'The existing culture is a sort of make-belief environment of inclusion'
Since independence, a number of international agencies have been working here and, as these institutions have always remained distant from the media (avoiding close scrutiny), a wide range of irregularities have taken form over the decades, which on one hand hamper the efficacy of the work, while on the other, give institutional form to a duplicitous work culture that projects pluralism though practices deeply ingrained with prejudices.
To get to the point, here are some major flaws and suggestions to tackle them.
Local experts sidelined, expected to follow orders
The first problem is that despite the country being elevated to developing status with numerous locally skilled people in the sector, their direct suggestions are never sought or implemented. The existing culture is a sort of make-belief environment of inclusion where suggestions chalked up overseas and agreed on by overseas development workers based in Bangladesh are placed in such a way that local experts have no other option but to agree to what is stated to them. There is of course the elaborate exercise of idea sharing, which, in reality, is a sham.
To counter this, local media representatives need to be present at sessions where development related plans are pitched and finalized. Every suggestion for implementation has to be attributed to the person who conceived it. Reporters should be allowed to ask questions freely. If foreign development bodies want to control the way they spend their funds then it has to be stated clearly: We decide how this is done and, therefore, refrain from adopting a concocted democratic façade.
Getting rid of ‘we know all’ approach
This is ubiquitous. Lead posts at all development bodies and NGOs are occupied either by overseas staff or by white people.
Shockingly, at ICDDRB, many leads are spouses of diplomats posted here, which means, depriving local experts, they are taking away thousands of dollars as salary.
There is a standard belief within the sector that certain levels are off limits for Bangladeshis or, as the joke goes, the brown skinned people. In countless institutions, the lead is often much younger than the people working in his/her team and, obviously, much less experienced.
To end this discriminatory practice, lead posts must be approved from an NGO watchdog board, funded by the government only. This board may be formed of lead social activists, editors, and former officers from the defense forces. Any donor or NGO (be it DFID, Save the Children, Oxfam, or CARE) will have to submit rationale for choosing a foreigner to lead development projects in Bangladesh. After 46 years of independence, this country has enough specialists to oversee progress.
To end pernicious culture
The problem is, terrified of losing a job plus regular income, no one wants to speak up. If this is the case, a whistle blowing hotline, guaranteeing anonymity, can be established, linked to an independent watchdog, development journalists, and the relevant government department.
In addition, the government, with her aspiration to become a developed nation, has to pass a legislation which makes it mandatory for all aid bodies and NGOs to have quarterly interaction sessions with the media plus the citizens’ platform and are bound by the Right to Information Act.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist, teaching at the University of Dhaka