My good friend Ahnaf called for our weekly conference.
Alas, someone had taken an interest in his success. But not in a helpful way.
Yesterday, “inspectors” arrived to assess the safety and cleanliness of his sweet shop.
Fortunately, there were many people around, rapidly becoming hostile to the “inspectors.” And Barsha, his wife, keeps the shop spotless anyway. For a “small” payment of Tk5,000 per inspector, they gave it an excellent report.
BUT! He must buy an annual license, at Tk12,000, by the end of the month, or they will close down the shop. Only, the waiting time from payment to license is three months.
No problem: For a small additional payment of Tk10,000, the license can be issued on the same day.
The total cost of compliance to keep the shop running: Tk37,000 … for a village sweet shop.
No matter how much aid money might pour into educating their children, providing health care, and building infrastructure, the Bangadeshis will never create a working economy under the current status quo
And that too in a country where the average annual household income is Tk52,000 -- an average that includes wealthy households who make crores upon crores from worker exploitation, government monopolies on basic foods, and gush.
They were not finished. They also wanted to inspect his cowsheds, “to be sure his cows were clean and healthy.”
Off to the farm they went, followed by a growing and grumbling crowd. Fortunately, word reached the government vet, who personally oversees Ahnaf’s little herd, and he dashed over, pushed his way through the crowd, and confronted the so-called inspectors.
Since he is the only licensed authority for inspecting animals in the entire area, he was able to chase them off without reference to his friendship with Ahnaf, or his care and concern for the herd. He could act like he was defending his income -- the bribes he never asks for and would not take.
It could have been a lot worse. Because of Ahnaf and Barsha’s kindness and generosity to those around them, they had the support of their community and the local vet.
Multiply this scene by millions of small farmers and shopkeepers, and you understand suddenly why, no matter how much aid money might pour into educating their children, providing health care, and building infrastructure, the Bangadeshis will never create a working economy under the current status quo, let alone one to pull the poorest out of the mud and the filth that is their daily lot.
Ahnaf opined that Bangladesh needed a really big tsunami to clean up the greed and wickedness of its “educated” classes, but I pointed out that they lived on hills, and only the poor would be swept away.
We settled on a record-setting cyclone.
Rick Blaine is a non-American westerner who lived in Bangladesh for three years, and paid attention. He was amazed at the kindness, energy, and entrepreneurship of the average Bangladeshi, appalled by the corruption of the political and economic elites., and now reads the tags on every piece of clothing he buys, to see where it was made.