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OP-ED: Will it ever stop?

  • Published at 09:10 pm September 24th, 2020
Lake Pollution
But the authorities don’t seem to care SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Incompetence and corruption rule our lives

The traffic lights at Gulshan-2 have been out of order for at least six months, and quite frankly, it is quite dangerous to cross the road there, because even if some of the traffic lights are working and you think it safe to cross the road, the traffic police on duty are often directing the traffic in opposition to the traffic lights. 

For goodness’ sake. If the traffic police want to be in charge, then turn off the lights. The whole situation smacks of incompetence and the “don’t care” attitude we are being forced to accept these days.

Another example of incompetence and possible corruption is that the once-beautiful and useful walkway on the Banani side of the lake between Kemal Ataturk Road and the new mosque near Gulshan Park has turned into a large rickshaw park, a storage area for building materials, and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

It is almost certain that bribery has taken place to allow this to have happened. There has been much fanfare about the Dhaka North City Corporation clearing walkways to make things safer for the public. What about the walkways on the sides of the lakes?

And about corruption -- you can pick up the newspaper on any day to find out accounts of massive and blatant corruption. It may be the alleged non-stop corruption in the DGHS, illegal power and gas connections causing the tragic Narayanganj mosque tragedy, the existence of illegal casinos that have existed under the noses of the authorities, companies still dumping waste in the Buriganga and grabbing land -- it is all the same, massive corruption. 

Money talks loudly. I learned that in a painful way when I spent six years with a European Union-funded Ministry of Land project, Adarsha Gram. In addition, alleged corruption has played havoc with the planning and building rules in Dhaka with officers of Rajuk having, allegedly, made fortunes. Last year, I was at a diplomatic function and one of the guests told me that his occupation was to find properties in the US and Canada for rich Bangladeshis to offload “black money.” It is mind-boggling!

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly appeals for a “corruption-free administration” in the same way that Bangabandhu demanded in 1972. It is very sad to realize that things have gotten far worse, not better.

It is also very sad that corruption is at all levels, even though the terminology may change to “facilitation support” or “speed money.” About 15 years ago, a leader of a small Kurigram NGO approached me for personal financial support. He had three sons who all suffered from thalassemia, a serious blood disorder. He had sold off his family land to pay for their treatment in Bangladesh and in India. 

One of his sons had passed away, but the other two were still alive. He had approached his local member of parliament for assistance to manage appointments for his two sons as government messengers or peons. 

The MP was willing to help, and said it would cost him Tk2 lakh for one appointment, but he would give him a discount and two appointments would cost only Tk3 lakh. The NGO leader asked me for a personal loan of Tk3 lakh, and I replied with a very strong “no.” 

Instead, I was able to help them set up a mobile phone call centre, which they also developed into a clothing shop.

Occasionally, however, there is a positive incident to report. When I was still at the Adarsha Gram project, a new project director was appointed. 

The outgoing project director still had possession of the official car, so I offered my car to drop the new director to his government quarter in Azimpur. When my driver returned to pick me up, he told me that: “New sir is a very good, honest man.” 

I asked him how he could possibly know. He told me that the new project director did not own any property in Dhaka, only his ancestral house in the village. Contrast this account with the recent news in 2020 of a “millionaire DGHS driver.” For a driver to become a millionaire means that many levels of authority are involved in the corruption.

It is difficult to know how to end endemic corruption, but from an early age, children need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. In addition, every business and government office needs to change. 

Can it happen? Yes, it can. Will it? Highly unlikely, it is very sad to say.

Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.