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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Stop giving the rich and politically-connected an exit strategy

Private jets for some, and pandemic war for the rest of us?

Update : 04 Jun 2020, 06:32 PM

As of today, Bangladesh recorded its highest number of Covid-19 positive cases -- with the daily tally standing at 2,911 and the total Covid-19 cases reaching 55,000. In terms of death, almost 750 people have died with Covid-19 and more than 2,000 have died with Covid-19 symptoms. 

The rate at which the virus is increasing in Bangladesh is similar to the state of Maharashtra in India, where now Covid-19 positive cases have crossed the 70,000 mark and almost all the hospitals are flooded, with more than 2,000 deaths. 

Yet, in the meantime, while this pandemic is unfolding and taking our loved ones from us, we are witnessing a socio-political travesty of grave proportions. Over the last one week, we are witnessing that the politically connected economic elites are leaving this country in rented private jets -- which can only happen when it has clearance from the civil aviation.    

So, what does this really mean? Can any civilized nation survive and flourish with such an inhumane social contracts? 

How unfair does our society need to become for this to be an acceptable policy supported by the state? Private jet-exit strategy for the rich and politically connected and pandemic war for the bottom 99%?

Can this be an acceptable outcome for anyone with a moral compass? How did we allow Bangladesh to come to this point?  

In the 16th or 17th century, a general-merchant with approximately 150 warriors and men of faith from Spain took three ships and finally reached South America. When they docked and nearly settled themselves, a nearby village of indigenous people got alarmed by these new alien invaders with their new religion, new clothes, and new ways of life.

This village had an army of 1,000 or more strong men, and so after a few deliberations with the invaders, they gave a 24-hour deadline to the potential colonizers -- that they must leave before the next morning. 

This dire warning shook-up the rank and files of the Spanish troops and they pleaded with the general that they should leave as early as possible. 

The general told his troops that he needed the night to think on it, and when his soldiers went to sleep, he used his trusted troops to burn down the three ships. 

In the morning, he told the soldiers what he has done -- and told them that now they had two choices: Either fight like warriors and win. 

Or fight, die, and go to the heavens. But there was no longer any exit-strategy left for these potential plunderers. 

Hence, the Spanish soldiers fought the next morning with every inch of energy and skill they had and won an unlikely victory. The rest is history. 

Moral of the story?

Every developing country suffers a degree of crony capitalism. We have accepted it as a part of the developmental process. Even South Korea experienced it under Park and Taiwan under Chaing Kai Shek. 

But those nations did not allow those who enjoyed their patronage an exit strategy. Whatever they earned, it needed to be invested in South Korea or Taiwan. 

Unfortunately, after witnessing the private-jet led exit strategy, it is apparent that those who have benefited from the system and plundered this country no longer have skin in the game. 

This is a grave sign for any society -- when the plunderers think they can pack their bags and jet off while the masses fight a pandemic war. 

I hope when this pandemic is over, we revisit this social contract with some sincerity -- because, if we truly aspire for Bangladesh to stand tall within the community of nations, we cannot let it look like a country where there is not even the slightest sense of fairness in the social fabric.

Because, at present, what it looks like is that there is a private-jet exit strategy for top 0.1% and a pandemic war for the bottom 99.9% -- and that is a shameful reality for any country or society to reconcile with. 

This is not the social ethos for which my father joined the freedom struggle. 

It is not the nation that Bangabandhu would be proud to see. We need to instil political, social, and economic fairness in our institutional design, so that such travesties can never happen again. 

Dr Ashikur Rahman is a Senior Economist at the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI). He can be reached at [email protected].

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