Vaccines, pollution, corruption -- Bangladesh has a lot on its plate
It is the time of year that friends are wishing me and others “Happy New Year,” but I wonder how happy 2021 can be.
Although the government of Bangladesh, despite the pandemic, is reporting a growth rate of over 8%, it is important to recognize the huge number of families who have slipped below the “poverty line” during 2020, and are without work and are hungry.
Not only the increasing numbers that are seeking alms in the markets of places like Gulshan and Banani, but everywhere. In addition, it is also very difficult to calculate the negative effect on children, given the absence or lack of any sort of education.
However, despite the problems that have been experienced due to Covid-19, there have been a few positive outcomes. Some meetings, held virtually, have saved many man-hours in heavy traffic, and, of course, the lockdown enabled Dhaka air to be healthier than usual.
As someone said: “The old 9 to 5 in office environment is dead.” So now, flexible working or “working from home” is possible, and companies in many countries are eager to make it work, and are therefore downsizing their offices.
At the same time, it is important to reflect that in the richest country of the world, the US, the number of unemployed and hungry runs into millions, with similar reports from many other countries, including the UK. In addition, it is reported that a number of millionaires and billionaires have become much richer as a result of the pandemic. It is very difficult to understand how the United States government, which has given big tax breaks and reductions to the richest corporations and individuals, cannot provide adequate financial assistance to the jobless and starving American families.
It seems that the current American leadership needs to be reminded of the words of John Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1960: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
The Bangladesh government faces many challenges in 2021, not only related to the Covid pandemic. The health of the population needs to be improved, not only by controlling Covid, but by eliminating endemic corruption from both the government and private health care services.
In addition, all kinds of pollution need to be controlled, and all laws and policies related to pollution need to be strongly enforced. To cover these costs and the costs of further possible government stimulus packages and social protection schemes, those who should be paying income tax must be pursued and, if necessary, prosecuted. There are far too many individuals and businesses who avoid paying income tax, often by paying off government officials.
If the government is serious about cutting out corruption of this scale, not only can enormous revenue be collected, but further investments abroad such as Toronto’s notorious “Begum Para” will not be possible.
Nevertheless, the future picture can be seen in a clearer and brighter light than at any time since March 2020.
Vaccines have been approved for the fight against Covid, and in many countries the pandemic has brought many people and organizations to work more cooperatively, more closely, together.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.