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The first panel discussion on “Governance Failure and Corruption: Impediment towards Tackling COVID-19" was chaired by Dr Selim Raihan, Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka. Amongst the esteemed panelists were Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD); Dr Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor of Development Studies, University of Dhaka; and Dr Ahsan H. Mansur, Executive Director, Policy Research Institute (PRI).
Dr Selim Raihan started the session by emphasising on the need to understand the relationship between state and business, the role of non-elites, and their interaction with the elites. “Corruption is a symptom of a bigger problem which involves 3 major institutional challenges- the supremacy of dealmaking over formal regulations, the inefficiency of the regulatory body, and weak state capacity”, said Dr Raihan.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman drew attention to the shortcomings of the growth-centric development paradigm of Bangladesh in this COVID-19 situation. “COVID-19 is a test for us that has put us in a 3-dimensional crisis of health, economic, and humanitarian risk, which we cannot solve without addressing the underlying issue of poor governance”, he said.
Dr Kazi Maruful Islam explained our inadequacy in tackling the COVID-19 situation from a political point of view. In his opinion, it is not merely a management issue, rather it stems from the lack of transparency and competition in the election process of public offices. Although a transparent election may not necessarily lead to a corruption-free government as we have seen in the past but it is a precondition for eradicating corruption. “When the means and the ends both are corrupted, it is pointless to expect reform and good governance,” said Dr Islam.
Dr Ahsan H. Mansur, the final speaker of the panel remarked that it is a general trend that the party in power wants to stay in power and grab more power. This motivates the government to undermine the authority of institutions and compromise with many state players. Even if the government wants reform, it falls short due to the lack of political will and even authority in some cases. “If we truly want to reform, we have to establish meritocracy and accountability in our system”, said Dr Mansur.