Good Governance and e-Governance Combat Corruption in Bangladesh28 October 2020 Dr. Anu Mahmud
The formation of the nation state of Bangladesh has a long history of about fourteen hundred years. Around seventh century AD Bangla language evolved in the region and at the same time unification of Bangladesh began under the Buddhist Pala rulers. The land was originally inhabited by local pagans and then the Aryans moved into the Gangetic plains about 1500 BC. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains alternated as dominant forces till 13th century AD. Muslim conquest from north India took place on 1203 AD. The Muslims also settled in the country very soon and independent Muslim Sultanate was declared in 1342 by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah who assumed the title of Shaha e Bangla. Hosain Shahi dynasty in 1493 introduced what may be called a secular state system. The Moghuls established their full control over Suba Bangla in 1607 but the Moghul Nawabs were virtually independent rulers in the region.
The British East India Company appeared as a trader in India in 1612 in Surat. In the open and catholic Moghul court the British traders occupied positions of distinguished courtiers and received many favours and indulged in many conspiracies in the waning days of the Empire. In the Battle of Polaseey in 1757 the East India Company brought about the defeat of the spirited Moghul Nawab Sirajuddowla and started appointing the subsequent Nawabs. In 1765 they obtained the Dewani of Suba Bangla (right to revenue collection) from the Moghul Emperor of Delhi. Very soon the traders changed position as rulers of the land.
For a hundred years the East India Company managed the company Raj under the British government in Bengal Presidency. In 1857 some Indian princes and rulers staged the first War of Independence against the British in an utterly uncoordinated and haphazard manner. The superior fire power and discipline of the Company forces and the loyalty of their Sikh and Punjabi soldiers easily suppressed the challenge and denigrated the revolt as the Sepoy Mutiny. However, the result of the War was assumption of power by the British Crown so that India became a colony of the British Empire in 1858. The Indians thereafter began to be organized initially to seek the end of discrimination between Indians and British and more job and business opportunities for Indians. In 1905 partition of Bengal inspired both nationalistic feelings and religious separatism. By 1913 these sentiments were translate into a national demand for the right of self-determination for Indians. Bengali nationalism got submerged under Indian nationalism and Muslim separatism also remained submerged till 1937. But Congress rule in the provinces increased religious separatism and the two political parties Congress and Muslim League followed different routes for gaining the independence of the country.
In 1947 finally transfer of power took place in India and the British government handed over power to two states-India and Pakistan. Pakistan became the home of Muslim dominated provinces in the eastern and western regions of India. The most dedicated and the most prominent role in creating Pakistan was played by Bengal where Muslim League formed the provincial government in 1937 and again in 1946. Bengal also made the highest sacrifice for Pakistan. While 56 per cent of Pakistanis were in East Bengal the capital of the country was located in the western region. The Bengalis elected 7 non-Bengalis as their representatives and allowed increase in the number of representatives by 10 from the western region. They did not even insist on adequate representation in the Council of Ministers and other state positions as well.
The relations between the two geographically divided regions soured very soon and economic disparity between the regions became very pronounced. As early as 1948 the issue of state language became a very volatile issue and in 1952 Bengalis shed blood for their mother tongue. Transfer of resources from the eastern region for investment in the west became a regular feature. Arbitrary rule of civil-military coterie denied democracy and self-rule in the east. It appeared the except religion there was no subject of common interest between the two regions.
Ministers and bitter feelings between the two regions brought about a confrontation of the two wins. Bangladesh wanted to be left alone in the management of its polity and the economy in a confederation of Pakistan as per the famous Six Point Programme of Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rahman. But the vested interests and particularly the defense establishment of Pakistan could not tolerate it. Thus the Liberation War was virtually forced on the people of Bangladesh. Driven to the walls Bangladesh took up arms to resist the marauding hordes of Pakistan on the grim night of 25 March 1971.
