Whenever a global index is released, the results are mostly bad news for us.
Be it on the rule of law, corruption, democracy, or freedom of the press – all our rankings repeatedly reflect the poor state of almost everything in Bangladesh. We are mercilessly judged by global independent watchdogs.
The latest two indices on the Quality of our Education, by The Economist Intelligence Unit, and Pervasive Financial Secrecy, by the Tax Justice Network, are therefore nothing new. They just reiterate that Bangladesh lags behind in skill-based education and its financial system abnormally lacks transparency – allowing rich individuals and criminals to hide and launder money.
Take some more major global indices released annually – they no-longer surprise us as we can predict their findings.
On the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, we have continuously been at the bottom, indicating that all our measures to curb graft have proven ineffective.
Corruption cannot be reduced without an effective rule of law system. Unfortunately, the state of our rule of law is also ailing as Bangladesh ranked 112th out of 126 countries on the 2019 index – like in previous years.
Effective rule of law not only reduces corruption, it combats poverty and disease plus protects people from injustices. Experts say it is the foundation for communities of justice, opportunity, and peace – underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights.
Traditionally, the rule of law has been viewed as the domain of lawyers and judges. But, experts say, everyday issues of safety, rights, justice, and governance affect us all; everyone is a stakeholder in the rule of law.
The state of the rule of law speaks to the state of democracy in a country. After restoring democracy three decades ago, Bangladesh has been branded a "hybrid regime" on the Democracy Index by The Economist Intelligence Unit. A hybrid regime combines autocratic features with democratic ones.
For a vibrant democracy, freedom of the press is an inevitable element which is largely absent in Bangladesh – according to the World Press Freedom Index by the Reporters Without Borders.
The poor state of the freedom of the press cannot play a strong role in holding the government accountable.
A lack of transparency in how the government functions remains one of the major causes behind poor governance in the country. This pervasive culture keeps infusing fresh blood to raise officials above scrutiny. The culture of secrecy sucks out the lifeblood of the economy and contributes to corrupt practices.
We have learned little from global best practices in this regard.
Sweden is a shining example of a transparent government.
More than 250 years ago, Sweden introduced a law to curb secrecy by empowering the media and people with the right to information. This was possible in the 1960s when Sweden was a kingdom.
Sweden is now a free and open society. Its government is legally obliged to disclose information on par with the openness strategy that exists in the country. The country is praised in almost every global index – be it on corruption, the rule of law, democracy or the freedom of the press.
The Swedish standard of living and quality of the country's economic growth are also praise-worthy. Finland, a country once part of the Kingdom of Sweden, looks equally as exemplary as Sweden.
The USA provides another example of how transparency in how the government functions is ensured by protecting freedom of speech and the media.
More than 230 years ago, the USA introduced a constitutional provision saying Congress will make no law abridging freedom of speech, press and expression. This has been contributing for decades to enhancing living standards, growing the economy plus cementing checks and balances among the state's functionaries.
One undeniable point is that people need an atmosphere in which they are free of being intimidated by state machineries for expressing their thoughts. If they feel scared to express themselves innovative ideas die within their minds.
However, despite all the unpleasant judgements passed against us by global independent watchdogs, we may find some solace.
Some global financial institutions and renowned economists are praising our economic growth. We are one of the five fastest growing economies in the world. They also praise our success with reducing poverty and child mortality.
However, the critical assessments by global independent watchdogs on various issues question the quality of our GDP growth – which only measures the amount of goods and services we produce in a year, but cannot measure our well-being.
Our economy is growing in an unfavorable atmosphere. Take the Doing Business Index by the World Bank – Bangladesh stood at 168 on the last index. Over the years, various measures have made it difficult to operate a business.
Moreover, we cannot feel proud if we consider other indicators like: employment; rising inequality and social injustice; the poor quality of education and health; environmental degradation, plus an ailing banking sector and weak capital market.
The global watchdogs will continuously judge us mercilessly until we can improve our rankings on their indices. If we can improve our rankings, we will brighten the country's image globally.
Take the Scandinavian countries as an example of good governance. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway remain at the top of all global indices. The quality of their growth and living standards are better than almost all the economies in the globe.