Sunday, September 16, 2012

On ministerial coordination and resignation

As I see it Column
The Independent

The Finance Minister is under much more pressure that he realizes
although of late he has admitted a lot about his current unfortunate
predicament. One wonders why his family,
relatives and friends do not advise him to be careful and cautious about what
he says in the media. It did not do him or his position any credit when after
making the stupendous mistake of calling the Sonali Bank scam “nonsense” and a
media invention and stating that Taka 4000 crores is not any amount to cause a
scare, he apologized publicly for his incredible actions but not before his own
party flattened him with criticism they normally reserve for the opposition. He
ended his histrionics in the media by admitting that he has been asked (by the
Prime Minister) not to “open his mouth” in public and that he must be the most
hated man in the country!

With such being the predicament of the Minister in charge of the
critical portfolio of Finance, one really has also to wonder why he has not resigned.
As an honourable man that should have been his only option. Resignation under
this government however may not be as easy as one would want because the Prime Minister
dislikes the idea. If there is any
pressure upon her to remove a Minister, the Prime Minister simply hates to act
even where national interests are linked with such pressure. The Ministers on
their part also show no inclination to resign on their own, despite what they
say or wish in public, to save their reputation.

Drama by ministers over resignation, sad as it is, however
provides the public some comic relief. If ours was a betting country, book makers
would have made good sums of money for themselves and their clients by betting
on whether Abul Hossain would resign when for seven months, his resignation
issue had the nation gripped in intense tension and focus. They would also have
had Dr. Mashiur Rahman to take bets on; whether or not he would resign eventually.
The drama by Suranjit Sen Gupta over the
bag full of cash in his APS’ car could also have been a betting issue.

The Finance Minister’s chances of resigning on his own thus will
remain merely a wish because with the Opposition strongly demanding his
resignation, the Prime Minister would simply not allow him the luxury! There is
however a much serious issue of governance that is being lost and the country’s
interests are being affected adversely in this mindset of the Prime Minister
and the behaviors of the Ministers. In an age where information in any part of
the world in instant information in the rest of the world, the Prime Minister’s
mindset and the way the Ministers conduct themselves are no secret. Surely,
impression about this government and its Ministers outside the country cannot
be positive as a consequence.

Thus while the Government waits for the World Bank to decide on
the Padma Bridge loan; it did not do much to help Bangladesh’s case when the
Finance Minister in one of his regular contacts with the media blurted out that
the World Bank’s Integrity Division is working against Bangladesh with “jihadi”
conviction. Common sense should have required of him not
to make such a statement when the Government has all but prostrated itself for
the loan. Likewise, the way he has reacted in public over
the Sonali Bank scam has become known to all with whom he would be interacting
in world forums that he does regularly. Surely, he does not do his case or that
of the country any good when interacting abroad after the mess he makes of his
conduct at home almost on a regular basis.

It is strange that this Government fails to realize how important
it is to ensure that those who conduct relations abroad on its behalf must have
impeccable credentials to be effective. In fact, it is unthinkable that any
government would send abroad a Minister or an Adviser about whom there are
questions on credibility where there is a demand for his resignation in the
country or from abroad. Yet recently, it sent an Adviser to India who has
become controversial because the Word Bank has asked for his removal to
reactivate the Padma Bridge loan.

While acknowledging the fact that no one is guilty unless proven
so, the point the government seems to miss is that there is no scope of even a
charge that impinges upon the character of a Minister/Adviser to be set aside
to let him conduct negations for the government abroad without resolving the
charge. Civilized governments do not do so. Unfortunately, for some
inexplicable reason, there seems to be the mindset in this government that it
is always right and whatever else the pubic or the rest of the world may think
to the contrary is secondary or of little importance. Surely such a mindset
cannot bring positive results for the country. What is unbelievable is that it
chooses to turn a blind eye to the results before its eyes as a consequence of
this mindset.

The Finance Minister in the face of relentless attacks from his
party and the opposition over the Sonali Bank scam blurted out what in
retrospect was a sad reality about this government’s style of governance. He
regretted the absence of coordination among the Ministries of this government
that he thought affected adversely upon its performance. Inadvertently perhaps,
he highlighted what is a major yardstick for judging the deterioration of
governance of this government. Ministers, particularly the important ones, have
left no one in doubt that they just do not believe in the Rules of Business and
Allocations of Business; two fundamental documents that gives to each Minister
and his Ministry a clearly defined area of duties and responsibilities. In
fact, as far as Ministers’ conduct go, this government can be described as a
believer in free style governance where Ministers need not worry when they
interfere as they regularly do, in affairs of another Ministry if it is done to
get the attention of the Prime Minister or to please her.

The Finance Minister himself is no exception to this interference.
He should spare himself a moment and read the statements on Bangladesh’s
foreign relations that he makes pretty regularly where the rules require
clearance and/or consultation with the Foreign Ministry. He simply does not
feel that in making his statements on the country’s foreign relations, he has
any need to consult the Foreign Ministry.

This government is clearly exceptional on the issues of
resignation of Ministers and Advisers and coordination among Ministries. No
other Government has messed up these issues the way it has. Strangely, it is also
blissfully unaware that its strange way of conducting the business of
government is sadly adversely affecting its performance in a major way. The
Ministers/Advisers are just too busy pleasing the Prime Minister. They could
not be bothered reflecting upon their strange ways which explains why the Minister
of Finance could describe a scam worth Taka 4000 crores as concern over
“nonsense”, prostrate himself and the country before the Word Bank for half
that amount and still remain in his position!

The writer
is a retired Secretary and former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

On ministerial coordination and resignation

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