(From Left) Dr. Syed Saad Andalib; Dr. Masihur Rahman; Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman; H.E. Brian Allemekinders and Ms. Julia Brunt, seen at the inauguration ceremony

A three-day International Conference on Political Economy, Accountability and Governance was held at Dhaka from 11-13 December, 2014. The event was organized by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, in partnership with Think Tank Initiative (TTI) of International Development Research Centre (IDRC), International Growth Centre (IGC) of London School of Economics (LSE) and Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) of the University of Manchester.

Dr. Masihur Rahman, Honourable Economic Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, inaugurated the conference while H.E. Brian Allemekinders, Charge d’affaires, Canadian High Commission in Dhaka, attended as the Special Guest of the ceremony.

While inaugurating Dr. Masihur said, the concepts of governance and political economy are very inclusive and diverse in nature, and that the scope of their studies has expanded immensely over the years. He emphasized on technical and methodological rigor of research before any policy recommendation is made. He agreed that the concept of governance has replaced that of government. While government is more concrete, governance is more inclusive. He urged those who participate in the debate and discourse on policy to show a certain sense of responsibility and to engage in constructive criticism of the government.

H.E. Brian Allemekinders said democracy is much more than mere elections; it requires an independent judiciary and election commission and space for mass media. He added, there cannot be true good governance without true representation, and true development is not possible without good governance.

"For Bangladesh to move forward, confrontational politics must diminish. The trend of politicising institutions must decrease. For this to happen, citizens will have to ask for it and demand it and hold your government and political parties accountable," he added.

Earlier, Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BIGD; Dr. Syed Saad Andaleeb, Vice Chancellor, BRAC University and Ms. Julia Brunt, ESID welcomed the distinguished guests and the participants at the inauguration of the international conference.

In the inaugural panel titled, ­­ Whither Governance in South Asia?, Prof. Kunal Sen, ESID and Prof. Wahiduddin Mahmud, Member of the former Caretaker Government  presented two separate papers titled, “Governance and Development Outcomes in Asia” and “Bangladesh: The Limits of a Developmental Welfare State under Governance Dysfunction” respectively. Prof. Mushtaq Khan of  School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of University of London; Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) , Delhi, and Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman were the panellists, and Professor Rehman Sobhan, Chairman, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) chaired the session.

Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Prof. Kunal Sen, Prof. Wahiduddin Mahmud, Professor Rehman Sobhan, and Prof. Mushtaq Khan  seen at the inaugural session

Prof. Wahiduddin Mahmud said, Bangladesh has the image of a developmental welfare state, as reflected in the country's Constitution and in numerous other official documents, but the country has to contend with a serious problem of dysfunctional governance. According to Prof. Mahmud, although there was a transition from an authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy in 1991, the political culture is one that does not allow democratic practices to flourish or one that can hardly deliver accountable and transparent governance.

Prof. Wahiduddin Mahmud in his paper tried to explain the paradox in terms of nature of development interventions and the underlying political incentives and accountability mechanism.

"The core government system is characterized by a dysfunctional parliament, highly confrontational politics, absence of democratic practices within the major parties, polarization of the state institutions and a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy," said Prof. Mahmud. Consequences of this extremely weak governance structure and non-existent accountability mechanism are most acute in the spheres of public provisioning of services, he added.

Prof. Mushtaq Khan, from SOAS argued that democracy is not essential to increase the economic growth, but is crucial for political stability of a country. He also argued that a country could grow economically despite widespread corruption. In this connection he gave example of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Commenting on findings of the speakers, participant Prof. Ataur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Political Scientists Association said, there were syndromes that Bangladesh has turned into a one party state in the absence proper function by the election commission and anti-corruption commission.

Noted economist Professor M.M. Akash of Dhaka University said, while the wealthy people mostly spend their money either on "wasteful" luxury or siphon it out of the country instead of investing in the domestic economy, the contributions of the poorer sections are driving growth. He added, despite bad governance and the acts of the rich, Bangladesh's economy is growing for farmers, expatriate wage earners, garment workers, and small and medium entrepreneurs.

