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It’s Time To Have A Code

April 26, 2016

At the crack of dawn till we switch off our bedroom light we perform a number of rituals, set by some long-practiced rules, as we are all social creatures. In addition, less or more, we all try to follow some rules—written or agreed— at our workplaces or educational institutes. They were chalked out to draw boundaries of our “do’s and don’ts” and to ensure atmosphere of harmony among people of different creed and views.

One of the areas, which have profound influence on our lives, where we see absence of rules or no rule at all is politics. Political parties and politicians are given the responsibility to make, to decide and to formulate policies that will at the end shape our lives.

But when it comes to follow rules or to be guided by agreed set of codes, we see our politicians and political parties are not interested at all to follow or even set any such rules.

Rustic mannerism, indecent behavior, negligence, and flawed decisions could jeopardize your job at the organization where you work. Moreover, there you are accountable to your superiors for your every action. Responsibilities of politicians far outweigh those of business executives or ordinary citizens. Despite the fact that they have code of conducts at parliament or within the parties, they lack uniform guidelines that will clearly spell out their behavior or conducts or activities when they interact with each other or with ordinary citizen.

Mismanaging the country or economy could cost them another term. Yet the need for a uniform code that will decide what will happen to them in case of their failure to deliver the promised output has never been felt so dearly.

In our country we have been worryingly noticing that ideological groups often try to impose their own beliefs on others. They often blocked policies meant for backward or less-privileged section of the society. If there had been a uniform code in the politics the interests of the less-privileged class would have been protected.

Similarly, we can also protect religiously minor communities from being bullied or attacked by individuals or groups who often act under the auspices of political parties. Moreover, such code can also be used to introduce policies designed and formulated for all Bangladeshi citizens and may prevent any move or opposition to such policies.

The code can also be viewed as a guarantor of decency in political parlance. It will ensure that no politician will use family history, shortcomings of others, physical challenges, dress code, gastronomic habits, cultural diversity etc as a tool to mock his/her rivals.

Another important area where the code could be handy is the political appointments at sovereign and quasi-sovereign organizations. Due to political appointments at the governing or managing bodies of these organizations, performance of these organizations has huge impact on the public image of ruling party. The code can delineate the role and responsibilities of the ruling party whenever controversy—stemming from political appointees’ incompetence, and misconduct and his willful negligence and/or some other reasons— breaks in these organizations.

More clearly, if the code says the government has to go, then it should step down when the scam is a major one. If the code indicates a public hearing then the government should hold a public hearing.

Most of us do not know how the parties are being financed. This is a matter of great concern to us. The code can play a crucial role in ensuring transparent financing of the parties. To some extent, parties address this issue while they submit their audit reports to Election Commission. However, there are many gray areas in these reports and they could hardly reflect reality. Do the parties have legitimate sources of income? Do they disclose all these sources to public or concerned authorities? Do they impose their own “taxes” on businesses in formal and informal sectors? Is there any condition attached to the donations they receive from individuals or from corporate houses? Do they engage in any kind of ‘deal’ with local or foreign business houses to do some kind of favor? Are they own /operate multiple businesses? Do their business partners enjoy any kind of special privileges? Do they pay taxes?

The code can have clear answers to all these questions and well defined clauses regarding financing of the political parties. Moreover, it can also provide punitive course of action to be taken against party that will fail to follow such transparent path.

In recent years we have seen people with dual citizenship holding key positions in politics and corporate sector drew a lot of flak due to their remarks and role. Their actions often lay bare to ridicule the party or the company they represent. The code can also give us an idea about what role the dual citizen can play and to what extent in our politics. It can define their role in accessing crucial state documents, their presence in cabinet meeting, their post-retirement life, education and businesses of their children.

The code can guide us when democratic process is halted for an indefinite period. It can contain clear clauses about the roles of constitutional institutions, Army and chiefs of intelligence agencies. And draw clear but fine lines of the responsibilities that will be performed by state institutions, parties and armed forces when the democratic process is interrupted.

One may argue that what good this code may bring to politics as numerous codes like the codes for bureaucrats or law-enforcement personnel did little to improve their services or to bring any qualitative change in service delivery. At least, it can put a cap on the whims and ambitious desire of unconstitutional or less representative government. Take for instance cabinet’s recent nod to the proposal of exemption of ECNEC approval for development projects worth less than BDT 500 million. From now onwards need and nitty-gritty of annual development projects with such size will not be discussed in the cabinet. If there were a functional democracy and a formidable opposition, this thing would be discussed in the parliament. Now this approval opens new alleys of corruption for the ruling regime and their dependents.

The code can also restrict the ability of an authoritarian regime to introduce draconian laws. It will protect the vulnerable professional and social groups by preventing any attempt to introduce laws that are contradictory to constitution and universal human rights charter. In this matter it can be viewed like an antidote to such repressive laws.

Who will prepare the code? If we just let the politicians to make the code they will not incorporate any such element that will hurt their interests. People, rights groups, professional bodies and civil societies should be part of the team that will draft the uniform political code.

We cannot expect much from politicians who have gone rogue or spoiled even if the code comes into play. On an optimistic note one can hope that if we carefully cultivate the code all across the party hierarchy —particularly at the bottom rung—then our politics will have a bright future. Since many gray areas in the politics— like financing the political parties—will be addressed in this code, political violence will be curbed significantly and an aura of coexistence will prevail. Changes start to take place in politics and our everyday life once the code becomes part and parcel of our political life. Until then, addressing just the social problems without altering the core of politics will not yield any good in the long run.

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