Shape up or we’ll ship out, donors tell B’desh

Himalayan News Service

Dhaka, May 17:

Multilateral donors have warned Bangladesh they may withdraw aid from the impoverished nation if it fails to fulfil commitments to control crime and corruption and promote good governance, reports OneWorld. Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) can increase by two to three per cent from its present 5.5 per cent if the government can reduce corruption, say donors, urging the ruling and opposition parties to resolve the root causes of the country’s dysfunctional and confrontational politics. They also express concern about minority repression, attacks on the press and hostility towards certain NGOs. But donors also lauded Bangladesh’s economic achievements, saying in terms of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the country has made significant progress, though it needs an aggressive plan of action to address major impediments.

The World Bank (WB) led donor group at the three-day annual Bangladesh Development Forum (BDF) meeting here last week said Bangladesh could bag more aid if it fulfils its promises. The government admits to difficulties in improving governance in some areas, combating corruption and overcoming the confrontational political environment, but stresses that Bangladesh’s crime rate is much lower than that of New York. Finance Minister Saifur Rahman even goes to the extent of claiming corruption in foreign aided projects is a “two-way” affair and donors should help to curb it. “If there is scope for corrupt people to siphon out money and deposit it in Swiss and American banks, how can we win against corruption?” he said, They had no answer to my question.”

Rahman notwithstanding, the 32 donors at the BDF refused to give Bangladesh additional aid for next year’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) due to the government’s chronic failure in controlling crime and corruption. The PRSP outlines a series of longterm poverty reduction schemes with World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) support. Unlike previous BDF meetings, which are held annually, much of the time at this meeting was spent discussing human security, the government’s decentralization and corruption, rather than the economy.

Praful C Patel, World Bank vice-president for South Asia, speaking on behalf of other donors at the BDF, warned, “Some donor partners conducting programmes on the ground may withdraw if the (security) situation in the areas where they are working becomes worse.”

Dangling a carrot, Patel added the country’s annual aid disbursement of $1.6 billion between fiscals 2003 and 2005 could be raised to $2 billion if the government fulfilled donor commitments and utilised aid more speedily. Indicating that Bangladesh’s corruption starts from the top, Patel noted, “I believe uprooting corruption should begin at the top. Donors believe it was a good idea to monitor the assets of ministers to curb corruption.” But the donors plainly expressed their skepticism with past promises.

As a European Union representative told law minister Moudud Ahmed at the BDF meeting, “You have made more promises today. When I will go back home, I will check back whether your speech today is the same speech you made two years ago.” Donors at the meet maintained that most of the commitments related to governance reforms made in 2002 and 2003 remained unfulfilled. Prime among them was a pledge to establish an independent Anti-Corruption Commission two years ago. While the government had enacted a law on this, it initiated the process to set up the commission only last week. Two years ago, the government told donors that it had formed a Law and Order Monitoring Committee led by the local government minister to review the law and order situation every week. Similar committees were also formed at the district, and lower levels of administration, but they neither generate any report, nor make any recommendation. Similarly, despite a two-year old promise, the government has yet to set up a National Human Rights Commission. But this time around too, the government has vowed to rectify matters.