Development is much more than high economic growth and mega projects
Stable economic growth, launching ambitious projects, and having handsome per capita income are not the only indicators of development in its truest sense. These have a lot more to do with justice, equality, accountability, and rule of law.
Plato in his book The Republic persuasively argues that a state should ensure justice at all levels. Only then will other developmental programs be worthwhile.
My university lecturer once confidently remarked that all rulers, ranging from colonial rulers to democratic governments, rule over people in the name of development.
As an example of this: Whenever a military ruler seizes power, taking advantage of that country’s vulnerability, he first points out some corruption prevalent therein, and then goes on to say how he thinks he would be able to eradicate this by launching various developmental projects. In the context of Bangladesh, the government appears to also be singing from the same hymn sheet.
Tangible developmental projects cannot ensure lifelong well-being. For example, sky-high buildings can collapse due to earthquakes, and roads and bridges can be flooded anytime. But justice, equality, rule of law, etc can perpetuate lifelong well-being for people.
If we cast our eyes to the current problems Bangladesh is facing, we will easily understand that our main problems are not that we don’t have enough resources but that we, based on accountability, integrity, and equality, lack fair allocation of goods and services. It seems that only a tiny number of influential people are getting the upper hand and most of the benefits.
At the end of May, Amphan hit us hard, causing an unimaginable magnitude of suffering for people.
During the corona pandemic, corruption in public sectors has come to the fore in many ways. While the country is grappling with the pandemic, corruption has tarnished the country’s image abroad, especially when the news of selling false corona-negative certificates soured international media. Newly-built hospital beds lie empty as people are reluctant to go to the hospital due to a lack of care in these hospitals.
Bangladesh’s ministry, according to the Guardian, has estimated that a third of the country is already underwater, with heavy rains set to continue until the end of July. The UN has estimated that this flooding could be the most protracted since 1998.
A recent op-ed published in the Dhaka Tribune describes that when it rains, Dhaka sheds all ability to call itself a city. A lack of coordination amongst the authorities concerned with drainage systems in Dhaka has given us sufficient food for thought to mull over why developmental projects are not capable of ensuring public well-being.
Over 4 million children, estimates UNICEF, are in urgent need of life-saving support, with many millions more at risk. Educational institutions have sunk and been washed away due to erosion and flood. This will prolong the ongoing shutdown for those schools or colleges until they are reconstructed. All these incidents unfold without proper justice, accountability, integrity, and honesty. It is clear that without them, the country’s economic prosperity simply cannot be shared equally.
Bangladesh is one of the rising economies on the planet. It has earned a certain reputation in the international arenas.
But we must rethink “development” and bring it back to its true sense. Otherwise, only cosmetic development, instead of doing good, will achieve very little and only increase people’s sufferings.
Inamul Kobir is a recent graduate in Political Science from the University of Dhaka.