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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2835

A stricture on World Bank Vice-President, Praful C Patel’s remarks on Bangladesh Anti- Corruption Commission

Dhaka, 21 May, (INS + rhetoric in Bangladesh often takes extreme positions and uses noxious terms. People of this country have become used to the vehemence of wordy duels conducted in public forums as well as in print by and between political parties. They look for the bottom line that lies beneath the venomous rhetoric and tend to draw their own conclusions about the intended message behind any demagogic or mud-slinging exercise.

But the increasing vehemence of expostulations and remonstrations by the diplomats and visiting dignitaries, enjoying diplomatic immunity in this country, is assuming impossible proportions. Some Western governments and United Nations institutions have staked a claim in the radar of Bangladesh’s internal affairs, particularly with respect to governance issues. They rightly consider governance as an indivisible feature affecting the development drive.

As donors or lenders they are Bangladesh’s partners in progress and do have a right to be concerned about lack of good governance and the ambivalence of social morality. They may not be very right when they extend that concern to creeping interference, albeit within the limits of the agreed terms of funding, not only in monitoring funded projects but also in restructuring state institutions and remedying social ills.

Foreign governments in the first category claim the right to intervene in the name of their accountability to their own electorate about proper utilization of development assistance that is provided out of their tax-payers' pockets. The UN and international agencies in the second category claim a responsibility for intervention as multilateral monitors of the utilization of development assistance as well as in their capacity as pilots of the paddleboat of Millennium Development Goals of the current world order.

So far so good. Successive governments in Bangladesh have succumbed to the progressively intrusive terms of donor-driven development strategy. People of Bangladesh have only themselves to blame for the weakness of their economic leadership and the myopia of our vision. They are not in a position to complain about donor intervention until they rid themselves of donor-dependence. But they can certainly complain about bad language and deviations from diplomatic decency.

Members of the civil society in Bangladesh are getting sick and tired of the offensive remarks and unsolicited initiatives of the foreign missions stationed in Dhaka, as well as their visiting high-level delegations. Some civil society spokesmen have pointedly given vent to their dismay and displeasure in this regard in writing as well as in public debates.

Apart from the question of the dignity of the state institutions and respect that state officials in high positions deserve, it is the demand of hallowed tradition that alarmist language is avoided in diplomatic exchanges and in the public utterances of foreign officials. It is a pity that the political climate in Dhaka tends to forgetfulness about the visiting foreign dignitaries and accredited diplomats who do not exercise propriety and restraint in their public utterances.

Leading questions by malevolent reporters tend to compound that problem.

The latest example of unhelpful rhetoric in external interest encroaching on the functions of our state institutions was revealed in the course of a press briefing on May 15 to mark the World Bank's country assistance strategy for Bangladesh from 2006 to 2009.

It envisaged a lending program of around $3 billion for the 3-year rolling plan as preferred by our Finance Minister. It rightly focused on transparency and accountability in development spending, and sought its own methods of monitoring lapses and eliminating corruption.

The summary of the strategy paper said, 'The World Bank will also support the strengthening of key institutions of accountability, including the Comptroller and Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee, Bangladesh Bank, Public Service Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the core governance processes of public financial and budgetary management, public procurement, the National Board of Revenue, and legal and judicial reform, in collaboration with other development partners.'

On the improvement of the investment climate, it says the World Bank will support sector governance reforms and investments in the power sector, water and sewerage, roads, railways and urban development. Besides, the bank will support sector governance reforms and investment in health, education, sanitation, local government strengthening and safety net approaches in its area of empowering the poor.

Linking the political climate in the country to that strategy in the press briefing, the visiting World Bank Vice-President, Praful C Patel, said political disagreements should be resolved through discussions and debates in the Parliament. 'We are extremely concerned about the next elections as certain disagreements between political parties have so far not been resolved.'

But then in the presence of his own Country Director and the Resident Representative of the Asian Development Bank, he made an unwarranted public comment, calling the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh 'a joke'. He reportedly took relish in telling newsmen: 'The commission has become a joke and I have said that to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and urged her to undertake efforts to make it effective and functional.'

The Anti-Corruption Commission may be fumbling and may have shown little progress and much disarray so far in undertaking the uphill task it has been entrusted with by our Parliament. But it remains a state institution enshrined by law and empowered for a given tenure. If it fails within that tenure to deliver the goods, it will be answerable to the next Parliament. Meanwhile it is up to the good judgment of the members of the commission itself whether to accept or not to accept, in part or in full, the counseling and assistance of the Asian Development Bank (as proffered) or of any other donor agency in developing the structure of the commission.

The World Bank's Vice-President had earlier urged the Anti-Corruption Commission to take some exemplary action and spectacular measures to show the commission's teeth to the pervasive corruption and thereby please the dissatisfied donors.

The World Bank, as the agency that performs the difficult task of retaining donor confidence in the development agenda of Bangladesh, is certainly entitled to make such a suggestion to the Anti-Corruption Commission. But it is up to the commission to decide whether it will spring into action or go slowly and steadily, putting its act together. By statute, neither the World Bank nor the Prime Minister's Office, but only Bangladesh’s sovereign Parliament, can call into question the judgment of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

- INS + Asian Tribune -

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