Saturday, February 26, 2005

BANGLADESH: Message from donors' Washington meet

Though a joint statement released at the end of donors' meeting did not elaborate which individual donor countries/ agencies had spoken at the business sessions, local media quoting meeting sources published stories that singled out the EU taking a tough stand. The EU, reportedly, wanted all the donors to review their aid strategy to Bangladesh. But, according to the same press reports, following opposition from many influential donors, including the US and the World Bank, the EU had to change its stance. The donors who were opposed to any hard action while recognising governance and other failures in Bangladesh deeply appreciated its progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). So they pleaded for a softer approach and ultimately prevailed over others who were seeking a hard line.

Message from donors' Washington meet


THE much-talked-about two-day informal meeting of the international development partners of Bangladesh concluded in the US-capital Washington Thursday last. The outcome of the meeting, it seems, has belied speculations that donors would take a tough stand on aid money. The meeting of the donors generated sufficient heat at home because of a charged political atmosphere and the rising incidents of terrorism throughout the country. Besides, the meeting drew attention of many because of its, at least, three unusual features. Firstly, it was convened at the insistence of a major donor community -- the European Union (EU). Secondly, it was for the first time that none from the government of Bangladesh was invited to the meeting to explain its position. And finally, the meeting was convened only four days ahead of the development partners meeting -- where all issues relating to politics and development are discussed -- is to begin in Paris tomorrow (Monday).

For obvious reasons, the just-concluded Washington meeting of the donors has created resentment in the government circle out of the feeling that it was designed to benefit its political adversaries more at a critical time. And Finance and Planning Minister M. Saifur Rahman on his arrival at the Zia International airport from a tour of Europe and Middle East last week made it known that the government did not at all like the idea of convening such a meeting. He questioned the justification of holding such a meeting by the donors outside Bangladesh -- and that, too, without any representation from the government of Bangladesh. Though a joint statement released at the end of donors' meeting did not elaborate which individual donor countries/ agencies had spoken at the business sessions, local media quoting meeting sources published stories that singled out the EU taking a tough stand. The EU, reportedly, wanted all the donors to review their aid strategy to Bangladesh. But, according to the same press reports, following opposition from many influential donors, including the US and the World Bank, the EU had to change its stance. The donors who were opposed to any hard action while recognising governance and other failures in Bangladesh deeply appreciated its progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). So they pleaded for a softer approach and ultimately prevailed over others who were seeking a hard line.

The problem of governance in Bangladesh that dominated the agenda of the Washington meeting is an old issue and does not require any elaboration. Those who were at the helm of the country's administration from time to time have failed to score success in this specific area. And the reasons for the failure have been many, the first and foremost being the lack of political will to administer the country better. One of the main prerequisites for ensuring better governance is the use of efficient administrative machinery. Unfortunately, all the governments since independence talked about administrative reforms and formed commissions but refrained themselves from doing the real work. The poor law and order and the rise in terrorist activities, Islamists or otherwise, are the manifestations of poor governance.

There is no denying that though the government has to some extent been successful in improving the general law and order situation in recent months, it has failed to contain the rising incidents of terrorist attacks. The donors at the Washington meeting agreed to offer full support to the efforts of the government in facing the problems of governance. What the form of the proposed support should be is an issue that needs to be discussed between the government and the donors. The donors also pointed out two important points in the context of national elections. They wanted the elections to be free and fair and a trouble-free time for making preparations for the same. Thus, they have expressed their opposition to any hidden arrangement on anyone's part to secure power in the next elections and also to disruptive political programmes such as hartals and shutdowns. None should have objections to both the wishes of the donors.