February 05, 2007

Metril for Diarrhoea and Certain Niceties

Metril (which I think is called imodium here, but I might be wrong about this) is probably one of the most popular medicines in Bangladesh, ranking somewhere after Orsaline, Panadol (in its various forms: Napa, Paracetamol, Panacitin) and the delightful Civit citrus chewable tablet... Metril has saved me from quite a few embarassing situations in my time - unsoiled train rides, flights that otherwise would have been spent away from my seat, exams that I did not have to miss... But Metril should really not be taken if it can be avoided. The way it's been explained to me, basically all it does is stop the outflow without really doing anything about the cause of the diarrhoea itself, and might actually allow the underlying causes to fester and increase in severity, and may be lead to really bad problems in the long-run that could have been avoided if short-term fixes were declined. Disclaimer to the wise: I haven't taken any biology in many years - so, check with your doctor before throwing out your metril. What do I know about these things?

But I do know that the way that the State of Emergency government's been doing things , particularly the way that the current anti-corruption drive is being conducted, troubles me. (The much-criticized misguided removal of the hawkers last week is not, as has been claimed, a mistake per se, but really a highly probable and natural result of the tendencies of ad hoc decision-making that the SOE government seems to be resorting to.) And it also troubles me that even liberal elements of the press are basically cheering them on unreservedly today.

[I am also quite troubled by the ideas put forward for forced time limits at ACC trials - they seem highly problematic for institutionally achieving the ends that need to be - but I will post on this later.]

But Shamshir, I hear you protesting, these are bad people, and what is being done was long overdue. Sure - Shamshir responds - these may be bad people, and something needed to be done a long time ago, but that still doesn't remove the need for certain niceties - due process, transparency - to be maintained. This sort of thing is highly problematic:

"Entering our house, the forces asked him (Nasim) to go with them. As I asked why and where they are taking him, they gave no explanation and said they had orders from their bosses," wife of the former home minister told reporters. The forces searched the chest of drawers of Nasim and took away some of his diaries too."

Read the Daily Star editorial today that I linked to earlier - the second sentence:
"It seems a cleansing operation has begun through the non-party caretaker government as a number of former ministers and MPs of BNP and AL including a top industrialist have been arrested by the joint forces. Law at last appears to be catching up with them." [Italics are mine.]

Why seems? Why appears? Why is there this need for secrecy?

New Age's editorial from today rightly laments (again a sentence 2):
"We say ‘learnt to have detained’ because neither the joint forces nor the government has so far made any official announcement about the detentions. The closest that we have to a confirmation came in the form of insinuations that two advisers to the caretaker government made when talking to the media Sunday afternoon. Neither did they say who the detained were nor would they specify on what charges the detentions had been made. Whatever information that we have now came from sources in the government and the joint forces on conditions of anonymity, and friends and families of those supposed to have been detained, although they were not quite sure about the reasons for the detentions."

[A side note: Contrast the two sentence 2's - the quite correct sober assessment of the young New Age-r's with the somewhat juvenile cheeriness of the older Daily Star folks that belies their slogan, "Committed to People's Right to Know"! Reading the Daily Star editorial, we have to wait till the sixth paragraph to get any word of caution about the lack of process and transparency - and when you read it, it really feels like that relative who was invited to the wedding out of some sense of obligation instead of any real desire to have him be there... Zafar Sobhan: If you are reading this, I really think you guys can do better.]

No, I do not think that the corruption drive that the State of Emergency government is (or may be it's more accurate to say, appears to be) starting is not really of much long-term use. Yes, we'll cheer a few hundred illegally built houses on the bank of the Buriganga as the final triumph of law and order over the forces of evil, the cosmic triumph of good over evil. And we'll cheer on the arrest of a few bigwigs in what appears to be a committed drive to cleaning up the Augean stables. But I think it's all a bit like a assigning metril for what seems to be a bad case of diarrhoea - a temporary fix that may actually exacerbate the real underlying set of problems...

It seems to me that it's impossible that the caretaker government will make any headway on long-run corruption in the system. They may put away for a few months a few bad apples, but as I have argued before, the problem is not about particular people (even though particular people have very openly benefitted highly from it). Besides, one would think that the corruption that appears to be being combatted appeared precisely because of the kind of lack of transparency and process that we are seeing.

If the State of Emergency government is serious about rooting out corruption, then changing the rules of the game might be in order: Resort to due process. Resort to transparency. Realign the frame of reference to the rule of law instead of the arbitrary unchecked power of a few good (or is it appear to be good?) men.

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