The core values of Bangladesh were finally defined by the War of Liberation. The Liberation War was not simply for the creation of our nation state but also for upholding lofty ideals that took shape over decades and centuries. It would be largely justified to say that the seeds of the Liberation War were sown by the language movement of 1948-56. Although when Bangladesh finally emerged in 1971 it covered, like many other states with a primary linguistic base, only a large part of the area occupied by the Bengali speaking people.
The Liberation War began as an immediate response to the suppression of the democratic rights of the people in Pakistan. The elected representatives of people were denied by the armed forces of Pakistan their right to govern the country. The defeat of this evil army was the ultimate goal of the War and it succeeded following a brutal war of nine months. Pakistan in its 23 years of history as a united nation of the eastern and western regions of the subcontinent was ruled by the military directly for 13 years and indirectly for another 5 years. The end of martial law was another goal of the Liberation War. Pakistan exploited religion to suppress free speech, free assembly, free thinking and to discriminate against the members of the minority communities in the polity. The Islamic state of Pakistan, never espoused by the Bengalis, was not really a theocracy but it was poised against modernism and the liberal nation state system. Bangladesh War of Liberation was a challenge to this communal and religious fanaticism and an assertion of the syncretism nature of the secular Bengali people made lud and clear in the Bengal Pact of 1923. Bangladesh very largely was an egalitarian society most of the times but this character of the nation was under serious threat under Pakistan. The capitalistic development philosophy of Pakistan coupled with its management by the parochial elite saw increasing rural pauperization, exploitation of the regional economic, growing unemployment, lagging human development and rising inequality of income. The Liberation War was at the same time for the economic emancipation of Bengali people irrespective of rural-urban, gender or ethnic divides.
It was very much a people’s war as the trained military men supporting the War was a small collection of about a hundred and fifty-five officers and eleven thousand uniformed men. The War also demonstrated the determination and unity of the nation in ensuring its right of self-government. The fifth column was a couple of hundred thousand in a population of seventy million. The Liberation War asserted the majesty of the will of the people against a brutal attack on an unarmed people by a ‘disciplined’ military force.
The core values that the Liberation War represented were given due importance by the founding fathers and the constitution of the country as adopted in 1972 declared : “We, the people of Bangladesh. Having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March 1971 and, through a historic struggle for national liberation established the independent, sovereign People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs so sacrifice their lives in, the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution.”
The victory in the War of Liberation ended in the imprisonment and later repatriation of the Pakistani hordes consisting of the defeated armed forces and the core civilian administration imported from Pakistan. It also sent into hiding the small groups of collaborators belonging to Muslim League, Jamat e Islami and some left parties. Many of these traitors were imprisoned and many courted arrest to save themselves from immediate vengeance. The enemies of the Liberation War were virtually liquidated and for a while there was no opposition to the victorious political party, the Awami League. But that was perhaps the reason for non-consolidation of the core values with an effort of will. The success of the counter revolution by ambitious military adventures, back by the defeated forces and support of fanatic and vengeful foreign parties, in just three and a half years was the curse the nation suffered for long sixteen year at a stretch. The destruction of the value system and all the evils that abound now owe their origin to his evil and illegal coup d’état of 15 August 1975.
Sixteen years of illegal military rule destroyed the vitality of the nation and completely eroded the core value system of the country. It banished democracy and established presidential autocracy. It deprived the country of vibrant local government and set up the most centralized administry in the world. It destroyed the integrity o the electoral process and thus struck at the roots of representative government. It sacrificed modern education and promoted the archaic Madrassa education in an exponential rate. It struck at the roots of rule of law, granted immunity to murderers, foisted terrorism in the country and promoted fanatic militant groups. It destroyed the efficiency of public administration and initiated a process of its politicization. Another of the worst legacies of military rule is the corruption galore and complete lack of accountability and transparency in government operations. Ethics in government is a concept unknown to military rule.
