Dhaka Courier

Elections in times of inefficiency


Public interest in the corporation election is very limited as everyone thinks AL will win the election for certain. In fact public interest in elections of any kind is very limited. Whether that is good news or a bad news is another matter. But if the objective was to make elections unpopular, then it was successful. Nobody cares much about them anymore. Proving that power matters not participation has its own values.

A memory of dengue

But does performance matter? The most important public memory is that of the dengue epidemic last year which swept across many parts of the world including Bangladesh. The difference between most and Bangladesh was that we displayed a spectacular level of inefficiency in tackling the crisis.

The situation was so bad that even as people were falling sick and some were dying they were stuck with wonder as to how entire public service machinery maintained by public money could make such a mess. But they did and people were helpless. They didn’t care about electoral democracy, they cared about mosquitoes.

The confusion about what works and what doesn’t work is also remembered.  The two Mayors of Dhaka didn’t even say the same thing and nor even did the experts. Many examples of contradiction between promises and delivery were found. It was obvious that the capacity of mosquitoes were greater than that of the municipalities.

The failure of the city corporations also aided in achieving what nature had failed to do for long; turning the dengue crisis from an urban zone to a national crisis. Now every district has dengue and it will be 64 times more difficult to control it. While efficiency would have kept the problem limited to the city, inefficiency has added 64 times to it.

It really doesn’t matter whether the person in charge is properly elected or not if the said person doesn’t have the ability, capacity, will or machinery to do what he is supposed to do. That is the big crisis not who gets elected and how.

Onions tears syndicate

This is not just about the dengue crisis but the several other ones which also point to the much wider crisis about efficiency. We are unable to function as we are supposed to and deliver. This is because we are not expected to perform but also are never punished if we don’t.  The result is a system where performance has no value.

The onion crisis is a point here. One would have expected the officials to know that such a crisis was about to happen and some steps could have been taken but none were. Some are saying that these people didn’t care but the point is more likely to be that they didn’t know and even if they did, they didn’t know what to do. The only people who did was the onion syndicate.

Not only have these price manipulation syndicates been successful but sustainable as well. They began their journey right after 1971 and have flourished and survived till now. They have not only grown since then but spread themselves in all directions. They are rich and powerful and no power within the government can do much to stop them. It’s not a question of corruption but efficiency triumphing over the incompetent.

Should service sectors be a GOB monopoly?

Which brings up the main issue of public sector governance as a monopoly practice which we have now. There is no challenge to the existing monopoly model because if there is one the formal unit- city corporation- which will fail as it has almost no competence. Hence, the only way to preserve this resource accessing mechanism is to keep it free from competition, That means declining the power of the informal social sector institutions that have been traditional.

There is very little chance, reason or whatever that the government will promote efficiency hence the monopoly of service delivery agencies will be maintained. The problem is that has now become a risk to life of the people who are supposed to be beneficiaries, the citizens.

Life is too precious to be left at the hands of the corporations who are not capable of doing their job. That is why alternative arrangements must be made. The issue arose even last year when the crisis had peaked and citizens were being asked to take care of their safety at homes. In view of that everyone should draw up a list of safety measures to be followed and involve if possible their neighbours. Once several people do it, others will follow.

It’s important to do the task oneself and not depend on official elected bodies as they have proven that such tasks are beyond them. Let them be voted to power and run offices but the task of private, individual and neighborhood governance needs to be privatized at least informally for the sake of life and livelihood.

  • Elections in times of inefficiency
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 27
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • DhakaCourier

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