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A constitutional defender of rights

  • Published at 05:50 pm May 22nd, 2018

In 1991, at the very beginning of the democratic journey of Bangladesh, it was recorded that 44% of the country’s total population lived under poverty. Today, Bangladesh has successfully graduated from the LDC rank.

This statistic leaves little room for argument that our recent economic revolution has been constructed on the foundation of democracy.

But ironically, due to the absence of rule of law, widespread corruption, and institutional inadequacies to safeguard citizen’s rights from maladministration, democracy till date in the eyes of common Bangladeshis is just another power-grabbing tool for the political class, and yet to earn confidence and legitimacy. That is despite such monumental progress.

In a contemporary sense, democracy and rule of law are seen as a natural and inseparable pair.

The concept of rule of law that no one is above the law and all citizens are subject to a common law, not to any exceptional or special treatment is the precondition for the functioning of a democratic society.

The undermined state of this central tenet of democracy in Bangladesh is evident through the corruption perception indexes where Bangladesh’s performance has been for many years, which according to analysts is a mountainous hurdle to our socioeconomic advancement.

And scrutiny has revealed that the principal causes for such extreme corruption in the context of Bangladesh include lack of transparency in government dealings, slow judiciary, and a defective investigative mechanism to deal with corrupt elements.

Being the primary victims, the main stakeholders of democracy- the citizens- are naturally very concerned about this sorry state of governance. Unfortunately, because of institutional deficiency and lack of participation, their voices are seldom heard.

Under the current framework, the involvement of people in our democratic process is limited to the electioneering process of the representatives.

Luckily, the founders of our constitution acknowledged this shortcoming that in the Westminster system, although it is desired, interactions between the ruled and the rulers are often not immediate or direct, and to close this gap the approach was to create various constitutionally approved offices that continuously scrutinize government actions and put effective limits on the ruling class, such as Anti-corruption commission, human rights commission, Office of the Auditor-general, various regulatory commissions, and not least, the institution of the ombudsman on which this article emphasizes.

The concept of the ombudsman, in many cases, was devolved for the transition of bureaucracy left by authoritarian regimes to a democratic system, which coincidentally, is a perfect fit for the scenario in Bangladesh.  

The primary focus was that in a democracy, if a citizen feels ill-treated by an official appointed to assist him or her, he or she shall have a right to appeal to a constitutionally approved body, and the conflict must be resolved as quickly as possible with efficiency and free of charge.

It's an institution that defends and empowers people and creates citizen resistance whenever a misdeed such as corruption takes place.

The deep-rooted corruption in Bangladesh is directly connected with the political and administrative structure and demands a sincere approach to political and administrative reforms, which even our leaders often promptly readdress in their speeches, but appropriate course of action is something we are yet to see.

Questions arise as to why our governments are so resistant about the execution of section 77 of the constitution knowing from the examples of successful democracies that it works, and neglecting it raises serious questions about their commitment to rule of law and curbing corruption.  

Perhaps, it is time to remind our political class of a basic - that at the heart of the theory of democracy rests a cardinal premise: Dignity of the representatives and rights of the citizens. And in addition, a parliamentary system demands full implementation of the constitution.

Nur E Emroz Alam Tonoy is a blogger

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