Before the twentieth anniversary of the Liberation War a popular uprising restored democracy in the country on 6 December 1900. In the decade of 1990s the country overcame its basket case image. Free speech and free press flourished. Social investment picked up an human conditions registered substantial improvement. Stagnant growth rate of output picked up robustly especially in the second half of the decade mainly through the dynamism of agriculture and rural economy and two-digit annual growth rate of export. In two areas the performance of the nation continued to be a matter of disgrace. The state could not control terrorism and instead demonized the police force by gradually and stealthily introducing political consideration in recruitment, training, posting and promotion in the police force. The march of corruption of all kinds could not the slowed down at all. Politicians, government employees and their cronies in business and industry seemed bent upon milking the nation and grabbing national wealthy by any means. It must be admitted that unfortunately the restoration of democracy has failed so far to re-establish the core values of the nation.
The concept of governance, in fact, is simple. It is seen as a set of values, policies and institutions through which the society manages economic, political as well as social processes at different levels, on the basis of interaction among the government, civil society and private sector, according to the UNDP policy document and governance for sustainable Human Development.
‘the goal of government initiatives should be to develop capacities that are needed to realize development that gives priority to the poor, advances women, sustains the environment and creates needed opportunities for employment and other livelihood.’
Governance is an exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority for managing a Nation’s affairs at both micro and macro levels. It includes the mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which the nationals and individual groups are able to communicate their interests, make use of their constitutional and legal rights, besides meeting their obligations and mediating their differences.
Governance for development ought to be— (a) accountable, (b) participatory, (c) responsive, (d) effective, and (e) efficient for promoting the rule of law, safeguarding the interests of citizens, and marching towards a holistic development. Governance thus transcends the collective meaning of related concepts like the State, the government and the regime. It integrates a number of elements and principles of ‘good government’. Good government has been defined by John Healey and Mark Robinson as-
‘a high level of organizational effectiveness in relation to policy-formulation and the policies actually pursued, especially in the conduct of economic policy and its contribution to growth, stability and popular welfare. Good government also implement accountability, transparency, participation, openness and the rule of law. It does not necessarily presuppose a value judgment, for example, a healthy respect for civil and political liberties, although good government tends to be a prerequisite for political legitimacy.’
Government is one of the actors in governance. Other actors involved in governance very depending on the level of government that is under discussion.
In rural areas, for example, other actors may include influential land lords, associations of peasant farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions, political parties, the military etc. The situation in urban areas is much more complex. Figure –I provides the interconnections between actors involved in urban governance.
Figure-1: Urban Actor
Source : United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2002.
At the national level, in addition to the above actors, media, lobbyists, international donors, multi-national corporations, etc. may play a role in decision-making or in influencing the decision-making process.
All actors other than government and the military are grouped together as part of the ‘civil society’. In some countries in addition to the civil society, organized crime syndicates also influence decision-making, particularly in urban areas and at the national level.
Similarly formal government structures are one means by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level, informal decision-making structures, such as “Kitchen Cabinets” or informal advisors may exist. In urban areas, organized crime syndicates such as the “Land Mafia” may influence decision-making. In some rural areas locally powerful families may make or influence decision-making. Such, informal decision-making is often the result of corrupt practices or leads to corrupt practices.
Good governance has a number of characteristics. Those are—
(b) Consensus oriented
(f) Effective and efficient
(g) Equitable and inclusive
(h) Follows the rules of law and
(i) Legitimacy of government.
Figure-2 : Characteristics of good governance
Source : United nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2002.
Good governance assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
Good Governance is equivalent to purposive and development oriented administration which is committed to improve the quality to life of the people, without being necessarily democratic in nature.
Some scholars opine that good governance means good government. In public sector, governance equates governmental responsibility and responsiveness to manage state affairs.
Good governance gives more importance to private rights and individuals initiatives (civil society). Governance comprises the processes that determine how power is exercised, how citizens are given a voice, and how decisions are made on issues of public concern.
