Punishing Success: A Risky Road for Bangladesh
From the March 11, 2007 Daily Star (Dhaka)
March 12, 2007
by Maneeza Hossain
Upon my return with my husband, sister and brother-in-law from an evening out, I was greeted at my the gate of my father's house not by the usual guard, but by scores of uniformed and non-uniformed security forces along with an equally large contingent of Bangladeshi style paparazzi. Inside, our belongings had been combed through for "evidence" of an unspecified nature.
There was an eerie contrast between the courtesy and professionalism of the security team on the one hand, and the ominous action that they had been asked to undertake upon my family. Under Emergency Rules, so I was informed, I was not entitled to have a look at any warrant justifying their presence at our home.
All what I could do is to sit patiently with family members, while our privacy is being dismembered and our life-stories are being reconstituted on two pieces of paper separated by a carbon-copy sheet. Official deeds, bank statements, personal notes, together with a few lonely bottles of drink leftover from my wedding party just two days ago, everything was being tallied by the dutiful officer as if a major crime scene was being thoroughly investigated.
Many in Bangladesh welcomed the drastic and even draconian measures taken by the current government against those accused of having monopolized state and economy. However, instead of fostering an environment of pluralism, the new order seems to be drifting towards penalizing the successful, while plucking away the bad apples amongst them. In what amounts to populism from a bygone age, the media is engaging in a feeding frenzy of innuendos and "exposés" of wardrobes and personal belongings. If the public focus has lost its reason, it is because of a frustration that has built up over the long years of mismanagement.
Bangladesh is entitled to the prosperity that its land and people harbour unfulfilled. Our homeland has indeed been denied its legitimate place in the ranks of progress oriented nations. No doubt that many, if not most, of those who are in charge today are working diligently with this truth in mind, however we have to recognize the fatal danger of night raid actions that could have been substituted by routine administrative procedures. The intent is surely not to scare the successful from investing in their country. Neither capital flight nor brain drain is in our country's interest. Unfortunately, both are likely outcomes if such actions are not rationalized.
While the events that night have had a personal effect on me, they are by no means the only well meaning actions that may lead to counter-productive results. The informal economy should be integrated and assimilated into the formal structures of our socio-economic life for Bangladesh's potential to be realized. Demolition, however, is not the magic wand that will do it. While I am certain that the advisors understand this reality, I hope they take into account the fact that without immediate compensatory measures, and without reaching out rather than alienating the successful, the chances of a lasting progress in Bangladesh are rather dim.
My nephews were sound asleep when the uniformed gentleman inspected our home and checked the contents of our drawers. No child should be subject to the risk of waking up and seeing a stranger in the midst of their home, however friendly and orderly that stranger is. We Bangladeshis are heirs to a history of struggle against tyranny out of which we emerged with an overwhelming sense of decency and solidarity. Bank accounts can be checked at the banks, deeds can be verified at the land registry, and any matters of compliance with the law can be dealt without a terror that does not belong in Bangladesh.
Maneeza Hossain is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute.