The weakness of the state capacity crisis has been rudely exposed due to the corona crisis. It’s obvious that the formal structure that is expected to deliver social services to the people is inadequate and unable to perform well. It has reached such a point that many people have given up on testing and hospitalization and are self treating at home. When patient reaches extreme stages, usually the elderly, hospital are sought but hope is often given up.
It took the people a few months after Corona hit Bangladesh to find out that the state outfits were not properly equipped to deal with the crisis. And as it happens in any society where the gap between society and the state is wide, they turned away and ran to look elsewhere. From a stage when everyone was lining up to get tested, the situation is such that almost no one is lining up at all.
Hospitals are also a good meta example. Many lined up to be classified as Covid special hospitals and after due stamping began business. People lined up for admission and though the charges were exorbitant, patients were many. It was a good time to own a hospital or a testing outfit and given the scenario, it seemed it was an endless supply of money for the owners.
How corruption became an indicator of inefficiency
It seems that everything was going well for the money makers when corruption cases began to hit the ceiling and put a question mark on the system. First, a few testing outfits were found faking results and that shook many. The number of such outfits were actually many and nobody really knew including the GOB whose supervisory and screening system was woefully lacking.
However, as media picked up the news unease began among the people. That the quality of many of the tests were poor and some generally false were becoming uncommonly common but people had no option. But once the Regent Hospital scenario sprung up something snapped. After all, Shahed was not an ordinary scamster but a person walking through the corridors of power including media. He was also seen as a representative member of the ruling party. A big wheeler-dealer?
Why the JKG outfit was dismantled is obvious. They were dubious and were too small to bother anyone, seriously small fries who could be brought down to set an example. Hitting them had no transactional cost. But does the same rule apply to Shahed and the Regent hospital. He was seen in good company but as it transpired, most were with media members rather than real political power players. Those pics were standard issue photo ops but with media he was their obvious friend including talk show runs.
Why media tolerated him all this time was because both were in the same space. It’s not just that he was with pro-AL media leaders but also with those friendly with the Opposition. In media, it isn’t just about collegiality but fraternity too. And all of them add on to produce privileges, in one form or other.
But the lesson which one needs to learn is that such connections also determine economic decisions and till caught life goes on. Shahed, Arif, Sabrina etc are seriously small fries when it comes to corruption though they were certainly a factor in creating life and death situations. However, the money talk is seriously about a few crores only. In Bangladesh, that is the average savings of successful beggars.
The story about Shahed paying 35 lakhs to Chisty of Farmers Bank to get a 2-crore loan actually makes him look like a victim. So all that hassle was to make 1.5 crore which in the corruption scale of Bangladesh is so small that it’s at best chicken feed corruption.
Perhaps what the police should have done is avoid the 28 days remand the size of which in some way is supposed to make him a big criminal. However Shahed has already confessed to all crimes so what’s the point. The point probably is to prove that the big fish has been caught and the rest is OK.
It’s probably in believing this that the problem lies. The authorities may think so but the public doesn’t and that is where the gap lies. There were many such instances but corona has taught people to be suspicious and careful. So the public may not be consuming all the stuff being offered.
What the public has done is to retreat into the internal shells of social informality. Just as the formal/official /governmental self’s were exposed as less than efficient and reliable, the tried and tested social networks have come into play too. Thus from medicine to food to health care, activities are on but more through formal channels. And there is always the ultimate shield of the powerless class which is to ignore and endure what can’t be cured. Thus people have simply decided to walk away from the crisis more than people would like to admit.
What we therefore see is the confirmation that corruption of the powerful and survival of the powerless are both dependent on networks and they are not the same.. It once again proves that the conventional Western paradigm of the formal state with its designated institutions doesn’t apply to Bangladesh. In which sector of informality does the formal Bangladesh lie will have to be seen. But meanwhile, informal sector keeps on looking better by default.