Governance requires adequate and reliable information and efficiency in resource management and delivery of public services.
Methods of increasing accountability and making the administration responsive are the main issues of good governance.
To ensure good governance it requires a balance growth of public sector, private sector, local government and civil society. Efficient institutions are vital tools to ensure governance process. Governance is about process, value, content and outcome. An excellent education system is essential for developing a long-term development strategy of country. Sound education system along with a well¬-managed service sector is sine qua non for upholding the cause of public sector management. Governance requires creation of just laws that protect citizens from abuse in economic and political affairs or human rights. It ensures a judicial system that will uphold the law without bias. Law should ensure its supremacy, neutrality and equality at any cost although operationalising good governance is a tedious task. The communalization and criminalization of politics, brutalization of society, endemic corruption and chronic ineffectiveness of governments have now-a-days questioned the very credibility of governance and maintaining its quality. It also includes services providing basic needs to the general mass of the country. In recent times, Bangladesh has achieved a remarkable success in the field of good governance as can be seen in the separation of judiciary from the executive strengthening the Election Commission and the Anti-corruption Commission, reforms in public administration, setting up of the office of a Tax Ombudsman, reforms in the police, stakeholdels' participation in the formulation of PRSP, and so on.
Among the public policy innovations around the globe e-government is the latest addition that seeks for providing the services to the doorsteps of people with least time and better efficiency. This new mode of governance, as defined to using the modem Information Communication Technology (ICT), is designed to ensure citizens quicker and hassle-free access to the service delivery and establish better efficiency, transparency, accountability and participation in the governance process. By bringing forth more and more services online everyday the government is reinventing itself to fulfil people's aspirations of convenient service delivery and value for money. it reduces the time by providing 'one-stop services' and 'service in instant options', and curtails the cost through 'customisation', simplification and empowerment (Silcock 2001, pp. 88-89). In developing countries, e-government bears additional significance especially in fighting poverty, boosting national economic growth, reducing corruption and bureaucratic complexity and establishing good governance (Haque, 2006).
However, implementation of e-government in developing countries is neither an easy nor a discounted task as it requires transformation of organizational structure and business processes, mobilisation of human capital and utilisation of information, technological and financial resources, among others (PCOIP, 2002). In these countries resource constraints, lack of political support, lack of technology and inadequacy of infrastructure, illiteracy and paucity of skilled human resources pose a formidable challenge. Furthermore, the digital divide between rural people and urbanities, the poor and rich, the literate and illiterate bars wider accessibility contributing to disengagement of a significant portion of the population. Yet, attempts are ongoing to find innovative solutions to such problems/challenges. Such efforts have produced innovative ideas and alternative options consistent with local context aimed at overcoming the barriers of infrastructure, addressing the paucity of human capital and improving the general access of service delivery. The Bangladesh e-government experience does not represent a dissimilar picture of a typical developing country. In fact, there are several factors that have made c-government an important issue to explore and provide suggestions for improvement.
First, as online services by governments around the world are increasing, there is an impetus for the government of Bangladesh to respond in the same way as is manifested in its 'Digital Bangladesh' slogan.
Second, the government is under pressure to provide electronic delivery of public services from the demands of citizen groups, especially the business community, often driven by the concomitant development in the private sector i.e. the development of e-commerce and online banking.
Third, there are demands from NGOs, civil society organisations, donors and UN organisations to make the government more transparent, accountable, and efficient through electronic presence.
Despite such demands, felt importance and significance of the issue, there is a scanty of study to explore the current status and challenges of e-government in Bangladesh. This paper is an attempt to contribute to focus on issues such as the potentials of c-government and the problems of webs, infrastructural development and human capital formation, policy issues, innovations in service delivery and the key challenges in these arenas in a detailed scope. Exploring these issues in a great length is expected assist in arriving at some insights and policy options that can help the government to choose the most efficient pathways to overcome the challenges.
