foreign investors...."

Akbar Ali Khan's words written 20 years ago couldn't be more relevant today. Our fortune burns in the misfortune of development.

Two

I am compelled to quote again. A report published in Prothom Alo on 18 September, 'The present government and Chhatra League's militant ideology,' stated: "Former professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University Anu Muhammad has termed the ideology of the ruling Awami League government and its student organisation Chhatra League, 'militant'.

"He said, 'Militant thinking is the thinking that does not accept any other form of thinking. If the ideology of militancy is not to have the mindset to accept other's views and to attack anyone that differs in viewpoint, then how is the present government and its student front any different? Their ideology is then militant ideology.'

"Anu Muhammad said, 'The government says they have waged a strong anti-militant fight. But how will they carry out this fight if they themselves have a militant ideology? The main force against militancy is creativity, different views, raising questions and analytical power...'."

lf, like the quote of Akbar Ali Khan, the words of Professor Anu Muhammad also prove true in the near future, our fate will not only burn, but be reduced to ashes.

Three

We read in the newspapers and see on television news how, after 22 August, there has been an outbreak of violence against BNP's demonstrations, meetings and rallies. It will be noted that the news reports are all almost identical. BNP's meetings and processions are being obstructed and the 'extremely active' leaders and activists of the ruling party and its front organisations come down on them with brickbats, sticks and stones. In many instances, the law enforcement also comes forward with truncheons and teargas. They have even opened fire. So far three have been killed.

A recent report of Prothom Alo indicated that BNP will only be allowed to form human chains in front of the party's central office in Naya Paltan and the National Press Club, but nowhere else. After 22 August we note that certain ministers of the government have been sprouting rhetoric that the government is determined to keep the law and order situation stable at any cost. That is why the party men and the police are active all over.

Such activities have led many authoritarian countries to inevitable consequences. Firstly, the governments in certain authoritarian countries have been completely successful in suppressing the opposition. This has consolidated their hold at the helm and made the suffering of the people even more permanent. There is, for example, the 37-year stretch of Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe. Some other authoritarian governments in certain countries have tried to take this path, but failed. As a result, the countries have fallen into deep disorder and ultimate disaster.

I'll give a couple of examples. Haiti is an island state in Central America. It became independent around 200 years ago. It has a population of around 12.5 million and around 12,000 members of police. They haven't been receiving their salary for quite a few months now. They have resorted to organised looting and robbery. The citizens are fleeing from the country in desperation.

In Lebanon, the banks declared that from 19 September, they will no longer open. For the past few years the government has been withdrawing people's deposits from the banks, mostly foreign currency, like dollars. The banks are unable to return the money to the people. The people are attacking the bank officials to get their money back and so the banks have decided to remain closed. Yet this Lebanon was once called the Switzerland of the Middle East.

Venezuela at one time was seen as the wealthiest country in South America. Today half of the population goes hungry. The people are leaving the country in streams, in the hope of three square meals.

Four

There is a saying, "Lies, damned lies and statistics". I'll add to it. We now live in a country of statistic-based development rhetoric. As a tree grows, it sprouts more branches and leaves. It will grow. The country is now over 50 years old. Naturally branches have grown. Bamboo bridges will be replaced by bridges and culverts of brick and mortar, cement and steel. The mud paths are now proper roads. Then the roads will be further widened to make more money. And scattered here and there, small groups will look on with wonder at the awesome development.

In a country with a demand for 13,000 to 14,000 MW of electricity, power plants with the capacity to generate double the amount have been established. These plants do not generate electricity, but billions are being filched from the people's pockets to pay them.

In no country are their slums around the palace. Suffering people cannot be seen from the palace. But authoritarian governments like ours have one misfortune. In the 5000-year-old civilisation of Egypt, only one has there been a free and fair election. The president who won that one time by people's mandate, was ousted from power. The poor guy died in jail in 2019.

On the other hand, we have had this penchant for votes from way back in 1954. In 1970, regardless of race, religion, caste or creed, gender or political orientation, everyone had the opportunity to cast their vote.

In 1964 a law was passed in the United States to ensure the voting rights of all adults regardless of race or religion. But it was only in 1976 that this was actually implemented. It was in that year that all citizens of the US, regardless of their race or religion, could exert their right to vote in the presidential election. As I mentioned, we had this right in 1970.

The people of this country know how to vote and want and free and fair election at least every five years. But they have come to realise that their votes are meaningless. They no longer expect to be able to cast their vote or expect that their votes will decide upon who wins or loses in the election.

The country cannot continue in this manner. It is not impossible to resolve the problems, but the question is whether our government wants a resolution to the problems or wants to maintain authoritarianism. If authoritarianism continues, we will face an even more pitiful predicament ahead.

Dr Shahdeen Malik is a Bangladesh Supreme Court lawyer and a teacher of law at Gono University