By and large ‘good governance’ means a lot of good intentions and an endless process of ‘projects and consultancies’. The topic of ‘good governance ‘was triggered this week by an email which sought to pay tribute to an illustrious diplomat in Bangladesh. He concluded his career as the Foreign Secretary and was a leading a personality in the interim Government which oversaw elections in post-Ershad period. He was one of a handful of independent personalities who ran the government between transition from people’s power and elections.
The period institutionalized the concept of caretaker governments in Bangladesh. This was 1991.A sudden upsurge of people’s power in which it was the students followed by government servants who refused to stay off the streets which saw the end of military rule. A few in this period held their nerve and spoke with Begum Khalida Zia and Sheikh Hasina the two principal political leaders then and now.
The gentleman in question Fakhruddin Ahmed was one of those civic minded honest interlocuters. He ran the foreign office in the interim government until elctions. The Chief Justice a reluctant occupant of the Office of President and the head of the interim government did a superb job in managing a fractious bunch of politicians and civic activists out for the blood of those ran the country during the period of General Ershad. The Foreign Service as well as many other branches of government had individuals of exceptional character and skill.
Notwithstanding perceptions of a poverty stricken country prone to disasters caused by seasonal flooding, the country as whole boasts a rich culture and the administrative habits of yore .
One of the most poignant events in the country is the remembrance of National Language Day for which people died under Pakistani rule. On this auspicious day in most towns people walk barefooted from their homes and dwellings to commemorative signposts.
Successive elections after 1991 has been accompanied by violence and ill tempered elections. In one, a ballot box was hurled into a village pond requiring a redpoll for the area subsequently! The current disputes around who should head the Interim Government seems set to raise tensions again.
About the same time as the changes occurring in Bangladesh, Nepal began a bloody transition to democracy. Durbar square witnessed the final showdown with the loss of lives with a negotiated transition. The then Chief Justice was instrumental as Chair of the Constitutional Drafting Committee in preparing what was then hailed as one of the finest models, second only to the new South African constitution.
Notwithstanding the opportunity given to political parties, most of whom never completed a full term, the country never made the promised progress for its citizens and found itself in the mist of rising violent dissent by the Maoists.
Fifteen years after the politicians failed them, they are in another transition to further democracy. The current ceasefire and terms of talks were reportedly brokered by the CP (M) in India with leaders of the Maoists, travelling to Delhi for advice and drafting of the several point agenda which formed the basis of talks between the government and the Maoists.
Nepal too had individuals of the same ilk as Fakhruddin. One such individual who had retired as Finance secretary was Devendra Ral Pandey. He too became a leading light in the transition and was the finance minister in the short period of transition to democracy. A man of huge integrity and maverick he was kept in solitary confinement by the government appointed by the King since he was too dangerous prior to the beginning of the current negotiations.!
The continent in South Asia was turbulent in the late 80’s and early 90’s.General Zia had died in an aircrash, which paved way for ‘democracy’ in Pakistan.Benazir Bhutto came in and sent out of office as was Nawaz Sharriff subsequently and both ended in exile. Pakistan’s history is quite simply bewildering.
Post partition, the country has seen many rewritings of the constitution. In many of the stages, the nexus of military and beuracracy was ever present. Pakistan is a country of raw beauty. It had extremes of luxury and poverty slung across the nation.
Here too persons of the kind of Justice Dorab Patel,of Parsee descent comes to mind. He was the only Supreme Court judge to dissent in the judgment which decided to hang Zulfikar AliBhutto. A rich scion of a distinguished family he would take his annual holidays in London and lodge at a Club in which he was a member. A gentlemen of a very modest build his integrity gave him extraordinary stature.
Once he was` seen walking into the Sindh Club for dinner, with hundreds of diners already seated. On seeing his presence seating himself every single diner stood until he sat! It is a horrendous state of affairs when two of their principal leaders remain in exile. There are many a tale of abuse of power including corruption, coups, criminals who hold elected positions and sheer vulgarity of personal enrichment.
One common strand of those whose names have featured as exceptional individuals, is that all served as election observers in Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries.
Speaking of elections, there lives an ex public official who could offer personal testimony of how the DDC elections of 1981 were wrecked in Jaffna with the public library coming down in flames for good measure. One of the reported wrecking agents went onto hold many a distinguished position in public service, no doubt providing sufficient incentives of those youth who knew to turn militant.
Recent fiascos around electing a mayor for Colombo has shown untrammelled abuse of civic rights of those who voted with the elected making a mockery of the process. A conclusion is pending at the Human Rights Commission of a petition by a voter who was disenfranchised at the last Presidential poll. The arguments evidently had gone well, when the HRC would announce its decision, it would be interesting.
Governance is not only about elections. It includes public service which is humane, above board and non discriminatory. A service which maintains a distinct public profile is the Police department.
A fascinating scene had been enacted at Narahenpita Police station last week, when a complainant who was a Tamil made an entry in English, escorted a Tamil domestic to the station. The police asked questions in Sinhala, and received responses in Tamil or at best in the weakest version of Sinhala.
They recorded the proceedings in Sinhala and the signature of the domestic was affixed thereafter. The proceedings were monitored by the complainant herself a lawyer in the company of another lawyer by sitting beside the domestic! The upshot being the domestic unable to read the proceedings nor vouch for the content she had been asked to sign.
Another facet of governance is the maintenance of law and order. The citizens committee of Mano Ganeshan, Vasu etc are increasingly finding difficult to bear the truth around the fate of abductions which lead to extortion and increasing numbers of victims turn up dead. This is an ugly dimension of the current war.
Governance is one of the items in the MoU menu between the SLFP and UNP. They have promised to rectify anomalies in the 17th amendment and to proceed to practical implementation of the amendment in letter and spirit.
A military attache was heard to say recently that the British PM is accompanied by a security official and a single escort. It would be wonderful to move about freely without sudden roadblocks, checks and fears of bombings. The Bishop of Jaffna was heard to say tonight that people were close to starvation while the CGES commissioned supplies keeps getting unloaded. War has discriminated against the people in a manner utterly reprehensible.
We hope one day soon, this country will be a decent place to live where children are free to dream a future, parents are confident of the future for their families, we have seriously made inroads on many of the inequities which bedevil us and the processof reconciliation begins to feel sincerely for all our past and present failures.