Governance, good governance and development are three interrelated issues of the modern state. Governance is the process of governing a country while good governance is the attributes of the governance. On the other hand, development is positive changes in the growth rate of the economy of a country. These three issues have close proximity in the context of Bangladesh as the country has attained a tremendous growth rate over the last eight years while the country’s governance is still featured by corruption, malpractice and lack of rule of law. Thus, one may wonder whether there is any relationship between good governance and development in the context of Bangladesh.
Usually, governance refers to the process of government. Governance has been perceived by both the World Bank and UNDP as the manner in which a country’s economic and social resources are managed and power is distributed. According to UNDP, “governance encompasses every institution and organisation in society from the family to the state.” (UNDP, 1997:10; World Bank, 1992) If we analyse this view of governance, it will be evident that it has recognised the significance for the development of institutions, particularly private property and the rule of law. From this perspective, good governance requires those organisations and policies that could protect property right and endure an independent judiciary (Lancaster, 1993). To be more specific, it adds the role of key actors in the process of governing of an organisation. These actors include public policies, institutions, a system of economic relationships, or a role for the non-governmental sector in the business of the state. Thus, we can say that good governance is a process through which we can adjudicate the type of governance that prevails in a country which is manifested by the existence of different elements, like rule or law, accountability, transparency, democracy and so on.
Greater national competitiveness of a country to maintain high rates of economic growth and productivity with enduring employment is steered by the concept of good governance. (World Economic Forum, 2005-2006). Thus, an absence of quality governance could hinder growth and investment, and could aggravate poverty and inequality. In fact, governance problem foils every effort to improve infrastructure, attract investment, and raise educational standards.
The proponents of the concept of good governance assume that there is a positive relation between good governance and development. To be more specific, they assume that good governance will enhance the possibility of development in countries that are less favourably placed than the industrialised democracies. Thus, before making an attempt to know “development”, we need to conceive it in the context of this write-up as we are dealing with a contested concept of development that can make a distinction between economic and human development, or growth-centred development, and people-centred development. The first concept of development has been advocated by the World Bank while the latter has been advocated by the United Nations (Clarke, 2002).
From the economic perspective, development denotes to growth in the wealth of a country which can be measured through indicators such as gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP). Based on these indicators, countries and regions can be compared in terms of average annual growth rates and their relative levels of development. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the importance of growth-centred approach of development in relation to social causes and effects of growth as much is revealed about social well-being by the per capita levels of GNP in different countries and the distribution of national income between household.
From the above perspective, it can be said that Bangladesh has attained a tremendous success in economic as well as social development. The country has entered into the list of lower middle income countries. The GDP growth rate has remained over 6 per cent for the last few consecutive years, despite political turmoil that took place in the late 2013 and early 2014. The per capita income has crossed US$ 1400. At the end of financial year 2016, the total foreign currency reserve rose to $ 30.1 billion, while the amount reached nearly $33 billion by end April 2017. Among this huge amount of reserve, about one third has been held by the Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of England as liquid assets while the rest amount has been invested in treasury bonds and gold. Due to surplus in the balance of payments and capital account restrictions, the foreign reserves have been on the rise. The amount of reserve in the FY 2016 was equivalent of nearly 8 months of imports which is comparatively higher than other emerging economies like Singapore (5.9), South Korea (7.8), and Hong Kong (5.6). On the other hand, the ration is close to India (9.5) and lower than that of China (17.6)(World Bank, 2017).
The strength of the economy has been manifested by the on-going construction of the Padma Bridge. When the World Bank decided to withdraw their assistance from this mega project, one could not even think that the government would show their courage to take this project ahead. It is not a dream project now since around 50% of the project work is going to be completed by December 2017. Most importantly, the government has been implementing this project from its internal source of financing.
Bangladesh has also attained a tremendous success in the poverty situation. Due to its continued success in reducing poverty, it has attained the title of “the land of impossible attainments” globally as the country has attained the objectives set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the World Bank, the percentage of extremely poor people has gone down in Bangladesh from 18.5% in 2010 to 12.9% in 2016. Being influenced by the success of the government of Bangladesh, the World Bank has anticipated that the country would attain the goal of extreme poverty to less than 3 per cent by 2030.
The government has also set to produce 24,000 mw of power by 2021. For achieving this target the government has been implementing a huge capacity expansion plan that includes installation of 10 power plans in the public sector capable of generating 1623 mw of power and 2 in the private sector capable to generate 217 mw of power. The main intention of the government is to ensure uninterrupted supply of power both to the industry and household levels.
