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Hard decisions

  • Published at 07:10 pm March 14th, 2014

The government is in a move to raise the electricity tariff for retail customers. This is indeed a very difficult decision at this moment.

Maybe the government is planning to move with conventional political wisdom. There is a solid perception in the civil society that a new government can think of taking all the hard and unpopular decisions in the first few months of assuming office. This is actually done so that the decisions can begin to yield fruit within a couple of years and can then be relished before the opposition starts a serious movement against them.

The government can think of some necessary, but unpopular, decisions within the first six to 12 months. Some of those decisions will surely create avenues for better governance, and one of them may not be raising the price of electricity. First, one has to think about the ruling party itself. People will be really happy to see the government dealing with Chhatra League and Jubo League in a meaningful way. So far the BCL has garnered some serious ill will for the government.

Why the hard and unpopular decisions at the outset? There are reasons. It is perceived that people have short memories and that voting is based exclusively on the feel-good-or-bad factor during the time of elections. If this is the yardstick, the Hasina government, during her first five years since 2009, was unable to earn much of the people’s trust. Her government shied away from making tough decisions after coming to power. At least some of those reasons can be mentioned here: The BCL was a pain in the neck to the nation, then there were the bank scandals (Hall-mark, Bismillah group), the Padma Bridge episode, and the share bazaar scam.

The government opted for a number of developmental works and constructed a number of roads, flyovers and such. These were all necessary and surely well done jobs. But Hasina’s government lost severe credibility because of the much talked-about Padma Bridge scandal.

The government did a splendid job to contain load shedding for which it can now claim success. Yet the ruling party had to swallow defeat in five city corporation polls while also suffering badly in the on-going upazila elections. The reason is clear – people saw development, but the government lacked governance.

And now the same government, without a real opposition, is in power again. The priority list is long, but some things are required to be thought of earlier than others. The first is to fix the economy that suffered appallingly because of prolonged violent political instability. The government’s focus on the energy sector, particularly power, is hailed by all who are concerned. But raising the tariff may not be welcomed by the masses. It must think of revamping the economy through clever tax measures, investment policies, and bringing back the confidence of the garment buyers shattered by the Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen Factory fire. 

Another step is reducing the number of state-owned mills, factories, and other enterprises. Can people expect a very hard decision to be made in this case? Excessive use of weapons by law enforcers may result in giving them a free hand to use force in quelling even the simplest of offences. 

The government may claim that it is doing quite a lot of improvement work, but it is certain that all these initiatives will fall by the wayside if some strategic roadblocks are not swiftly removed. The perception of corruption is too strong among the people. People want to see that, in addition to development works, the government is serious in trying (genuinely) the culprits of share bazaar scam. Because of the Padma Bridge and Hall-Mark scams, members of the cabinet and council of advisers have been dropped.

This is not enough to prove that the government is really serious to engage itself against corruption. People will measure the government’s attitude if they see corrupt individuals are in the court.