Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Bangladesh's sovereignty at stake?

Kazi Anwarul Masud writes in Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka:

Problems that arise from asymmetrical relationship between big and small neighbor are time worn. Indo-Bangladesh relationship is no exception. Despite Pakistan's repeated requests US continues its drone armed attacks against Taliban from NATO bases in Afghanistan into Pakistan. This argument is not to absolve the US actions but to emphasize that in the twenty first century national sovereignty is not absolute and illimitable but is circumscribed by actions of countries- big and small.

The point in question currently being debated is the limit put on sovereignty. Since Kindelberger's theory of hegemonic stability has fallen by the wayside due to global apprehension over Bush doctrine of preemption, shelved by Barack Obama, the relentless erosion of Westphalian sovereignty continues to frighten, particularly Gunar Myardal's "soft states" which should include Bangladesh. Perhaps what frightens Bangladeshis in general, despite assurances given by India at the highest level, is its experience with the fall out from the construction of Farakka Barrage. Umbrage taken by Bangladesh authorities over its reaction to the reported comments of the Indian ambassador lacks clarity. Both countries are engaged in ascertaining the effects of the construction of Tipaimukh barrage by sending delegations and acquiring documents for examination by experts.

Political dystrophy and dissonance destroying the present and shrouding the illumination of the future can not but vitiate bilateral relations which are not desired by most Bangladeshis. Sovereignty should not be so brittle that it can not withstand constructive criticism. The solution lies in mending one's aberrant ways and to be in total compliance with the internationally accepted code of conduct.

Bangladesh also finds intrusion into its sovereignty in the observations made by some donors in the conduct of its economic policies. Professor Nurul Islam(Making of a Nation- Bangladesh) describing Bangladesh authorities and donors as unequal partners finds it ironical that the donors who have been emphasizing right from the Sixties on the need for implementation of appropriate macro and micro policies have continued even today to nudge forward Bangladesh development strategy instead of it being country owned. Over the years, writes Professor Islam, the donors' priorities have ranged from basic needs, poverty, human development, environment, gender equality, social inclusion, human rights and political freedom. It is inevitable that the donors will ask for good governance from the recipient countries.

After all aid money, despite its declining importance as a percentage of GDP or public expenditure comes from taxes collected from the citizens of the donor countries. And the donors being democracies their governments are accountable to their respective parliaments and in turn to the electorate. Unsurprisingly therefore the donors insist on good governance containing elements of accountability, transparency, participation and predictability.

International concern about Bangladesh had increased as the country had topped the list of most corrupt countries for several successive years. In Marxian analysis poverty stricken great majority of people have nothing to sell but themselves as opposed to the wealth of the few that increases constantly. Inevitably the process of accumulation of wealth is corruption-ridden. Yves Menay(La corruption de la Republique) has ascribed four invariant characteristics of corruption;- (a) violation of social rules and norms; (b) secret exchange among political, social and economic markets; (c) illegal access given to individuals and groups to the process of political and administrative decision making; and (d) resultant tangible benefits to the parties involved in the transaction.

By any definition corruption is illegal and in the first instance results from collusion between political and money elitesthe first party abuses public position of trust for private gains of both parties. Giving a detailed analysis a former World Bank country Director concluded that Bangladesh was losing 2-3% GDP growth a year due to corruption. The GDP loss should be seen in the context of global interpersonal inequality in which the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. Danish expression of serious concern at the deterioration of governance situation especially of the law and order situation and German readiness to enter into a dialogue with Bangladesh authorities to ensure free and fair elections before the election that changed power from the BNP-Jamaat combine to Awami League led alliance was regarded by some as interference in our domestic affairs instead of being treated as constructive advice given by friends and not foes.

More importantly the donors' developmental aid and assistance policy these days include good governance in the recipient countries where they would like to see multi-party democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law, government with the consent of the governed, accountability, equity and poverty concerns are being addressed.

Many of the demands made by the donors of the recipients may not be readily available in those countries yet to make "developmental transition" and excessive donor influence also raises the question of incursion into sovereignty of the recipient countries. In the tussle between the donors and the recipients particularly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union the developing world is still struggling with the question as to whether capitalism is the right way to development. Sir William Ryrie, a former Executive Director of IFC suggests "market economy" for the Third World where market economy is defined as "properly regulated capitalism", a system which seeks to maximize economic efficiency and growth while minimizing the social ills and injustices which unfettered capitalism can throw up. Though theoretically the market system to operate perfectly would demand withdrawal of the state experience has shown, particularly in the Third World, the role state must play to ensure proper development of the market economy.

In gist, the state must ensure that the system and services needed for a market economy to function efficiently exist. Importantly the legal system embodying the commercial and corporate law must exist. The state must also ensure an environment of competition which both Adam Smith and Karl Marx agreed that capitalists naturally do not want competition and try to avoid it. The basic infrastructure and social services must also be provided by the state. In the final analysis there is no unique constellation of conditions that would require the state to play its role which would vary according to the stage of development an economy is already in.

Due to global economic recession originating from the Western developed economies they seem to have lost some of their habit to lecture developing countries as to how their economies should be managed. The recession has given rise to a global debate about the efficacy of the capitalist system and its usefulness to alleviating poverty in poorest regions of the world. More so as globalization lacks a human face. Columbia University Professor Jagadish Bhagwati takes the contrary view. Giving the example of India and China, "two countries with gigantic poverty problems", Bhagwati argues that they have been able to grow so fast by taking advantage of trade and foreign investment and by doing so they have dramatically reduced poverty.

Fortunately G-8 has realized that global problems ultimately affecting development and security of all nations cannot be done by them alone and therefore G-20 that would be more inclusive and have developing counties as members would be more meaningful. Decisions taken as a group, in a way like the UN Security Council, would be more acceptable to the developing countries and hence would not be regarded as infringement into sovereignty. Wider questions like Gareth Evan's responsibility to prevent and protect endorsed by the UN Summit and demand by some for revision of the UN Charter in the changed circumstances of terrorism by non-state actors that challenge Professor Michael Walzer's laws of war and assurances of inviolability of sovereignty and territorial integrity given by the UN Charter are also relevant in any discussion of the concept of sovereignty.