A label we just cannot shake off

By AHM Mustafizur Rahman

Bangladesh is known for many things, and as many things. It is the land of rivers (and consequently, the land of floods). Dhaka is the city of mosques. We’re known for our resilience to overcome adversity, especially climate disasters. We’re known for the events of 1952, for the Liberation War of 1971, for Bangabandhu.

Unfortunately, we’ve also had one particular label that we’ve simply not been able to shake off, try as hard as we might. That label is corruption — stemming essentially from negligence, mismanagement, a lack of regard and care, a gross lack of communication and coordination, and a whole host of other factors. But at the core — corruption.

Now, it must be said that the days of being ranked as the most (or among the most) corrupt nations in the world are (hopefully) behind us. It was a stat that was often the talk amidst both adults and the youth, and in typical Bangladeshi self-deprecation, there was plenty of humour attached to it as well.

However, just because we may have left behind the dark days of being among the most corrupt nations on the planet, does not mean we are any closer to truly weeding out corruption from within.

Yes, it can be acknowledged that solving the problem of corruption in a country that was, for a significant period of time, considered among the most (if not the most) corrupt countries is going to be a difficult undertaking. There exist, however, familiar issues that continue to dog us, and need addressing.

First is admission and acknowledgement. Too often, we see leaders, be they relevant authority members, politicians, civil servants, or bureaucrats just not admit to the problems we continue to face. How can we expect issues to be resolved if there is no acknowledgement of these issues in the first place?

The current Covid-19 pandemic has certainly not made things any easier. Bangladesh, similar to every other nation, is certainly looking ahead at a treacherous uphill road in its battle against the coronavirus. However, it can certainly be argued that our challenge is proving to be more difficult than most other countries, due to our dense population (Bangladesh is by far the most densely populated country in the world with a significantly large population) and our largely underwhelming medical capacity.

A spotlight on the health sector

It is most tragic, however, that this pandemic challenge presented to us is multiplied several times over by the presence of corruption within our ranks. As already alluded to, this rampant corruption permeates our society across all sectors. But since we are talking about the pandemic, it is our health sector where the spotlight currently shines.

To say that our health sector has been inadequate during the pandemic would be an understatement. Yes, we always had several shortcomings even before the pandemic hit, but these shortcomings have been exposed in brutal fashion.

I take no pleasure from consistently seeing news about it. In fact, on the contrary, it has been genuinely disheartening to see just how excessive the mismanagement and corruption have been within the health sector, and how woefully underprepared we truly were when it came to fighting the pandemic. 

Of note is the fact that just about every major health body — be it Central Medical Store Depot (CMSD), the ministry of health and subsequent health services division, and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) — has come under fire, for some form of mismanagement, negligence, etc.

Of course, who can forget the debacle that was Md Shahed and Regent Hospital. This was a hospital that was freely distributing fake health advice, fake test results, offering fake treatment, all the while charging exorbitant sums of money from hapless individuals who wanted nothing but respite from this deadly pandemic, who thought that they were doing the right thing. 

Md Shahed was an individual who was rubbing shoulders with notable leaders and important people, who consistently appeared on talk shows on TV, who ultimately enjoyed impunity the likes of which is difficult to fathom. It’s also more likely than not that he is far from the only bad actor that is taking advantage of an already devastated population, and essentially profiteering off their misery and disease. 

Md Shahed was apprehended and we can only hope he will get the full punishment that he undoubtedly deserves. However, when it comes to our health sector, and plenty of officials within its ranks, who may not have been as nefarious as Md Shahed but are certainly not without fault, they seem to just get a pass.

It truly is disheartening, and infuriating, that most of these officials, against whom there are several allegations of corruption and mismanagement, are simply being transferred or reshuffled within the system, instead of actually being investigated and even punished for their actions.

What purpose is all this reshuffling and transferring achieving? Is it anything beyond an eyewash for the general public? I think there should be no doubt that if these officials are indeed found to be in the wrong, then it demands proper punishment, and charged as per the law allows. This extends to any individual in the country — no one should be exempt from the law. 

Absolutely no one should be enjoying impunity to be corrupt, and it is the sworn duty of the authorities, of the government, of society, to call out corruption, and punish it. Restructuring, reshuffling, and transferring people who have been found guilty of corruption will solve absolutely nothing.

We have spoken at length of the incredible turnaround we have made, and yes, it deserves credit and applause. However, by simply turning a blind eye to a problem that continues to rear its ugly head time and time again, what else are the people supposed to infer, besides the fact that when push comes to shove, our leaders have lacked the assertiveness to make the right call — that there is a weakness, a lack of willingness to do the right thing.

This is not something that will get fixed overnight, and will require a concerted effort, the likes of which we perhaps have not witnessed in our country since independence. But make no mistake about it — we continue to have a significant problem regarding corruption in Bangladesh. The consequences of this corruption are, as they mostly do, felt most by the general public. 

The government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have pledged to rid our country of corruption. If the people are truly to get behind this pledge, then it is high time the authorities address the issue of corruption with the seriousness it deserves. The future of Bangladesh depends on it.

About The Author:
AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.

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