The study is primarily based on secondary literature and surveys of some websites. The Web based survey did not administer any questionnaire but consisted of going through the content to locate different kinds of information required. It used the c-readiness measurement indices developed by the UN e-government survey-2008 to assess the progress in Bangladesh.
The study has been structured in the following way. The first section presents the introduction describing the rationale, objectives and methodology of the study. This is followed by a discussion on the theoretical framework of e-government, the development in this regard i.e. the transition from e-government to c-governance, the measurement of e-readiness, etc. The next section provides an overview of the current status of e-government in Bangladesh in terms of the policy issues, management structure, etc. The following section elaborates on the current status and sheds further light on e-readiness in Bangladesh in terms of web initiatives, telecommunication infrastructure, and human capital. The final section analyses the problems and key challenges Bangladesh is facing with e-governmental online service delivery that is followed by the conclusion that incorporates summary of the findings and some policy recommendations. The concluding remark asserts that, despite having serious shortcomings in terms of infrastructure, human capital and web initiatives, the situation can be improved by the government through adopting some alternative strategies and policy options.
E-government- the Theoretical Framework
Conceptualising e-government delineates the definition of it, the evolution of it, and the measurement of progress through e-readiness.
The advantages of E-governance can be derived by :
(a) Proper planning and management for digital governance.
(b) Application of computerised text processing information storage and retrieval and communication systems.
(c) Providing accessibility
(d) Adopting new technologies.
(e) Bringing in qualified and trained personnel.
(f) Continuous assessment of the ramifications of ICT
It helps in improving the provision of public services by enabling increased coordination between various departments. Thus, there is smooth flow of information between various agencies and this fosters quick services. Databases related to public services enable the setting up of Management Information System (MIS) which helps decision makers to plan for public services. Also, monitoring becomes easy. This helps in giving the necessary feedback to improve upon services. Extra costs and also be avoided.
Any attempt to combat corruption must first start with conceptualization of corruption. The word ‘corruption’ comes from the Latin verbcorruptuswhich means ‘to break’ (Iftekharuzzaman, 2008:2). Thus, etymologically, corruption is a behaviour or act that breaks away or deviates from ethical and moral standards, traditions, laws and civic virtues. There have been substantial attempts to define corruption. Yet, there is no single, comprehensive and universally accepted definition of corruption. Different approaches and divergent views make it difficult to agree on a unanimous definition of the term.
Political science literature offers five main approaches. These are public-office centered, market-centered, public-interest-centered, public-opinion-centered and legalistic. A good example of public-office-centered definition of corruption provided by Joseph S. Nye who defines corruption as-
Behaviour which deviates from normal duties of a public role because of private regarding (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or status gain; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private regarding influence”(Nye,1967:417 quoted in Khan, 2003:7).
The most frequently used definition provided by the World Bank: “the abuse of public office for private gain” (WB 1997:8) is also public-office-centered one. Public-office-centered definitions ignore the corruption within the private sector and any corruption not revolving around direct personal benefits. Scholars like Leff have adopted market-centered approach. This approach sees corruption as “an extra-legal institution used by individuals or groups to gain influence over the actions of the bureaucracy (Leff, 1970:510). Market centered definitions typically represent an economic description of the same behaviour identified in the public office centered definition. However, this approach oversimplifies reality. Because corruption is not interplay of demand and offer, rather it is a complex phenomenon involving other variables like trust, power, dependence, clientele relationship etc. Rogow and Lasswell have adopted public-interest-centered approach. This approach argues that corruption is best identified not through technical conflict between official duty and private interest, nor economic explanations of the relationships involved, but when damage to the public and its interests is caused by a responsible office holder or functionary being induced by monetary or other rewards to take illegitimate actions. According to this approach, “a corrupt act violates responsibility toward at least one system of public or civic order and is in fact incompatible with (destructive of) any such system” (Rogow and Lasswell, 1970:54). Those who rely on public-opinion-centered approach argue that since corruption standards vary, “corruption is what perceived to be the perspectives of public opinion about the acts of politicians, and public officials” (Gibbons, 1989:169; Leys, 1970:31-37). Public opinion concerning proper conduct of politicians and bureaucrats again varies in terms of groups, geographic locations and across time (Willams, 1987: 19). Others have suggested looking at corruption purely in terms of legal criteria in view of the problems inherent in determining rules and norms that govern public interest, behaviour and authority (Scott, 1972, quoted in Khan 2003). This approach suffers from limitations as laws can vary from state to state can also be changed by the corrupt political actors. Besides, legal definitions failed to identify “improper acts” that derive from the moral sense of the community. These five approaches have concentrated on the nature of corruption. Though the approaches through some light they do not clarify the meaning of corruption to any satisfaction.
