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Dhaka Tribune

‘Bangladesh lacks policy framework, infrastructure for pandemic response’

The government should prioritize economic policies for people, not merely for GDP growth, says a researcher

Update : 30 Jul 2021, 02:57 PM

Bangladesh has faced big problems during the Covid crisis due to mismanagement and lack of policy direction and clarity, speakers said at a webinar on the pandemic management.

“Now the Covid-19 case and death curves are showing upward trends, with no sign of flattening out at all, as there is no capacity or policy in place to address the problem,” said Rehman Sobhan, chairman of policy think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

He made the statement while speaking at a virtual event on a report titled “State of Governance in Bangladesh 2020-21: Managing the Covid-19 Pandemic,” held on Thursday.

In the event, researchers from the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), Brac University, and the Accountability Research Center of American University, in Washington DC, US, shared their findings from the report. 

The study analyzed the governance performance of Covid-19 management in Bangladesh and identified crucial gaps. It also provided practical suggestions on how to use the pandemic and similar crises in the future as an opportunity to build an “antifragile” governance system—by enabling flexibility, collaboration, and innovation, and by learning from this experience to improve the system. 

Researchers sharing their findings from a report titled “State of Governance in Bangladesh 2020-21: Managing the Covid-19 Pandemic” at a virtual event held on Thursday, July 29, 2021 | Courtesy

According to the report, Bangladesh lacks proper policy framework and infrastructure for pandemic response; the healthcare system is grossly under-resourced. Public health messaging has been effective, but there is a lack of trust in Covid-19 statistics. The pandemic preparation has been centralized, uncoordinated and non-transparent, and public procurement slow and allegedly corrupt. 

“What we have learned from the success stories of Vietnam and China is that unless a country really gets a hold on the Covid crisis, it cannot ensure that it has flatten the curve,” said Prof Sobhan.

Also Read- OP-ED: From the epidemic of 1971 to the pandemic of 2021

As for the lockdown, the study found that Bangladeshis welcomed the 2020 lockdown when they were fearful of the virus, official communications were confusing and inconsistent, while officials - police and army - enforced restrictions lightly as they considered the needs of the people.

Dr Rounaq Jahan, distinguished fellow of CPD, said at the webinar that one of the most important questions that the citizens should be asked is what their expectations are from the government. 

“There are many things the citizens know are happening due to bad governance. One of the figure in this study shows that over 60% of people knew that there was corruption in the relief distribution for people who were affected due to Covid crisis,” she added. 

Dr Morseda Chowdhury, the director of Health, Nutrition and Population Program (HNPP) at Brac, said private sectors and civil society are crucial when there is a crisis. But the government did not really utilize the civil society or all the resources from the private sector when the pandemic hit Bangladesh. 

She also pointed out that health authorities at the upazila level do not really have that much power to utilize the resources and support they get from the government, but they should have that power.

Recommendations for the government

While presenting the paper, Dr Naomi Hossain from American University recommended that the government prioritize economic policies for people, not merely for GDP growth. 

Also Read- Bangladesh to allow 18-year-olds to register for Covid-19 vaccines from August 8

It should work with stakeholders to establish principles and practices for inclusive and sustainable economic stimulus packages during crisis, she added. 

She also recommended empowering local governments, independent agencies, and ministries to operate flexibly based on local needs and to develop a functional system of feedback.  

Labour activist Kalpona Akter pointed out that good governance needs a gender lens, because many female workers had to cut budget from their meals as their income shrank due to Covid crisis. 

The webinar was moderated by BIGD Executive Director Dr Imran Matin.

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