Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PADMA BRIDGE : Hunting the truth

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” it is said. Yet man’s search for truth is never ending. Gautam Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree in search of the truth. Others strive to find it through reasoning, fact –findings and evidences.
To ‘hunt for truth’ is a dangerous proposition and that is what Shiro Sadoshima, the Japanese Ambassador has suggested as perhaps, the last resort to unearth the facts which underlie the myth of the Padma Bridge. 

While exchanging views with the Diplomatic correspondents’ Association at the National Press Club, he said: “We are discussing the financing issue among ourselves as our tax payers would raise question about our spending”. He then added: “Bangladesh’s position in CPI (corruption precision index) is not recommendable.”

The democratic government in Bangladesh, he said, is not functioning properly and from the investor’s point of view, it is not a good thing. He suggested that formulating policies about governance, integrity and corruption is vitally important and when these policies would be in place, it would bring good results. Commenting on the allegations of corruption that had come up in the run up to the finalization of the World Bank credit, he said: “There are allegations out there and you have to deal with it. Basically we are in a process of making our position”, he said, adding: “Your government’s action will help my government take a decision. We are watching very closely what actions are taken to hunt the truth”.
Replying to questions whether the construction would be possible with Bangladesh’s own finance, he briefly remarked: “logically possible but not viable.” Substantiating his statement he argued that the construction of the bridge is not the only purpose. What matters is the service to the people. Financing is important in providing the service as the government has to keep it at a reasonable price level. If the cost of financing is high, the government would have to provide huge amount of subsidy. “Those subsidies”, he said, “would kill government. We are watching that portion”. 
The views of the Japanese Ambassador, our biggest development partner over the last four decades, spell out the multi-faceted implications of the failure of the Bangladesh government to strike the biggest credit deal ever with the World Bank . First , the failure has hit the 16 districts of the country’s south-western region very hard. 
Here the proportion of population living below the poverty line is about five percent higher than the national average. Lack of connectivity with the country’s all powerful and all- embracing civil –political bureaucracy in Dhaka is primarily responsible for the existing disparity which will grow further if the under-developed areas are not connected to the centre with a viable network of communication .
Second, after this unforeseen turn of events for which the same unwieldy bureaucratic machine is largely responsible, Bangladesh’s position in the Corruption Perception Index is no longer recommendable to the taxpayers of the donor countries who need to understand how the investment mix will change overtime and where it will land. If they are not happy with the risk involved and if the funds are misplaced and raise questions, they simply decline participation. 
Third, in the existing circumstances it will not be sufficient for the government to simply play out the math, continuing to pick up kid’s Tiffin money and threatening to build the bridge with ministers’ one day’s pay as the government loses high-profile contests in the eye of the world community. It may be able to build the bridge even with the money of some unknown tycoon in Malaysia, but that way the government will never prove it’s innocence: that nobody in government or connected with it is involved in the corruption game. The Padma Bridge issue has created a distance between the government and the international community and that distance may further widen, which is fatal. The government badly needs to pitch down-to-earth, be substantive and specific to the purpose, get gritty and show willingness to scuff its shoes in pursuit of meaningful understanding with the comity of nations of which we are an integral part.
Fourth, stepping up understanding is more complicated than just playing the game of politics to win elections. It’s really the big world out there. And the nature of the challenges each nation is facing is not only bilateral and multilateral, but trans-national as well. The biggest challenge before the government is to present an affirmative agenda, not a reactive one. There are as many electoral constituencies within the country as there are countries and world bodies with which we have relationships. So at the end of every day we have to find out whether we have maintained proper relationship with everyone and shown enough courtesy. We must keep an eye on the long term trend because the global community is working toward a coherent goal. None will wait for us if we falter or fail to catch up.
So, there is a matrix of issues involved in each of the international communications and it is surprising that the Foreign Ministry has not spoken a word on the issue. Relationship with the world is critical to the formulation of state policy having the perspective of diplomacy when decisions are made. We have invested time and effort over the last forty years to build up relationship with different states and important world organizations. 
As a sovereign state we may insist over the prerogative that we are entitled to conduct our affairs following a go-alone policy. But when we assert such a prerogative we disconnect ourselves with rest of the world and lose the battle straightaway. It is, therefore, essential that we think along the same line as rest of the world thinks. 
We have to go and meet, talk and listen to manage all our relationships. What matters most is the trust and confidence; with that we can always find the common ground to work on. And there will be a more likely convergence if the country or organization we are talking with feels that we have developed a cordial relationship. We have spent an enormous amount of time and energy just building those relationships. Now it is all about having enough trust between the partners so that misunderstandings do not occur and there can be greater appreciation of each others’ point of view.
At the moment there is a grey area where the national interest or the public interest is not self-evident. It is important that we re-establish the relationship with the World Bank so that there is a measure of respect in negotiations especially in a situation when a crisis has developed. In the Padma Bridge case, the government must prove that it acted “in the public interest” and not for “private gain” of certain individuals.
Economist Thomas Sowell very aptly described how people work differently for different purposes: “Those spurred on greed may well drive throughout the night or take short-cuts over rough terrain, while those operating “in the public interest are more likely to proceed on a less hectic pace and by safer or more comfortable routes.”
Unfortunate though , the government, in the instant case, has chosen the rough terrain for a short-cut which is not a safe route for the people of this country.
BY :   Abu Hena.