There are divergent views on the definition of corruption. Definitions have come from moralists, functionalists, social censurists and social constructionist realists (Khan, 2003:7). The moralists view is that “corruption is an immoral and unethical phenomenon that contains a set of moral aberrations from moral standards of society, causing loss of respect for and confidence in duly constituted authority” (Gould, 1991:468 quoted in Khan, 2003:7). In the functionalists view, corruption is seen in terms of the functions or roles it plays in social and economic development. Functionalists claim that corruption flourishes as a substitute for the market system; offers an acceptable alternative to violence; increases public participation in public policy (Leff, 1979: Gould, 1980 quoted in Khan, 2003:8). The proponents of social censure believe that in understanding corruption one should take into consideration the capacity of the state to produce a particular form of social relations and shift the theoretical emphasis to the interplay of law, ideologies and political economy (Lo, 1993:5 quoted in Khan, 2003:8). Social construction reality views corruption as-
problematic and the actors involved can be studied by relating them to contextual information on their social positions, interests and stakes in the system as well as on the political, economic and social conditions within which they function (Pavorala, 1996:25 quoted in Khan, 2003:8).
Different approaches and views make it difficult to agree on a single definition of corruption. Each of the definitions focuses on one of the aspects of corruption. If we can identify the core characteristics or prerequisites for a corrupt act that will help in better understanding the complex phenomenon like corruption. The six core characteristics (UNDP, 2008:18) are as follows:
1. Gap between group and individual interest or between short- and long-term benefits
2. Two or more parties since one can hardly be corrupt with one's own self
3. Consenting adults that have a common understanding, with reciprocity, explicit or understood, whether by collusion, coercion, through perceived lack of choice, passive or facilitative
4. Benefit furtherance, be it private, sectional, or political party interest
5. Existence of power that could be grabbed, usurped, entrusted or otherwise available; corruptors (givers) can have power; it should be available, whether in public or private hands or both
6. Misuse of the power that often drives a wedge between intended and stated positions, for unintended benefits
Corruption in government is pervasive at all levels of public management. In some countries, the deliberate mismanagement of national economies for personal gain, as well as the creation of special privileges for pursuing the particular interests of the ruling group are secured through government apparatus. There is widespread belief that systematic impunity is the underlying element of the various forms of corruption.
Because of weak public management systems, corruption is pervasive and apparently expanding. The problem is even more serious at high political level than in the bureaucracy. Corruption has become systematic and a way of life in many countries. Once it persists at the political level, it is difficult to control at the bureaucratic level. International dimension of corruption has opened up through the narcotics trade of Multinational Corporation that has transnationalised corruption. The continuing phenomenon of capital flight, particularly from highly indebted developing countries, has compounded the problem of corruption. Corruption is rampant in both rich and poor nations but its cost is very high for the latter group of countries. Corruption retard economics growth, and this is why fighting corruption is now a days given priority by governments and civil society in developing countries.
A successful drive against corruption will require conceited action by all segment of the society, the people in government, leaders in business and industry, intellectuals belonging to different professions whether as individuals or as groups such as lawyers, engineers, accountants, auditors, community leaders and so on.
While there is