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OP-ED: Corruption, coagulation, and drinking glass philosophy

  • Published at 07:00 am June 10th, 2021

Is our glass half-full or half-empty?

Reading the achievements Bangladesh has attained over the last decade or so would indicate that for the first time in history, the perception for Bangladesh would be a glass half-full.

A glass is either half-empty or half-full based on temperament and point of view; but is actually both, when based on facts alone. A glass is only half-full because the other half is empty -- an almost perfect example of logic unsullied by preference or perspective. The truth is what it is, unencumbered as it were with the preference or perception of any individual or group.

Black is black and white is white.

An almost perfect segue to corruption if there ever was one. As much as humble politicians beg the case in the name of accountability, a means of cleaning the slate and starting afresh, annual black money whitening schemes will not clean the country of the curse they wish to eradicate. Unless, of course, deep down, that is not the point.

For some age-old, existential questions the correct responses are a given. Some responses are beyond debate for anyone who wishes to project themselves as a people’s person, an erudite soul, a man or woman of the world, an enlightened self-aware individual. 

For example, there is only one definite answer to questions like: Would I steal? Do I litter? Is anyone above the law? Will all wrong-doers be punished? Should freedom of speech be protected? The answer to all of the questions are obvious as either a definite “No” or a “Yes.” However, in a real-world, definite response often times shimmer itself to a more conditional “depends.”

Again, an almost perfect segue to the argument of coagulation, in that blood will always be thicker than water. Things are such that for the casual (cautious) observer, this writer included, it might not even be not too outlandish to suggest that the closer the blood, either familial or political (regardless of the creative convolution to that tie), the greater the shimmer in the appropriate response from the powers that be. In defense of the power that are, this is not just a local phenomenon for Bangladesh but an increasingly growing global practice.

Lately we have seen this shimmering occurring progressively in the overtly democratic-leaning nations that toot their own horns on their political integrity (eg US, India, UK). Could Bangladesh be heading in a similar direction? 

We have seen it in overtly religiously-indoctrinated nations that toot their own horns on the moral superiority of their belief and point of view for existence (eg Saudi Arabia, Israel, Pakistan).

And, more naturally, we have seen it in fascistic-leaning nations that toot their own horns on their democratic values and the people’s love for the great leader (eg North Korea, China, Russia). Could Bangladesh be heading in a similar direction? 

Not all people are created equal in the face of the law and its interpretation. Although in the case of China the leadership’s vision despite any coagulation probably impacts the general people’s lives more positively than the other nations mentioned.

Examples closer to home would be the aforementioned black money whitening scheme where ill-gotten wealth (greatly due to the instances of coagulation in the stream) are sanctified by a flat 10% tax. A mere slap on the wrist and an insult to honest white-collar workers who can be subject to 15%-25% taxes on their annual income. 

What’s more, this tax clemency does not stipulate a limit on how many times this facility can be availed by an individual. The government has never publicly identified the people or groups who avail the facility despite an underlining people’s right to know. Would it not have made sense to limit this to once per individual family or group and subjecting all immediate family members or group directors to a mandatory 10-year external audit, which could potentially stem any further indiscretions?

Notably corruption and coagulation are not just about financial indiscretion. On a different edge of a very broad and varied spectrum, the same would go for indiscriminate dumping in dredged canals and waterways, where the cost of any further cleaning would be mandatory on those who live in and pass through the area? Or the blatant defiance of traffic laws and traffic policemen instructions by ministers and motorcyclists; our ministers in particular should be taught to lead by example not exception (but that is coagulation for you).

Newspapers, social activists, civic society, political leadership, and the lot sing tunes of social awareness and heightened intellectualism and ideal with aplomb. While they all know what is right and have no reservations advocating it, they fall just short of doing it themselves yet expect others to. A hypercritical problem is that the communication of problems focuses on bolstering the obvious and pointing out what is the ideal -- a painless exercise. It does not delve into delivering communication of a lasting solution that would make it somewhat painful for those who fall back onto old habits.

For a poor country like Bangladesh where the pursuit of amassing wealth (in whatever scale we can stomach) seems to be the end goal of everything we do, in this writer’s opinion the only way to ensure a lasting solution is to take it directly out of our pockets when we don’t; because we care so much more about money than accountability. Words are cheap, money is not. The hard, and difficult to digest, self-evident truth is that the piper needs to be paid for things to eventually balance out.

Of course, the argument above stands valid when it is unhindered by preference or perspective. The glass is always both half-full and half-empty. Since facts of the matter do not change, so we will need to. A change in temperament is a hard change. Frankly, how close we come to the final goal depends greatly on our own appetites to allow the evident corruption and coagulation in our society to persevere when it also feeds our own ends to do so.

Until then, whether we choose to admit it or not, our collective national conscience should peg the Bangladesh perspective of the glass as half-empty.

Talat Kamal is a PR and Communications Consultant with more than 25 years of experience in corporate and media communications. He can be reached at [email protected]

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