Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Bangladesh needs a lockdown on lockdowns

Is there any evidence that lockdowns have worked in the country?

Update : 24 Aug 2021, 04:25 AM

If there is one thing that can be ascertained after the lockdown is that in Bangladesh, lockdowns actually don’t work. 

People do not respect the government decision to lockdown because they realized early in the game that they could not be held accountable; more so if they come out in droves. Short of orders to kill on sight, a lockdown cannot be enforced in this country. 

Too many people simply have too much to do in order to simply survive. Social distancing is a luxury in a densely populated nation, even more so in the most densely populated city in the world. It’s not so much that people don’t want to social distance, but the harsh reality is that many cannot afford to do so if they also want food on their table.

The government is at a loss here because it cannot realistically ensure food on every table -- especially so because most people are ready to take more than their share when the authorities do manage to arrange food handouts or financial assistance. 

This is evident whether the government hands over cash incentives to the large industry of the super-rich or food rations to the ultra-poor. Millions of takas in cash incentives have gone to industry owners buying land instead of using the money to bolster their business or pay their employees. Millions of takas in food rations have been usurped by multiple members of the same family rather than allowing those rations to serve a wider net. 

As culturally refined and socially conscious the Bangladeshi psyche may be parroted to be, history has shown that it has never been above taking advantage of neighbours and the needy. 

I have always maintained that what keeps a person honest in this country is the fear of getting caught rather than character. Take away accountability and immediately you get people opting to take advantage.

The media is rife with news of the millions upon millions of takas accounted for as daily losses in each sector, however, it is most certain that the tax receipts accounted for each sector would indicate that the figures shouldn’t be a tenth of what is being quoted. 

Paradoxically, it would appear that active industrial and service sectors earn far less when things are normal, than it loses when things are at a lockdown. The government should instead use these claimed loss figures to calculate what these sectors are accountable for as taxes.

The lockdowns have been ineffective also due to the government’s multi-faceted decision makers who have been inconsistent with their directives. Clearly there is no one individual speaking on behalf of the authorities but a bouquet of speakers expressing varied opinions, if only to remain relevant in the public arena. 

A lockdown by definition must be inclusive, and cannot leave some sectors out of the purview because of lobbying. After all, when the RMG sector was allowed to open operations in the midst of the strict lockdown, why was it that neither the government nor the factory owners gave a second thought on how hundreds of thousands of factory workers would be able to make the journey back to their workstations safely? 

That many senior government officials are RMG factory owners themselves demands that this decision as well as this oversight receive greater public scrutiny. 

Another glaring example would be the decision to allow half the number of buses to operate but remove all occupancy restrictions, rather than allow all the buses to operate at half capacity. 

The math makes sense as far as the number of people being moved, but not when the cost of operations doubles. 

One would not be wrong to suggest that the decision places more empathy for the rich bus owners than the safety of the poor passengers -- and by that same extension the safety of the general population. While there may be no play of politics in a lockdown, there definitely is inherent politics at play among those who are allowed to get away with abusing it.

The authorities wish to be seen directing for the sake of the people. However, it is apparent that little thought has been placed on execution. 

The bottom line is that unless the government decides that a “strict” lockdown means an absolute lockdown, the best we can hope for is that they strictly impose a lockdown on suggestions of any more lockdowns. 

Not only do they not work because they cannot be enforced, they actually make a mockery of the authorities’ hold on the situation. The public have eyes, even if the authorities choose not to see. 

Talat Kamal is a PR & Communications Consultant with more than 25 years of experience in corporate and media communications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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