Like economic sectors, Bangladesh has also attained significant success in the social development sector in general and female education, child health and fertility in particular. When it concerns average total births per women, Bangladesh has outperformed many countries with similar levels of income during 1980 to 2010. The higher success in this sector has been facilitated by the improvements in the use of contraceptive. During the period 1980 and 2010, the number of women using contraception reached to 60% from 10% which has outnumbered India (53%) and Pakistan (30%) in 2015.
The above discussion shows that Bangladesh has done quite well in the development sector. Now a pertinent question is: To what extent good governance has facilitated the process of development in the country. In the previous theoretical discussion, we have mentioned that good governance could play an important role in ensuring the overall development of the country. From that perspective, an analysis is made on the state of governance in the country and how it has facilitated the recent development of the country.
If an attempt is made to make an analysis of the situation of good governance in the country, it would be evident that although there is a democratic government, there is some criticism concerning of the issue of the modalities of the last election that was held on 5th of January, 2014.
Specially, the issue of unopposed election to 153 parliamentary seats have been vehemently criticised by all corners of the society. From that perspective, free and fair election which is one of the prerequisites of good governance has remained under question.
Apart from the election, the issue of rule of law is also an important indicator of good governance. Of course, the government has shown their commitment to ensure good governance in the country, but, in reality, it is found that the law is applied differently on different consideration including partisan ideology.
When it concerns the issue of transparency and accountability as an element of good governance, it can be said that the government has done quite well in ensuring the transparency and accountability of the decision making process. Particularly, the introduction of Rights to Information (RTI) has created scope for the general public to hold government accountable for their actions. People can also ask for any information from the government under the provision of RTI.
Independence of judiciary is another feature of good governance. In this regard, the situation is quite good in Bangladesh. The government deserves appreciation for their commitment to allow the judiciary to act independently.
In addition to the above, the pervasive corruption at levels of governance, inefficiency of bureaucracy and politicisation of administration are hindering the process of establishment of good governance in the country. Thus, it can be claimed that good governance is yet to take a formal shape in the country. Of course, it would not be wise to make an outright rejection of the fact that certain elements of good governance exist in the country. The foregoing discussion leads us to conclude that some features of good governance exist while the others are waiting to take the formal shape in the country.
From the above perspective, it can be said that the massive development of the country that has taken place in the last eight years is not a bi-product of good governance. If it is not, a question is why development has happened? As a matter of fact, this development has been steered by a number of reasons: The first is that two-thirds of the population of the country falls in the age group of 21-35 and is considered as the productive workforce in a country. Thus, these work forces have been contributing to the attainment of different indicators of development serving at home and abroad. The government does not have a well thought out plan for maximising the potentials of the huge number of work forces. We should not forget the fact that a country requires to wait around 50 years to get maximum number of workforces back. If the government could plan well to make them skilled work forces, the shape of the economy would be changed within the next 10 years.
Second, we cannot ignore the contribution of garment industries in this regard. As we all know that women constitute half of the total population of a country. But, in Bangladesh, even a decade ago, the majority of women were staying at home taking care of family activities, including taking care of their children. But, the situation has changed now. A good number of women has started working in garment industries that are earning billions of foreign exchange and contributing to the economy in two ways. First, it has created a vast job market not only for women but also for men. Second, it has added a gigantic amount of foreign currency with the country’s foreign currency reserve.
Third, the contribution of foreign remittance also deserves merit. As we all know that a significant number of Bangladeshi work forces are working in different parts of the world with a significant number residing in the Middle East. This group of people has contributed to the growth of foreign currency reserve to a great extent. Of course, the bulk amount of the foreign currency reserved has not been utilised in the productive sector.
Proper utilisation of these amounts of currency will add new fuel in the country’s economic development.
Fourth, the contribution of Non-governmental Organisations cannot be ignored as they have invested a bulk amount of resources (both money and time) in bringing changes in the social sectors. In the last few years, the NGOs have also invested a lot in different services sectors, including education and health which were previously considered as the main domain of the government. NGOs have played a noteworthy role in the field of women empowerment, sanitation and so on.
Finally, the proactive and courageous decision of the government has contributed a lot in making and shaping development in the country. The government has attained great success in enhancing the revenue collection through radical reforms in this sector. The coverage of tax and vat payers has increased significantly. This increased amount of revenues has created scope for the government to invest in the development sector meeting the requirements of the revenue budget. That is why, the government dared to construct “Padma Bridge” from its own source of financing.
To conclude, although good governance and development are interrelated as the prior acts as the facilitator of the latter, but, the case of Bangladesh is unique as despite the non-existence of the majority of the elements of good governance, the country has made a tremendous success in economic as well as social development. In this unique situation, the role of the political leadership deserves special mention as honesty and sincerity of the government matter a lot when it concerns both good governance and development.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.
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