Former Minister M.K. Anwar pointed out lack of serious civic rights under the present government.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG among the attendees at the inaugural ceremony

Among others, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG, Founder and Chairman of BRAC; Mr. Nick Beresford, Deputy Country Director, UNDP; Mr. Abu Naser Khan, Chairman, Poribesh Bachao Andolon (POBA) Bangladesh; Mr. Olof Sandkull, First Secretary, Embassy of Sweden; Ms. Kathie Croake, Deputy Chief of Party, Democracy International; Dr. Benedict Alo D’Rozario, Executive Director, Caritas; Mr. Mohiuddin Ahmed, Managing Director, UPL; Dr. Monzur Hossain, Senior Research Fellow, BIDS; Mr. Shamsur Rahman, Senior Economist, ADB; Mr. Zakir Hossain, CEO, Nagorik Uddog; Professor M Salimullah Khan, Jahangirnagar University; Mr. Amanullah Khan, Chairman, UNB; Mr. Jorg Nadoll, Senior Public Sector Specialist; Mr. Richard Butterworth, Team Leader, Governance Team, DFID; Mr. Faruq Hasan, Political Adviser, Norwegian Embassy; Brig. General (Retd.) M Shakhawat Hossain, former Election Commissioner and security analyst; Mr. Minhaj Alam, Democracy Watch, Mr. Habibullah N Karim, CEO, Technohaven and many more participated the inaugural ceremony as well as the inaugural session.

In the three-day conference, 29 papers were presented in a total of nine sessions titled, Whither Governance in South Asia? ; State Institutions and Policy Choices; the Political Dynamics of Economic Growth; Institutional Performance and Growth; Political and Institutional Reforms;Institutions for Sustainable Development; Social Provisioning, Education and Health;Political Economy of Incentives; and Corruption and Institutions.

The conference was participated by 44 economists, social and political scientists from USA, UK, Japan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Emeritus Prof. T N Srinivasan, Yale University; Prof. Gautam Gupta, Jadavpur University; Dr. Sandip Mitra, Indian Statistical Institute; Dr. Prakash Nishith, University of Connecticut; Prof. Syed M. Ahsan, Concordia University; Dr. Wendy Kay Olsen, Manchester University; Prof. Fahad Khalil, University of Washington;  Prof. Kunal Sen, Dr. Pablo Yanguas, Ms. Julia Brunt, of  ESID; Prof. Jonathan Leape, Executive Director of IGC, LSE; Dr. Shankar P. Sharma, Former Vice Chairman, National Planning Commission, Nepal; Dr. Sandip Mitra, ISI, and Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director of CSDS, Delhi; Dr. Adnan Khan, IGC, LSE; Ms. Joanne Lai, IGC; Dr. Sabyasachi Kar, University of Delhi; Prof. Geof Wood, Emeritus Professor, University of Bath; Ms. Menghan Shen, University of Tokyo; Ms. Parul Agarwal, Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR); Dr. Abu S. Shonchoy, IDE-JETRO; Dr. Niaz Asadullah, University of Malaya; Prof. M A Taslim, Dr. Selim Raihan, Dr. Atonu Rabbani of University of Dhaka; Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Adviser to the former Caretaker Government; Prof. Rehman Sobhan, Prof. Rounaq Jahan, Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya from CPD; Mr. Atiq Rahman, BCAS; Dr. Minhaj Mahmud, Dr. Tofail Ahmed, Dr. Mirza M Hassan, Dr. Sohela Nazneen attended the conference. Prof. Yasuyuki Sawada, University of Tokyo and Dr. Lakshmi Iyer, Harvard University joined the conference through Skype sessions.

At the concluding day, the participants agreed that good governance is not a requisite for development. However, smart implementation of policies and programmes, enhanced infrastructural development and effective functioning of democratic institutions must be taken care of in order to achieve higher economic growth. Moreover, electoral and political reforms, avoiding confrontational politics, free and fair justice delivery system, strengthening institutions are needed to boost economic growth, which will help to establish a working democracy.

The Speakers analyzed the relation among economic growth and inequality, political institutions and accountability, politics of recognition, social provisioning and inclusive governance, decentralization and local governance, sustainable urban growth, poverty alleviation and democratic governance in their papers in the conference. The conference comprised presentations of empirical research, especially evidence based.

In the concluding session, BIGD Executive Director Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman said, Bangladesh should turn the large human capital into skilled, experience-based knowledge capital and engage them to accelerate the economic growth to the next level. He thanked the participants saying, Knowledge should be nurtured collectively and that’s why the conference has been organized. He acknowledged the support of BIGD’s partners — ESID, Univ. of Manchester, IGC and TTI under IDRC — in organizing the conference.

Background

Sources: The Financial Express, the Daily New Age, the Daily Star, BIGD Newsroom