Conscience should overrule the conscious

Corruption is allowed to thrive, grow, and pollute; it doesn’t do so on its own volition

It shouldn’t have taken a directive from the prime minister to introduce utmost discretion in preventing misuse of state finances. The relevant ministers adequately briefed by their ministries should have found ways and means of balancing budgets in the wake of dwindling revenues and galloping expenses.

The unhappy reality is a complete absence of conscience in state governance from apprehending criminals, prosecuting them, and following up on the prosecution processes. Frustration of such among the general citizen finds best expression when everyone looks to the Prime Minister for redress to the smallest issue instead of on their elected representatives, ministers, or indeed the agencies supposed to provide as much.

Ministerial comments seem to be expressions of frustration, too. The finance minister finds no means of preventing money flight. The commerce and planning ministers can’t find ways of controlling inexplicable price hikes of essential commodities, even sans global economic upheaval. Food and agricultural ministers are at odds in trying to explain man-made shortages, to the extent one says there are and the other denies such shortages.

Economists shy from explaining how it is that GDO continues to rise during a pandemic that sent 30 million people into the poverty range. As baffling is the finding of one organization versus the majority research, that suggests poverty has declined to 14%. It would be a marvellous result if that which is visible didn’t point in another direction.

The ministerial view of no beggars to be seen and a happy, contented population in markets buying in glee. That, too, goes against physical ground realities. The upended extended palms grow, not decline. The market scales weigh in grams, not kilograms, fish in pieces not whole, meat in portions. That includes mixing dubious quality of goods in the sleight of hand.

The “free market” economic theory is masticated obnoxiously without the acknowledgment that it doesn’t work without appropriate checks and balances.

Desperate times need desperate solutions. The hoarders and profiteers weren’t left with red faces as consignment after consignment of soybean oil was discovered from basements and godowns. On the contrary, there were plenty of excuses. The few producers, clearly guilty of reducing output in one pretext or the other, were given clean chits. No delving into accusations of forcing consumers into buying additional commodities along with essentials. There were meaningless cash fines.

No one was jailed or had their trade licences annulled. No questions have been asked of ministerial or government agencies why such monitoring isn’t regular. It’s not as if the millions of public sector employees are shielded from all this. They have similar, if unequal, journeys in balancing their individual books.

Their advantage is being buoyed by certainty of income, bonuses, and the now open benefits of all that’s rotten in terms of speed money. One says so tongue in cheek given “speed money” was provided an official status of sorts by former Finance Minister, late AMA Muhit.

Shouldn’t conscience prevail over the conscious in adding a column to the tax return form that says “speed money” and has an extra tax number to it?

“Living costs within tolerable limits” is a buzz phrase among political leaders and public sector officials. Reality suggests tolerability lines have been crossed long ago. Disinterest in citizens buying bonds, forcing government loans from banks, and encashment of such bonds before maturity should have weighed heavily in influencing the conscious.

There’s a familiar ring to the bell that plays every time a house, flat, or land is sold with a simple reason for sale -- “need money” or “to pay off loans.” Gleaned from the learnings out there is Nepal, where cars and luxury goods imports have been banned.

For all the policy interventions, there just isn’t good news, be it in tax or cost reductions barring that which benefits businesses and aren’t passed on to consumers. There are no steps by policy-makers in breaking up the extortion channels that deny farmers fair prices and end-consumers some relief.

Conscience doesn’t prevail when books are churned out with no value between the lines with an education system that refuses to wrench out the roots of archaism.

Instead, dollops of the same corruption -- in various sizes and shapes -- that threaten the soul of existence are allowed to thrive, grow, and pollute.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.