The Spendthrift Bangladeshis

 

Mohammad Asghar

 

Bangladesh, with a population of over 144 million people, is one of the poorest nations on earth. The total landmass of the country stands at 144,000 Sq. km. With forests, hills, rivers and sea etc. eating up approximately 30 percent of its land, Bangladesh has a little over 100,000 Sq, km of land for its entire population to live on, to cultivate for food, and to set up factories and industries that are necessary to keep its economic wheels moving.

 

Of the 144 million people, about 80 percent of them live in villages. This means that only about 28 million of the Bangladeshis live in a small number of its cities. Some of the cities are: Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Bogra and Sylhet etc.

 

There are also some small towns such as Comilla and Feni etc. in Bangladesh, but these towns do not play important roles in the lives of the known millionaires, as almost all of them prefer to live in Dhaka, the Capital of the country, where they are not only assured of a comfortable life, they can also mingle with the mighty and powerful without whose help, cooperation and blessings, nobody can become richer, and business tycoons.

 

And the number of these ‘super’ rich is very small. A survey is likely to establish their number at about 200. These super rich people make tens of millions of Takas each year, but they hardly pay any income tax to the government.

 

A Bangladeshi newspaper reported recently that a super rich businessman of Dhaka spends 1.5 millions Takas a year on the education of his children in the Dhaka-based American school; drives a latest model BMW and lives in Gulshan, but he reported a total income of only 340,000 Takas in his Tax Return for 2004!

 

There are many more such rich people who do not want to pay taxes on their income. Why should they, when they know for sure that their tax money is going to be squandered away by their government in ways that are designed only to benefit the ruling cliques and their collaborators?

 

According to a survey that was carried out a few years ago, there were only 250,000 Tax Payers in the country. Almost 20 percent of these tax payers were government employees. Their number was large, because their taxes get deducted at source, otherwise they, too, would have evaded payment of their share of tax in the same manner in which most private citizens and business people evade theirs.

 

The fact that only 250,000 people, out of 144 million, paid taxes tells us a lot about the economic health of Bangladesh. With its people per capita income in 2004 standing at $400, how much of resources the government of Bangladesh can mobilize internally for the country’s development is not very difficult for anyone to understand without storming their brains.

 

Since Bangladesh lacks in cash and other resources, it has to depend on foreign aid and loans to meet its budgetary needs every year. For a long time, foreign donors had been very sympathetic to the needs of Bangladesh, but no more. They have realized that no matter who runs its government, it should not be given more than what it needs to survive.

 

On the other hand, the affluent Bangladeshis are not helping the cause of their own nation, either. They, together with their henchmen in the government, have been doing everything to amass huge wealth for themselves. It was their joint ‘efforts’ that have enabled Bangladesh to earn the title of the Most Corrupt Nation of the world for four consecutive years.

 

Many Bangladeshis have disputed the methodology that the Transparency International has used in measuring the level of corruption in Bangladesh. Others have accused it of being biased towards their country. Some asserted that there existed no corruption in their nation; therefore, TI’s report on it was a conspiracy hatched by other countries with a view to derailing them from their march towards development and prosperity.

 

I have never been able to understand the reason or reasons for which other countries would try to malign Bangladesh on a given pretext. What do they expect to gain by painting a bad picture of Bangladesh? Why the Western countries would try to destroy its image, when it is they who have been keeping it afloat with their financial help? Is it in their interest to keep Bangladesh poor, so that they may not be able to export their goods and services to its people?

 

Why India would like to destabilize Bangladesh politically and economically, when it has become one of its most important markets? Would India, especially its eastern part, remain unaffected, if Bangladesh were to burst into a turmoil, the like of which, it had faced in 1971?

 

Not only the aforesaid distinctive characteristics of the Bangladeshis proved to be a source of my puzzlement, their ‘spiritual’ hypocrisy has also been a cause of my mental agony. I have tried to analyze it to the best of my ability but have failed. I am jotting it down here, hoping that someone well informed would be able to help me out of my quandary.

 

Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country. Its Muslims ‘fear’ their religion and their Allah the most. Most of them do not do anything without invoking Allah’s name first. Many of them say their daily five prayers without fail; fast for a whole month and perform their hajj. Those among them who cannot travel to Mecca, they sacrifice animals at their homes. Of course, most of their sacrificial animals are ‘smuggled’ in from India.

 

They follow the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet as closely as it is possible on their part, but only in those cases where doing that is to their personal advantage. Wearing a skullcap was one the practices of Muhammad; therefore, many of the Bangladeshi Muslim men have made wearing of skullcaps compulsory for themselves.

 

Growing beard was another practice of Muhammad. A large number of Bangladeshi Muslim men wear it, believing that it would please Allah on the Day of their Resurrection.

 

Despite their almost total dedication to the practices of Muhammad, they do not follow one of the important stipulations of the Quran, it being related to their wasteful habits. The Quran says:

 

Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (Himself) ungrateful” (The Quran; 17:27).

 

A close look at the affluent people of Bangladesh will prove beyond any doubt that most of them are spendthrifts, thus aligning themselves with the Evil Ones. They spend colossal amounts of money on their children’s marriage; they spend a lot on their drinking and gambling habits, though they think both of them are prohibited for them. They build palatial homes and ride in expensive vehicles. But they do not pay their due taxes, nor do they spend much on charities. While they spend millions on the education of their children, they hardly care for orphans, who loiter around their comfortable homes.

 

The government of Bangladesh is also a partner of the Devil. Here are some examples of its devilish activities:

 

(1). The present Prime Minister of the country performed a number of hajj and Umras at the cost of the people. The amount of money she spent on her visit to Mecca along with her large entourage could be used to feed over a million of Bangladeshis who eat grass and leaves, when affected every year by monga (it is a term used by the people in Northern Bangladesh to define a period during which they remain unemployed).

 

(2). Whenever she decides to travel by air from Dhaka to other parts of the country, the road to the airport remains inaccessible to the general public for a long time in order to facilitate her smooth and safe journey. During these periods of blockades, what happens to other people is not a concern of her, or of her government’s functionaries.

 

(3). Almost all the Ministers assemble at the airport to see her off. For so long as her VVIP flight does not take off, not only the airport remains closed to other flights, her Ministers are also prohibited from leaving their assigned positions.

 

What happens in their respective Ministries in their absence is nobody’s headache. If people suffer due to their absence, let it be, for they are there not to serve the people but the Prime Minister of the country!

 

In the cities the Prime Minister travels to, she is welcomed by all of their high ranking officials. Sometimes they wait for hours for the VVIP flight to land at their airports. In the meantime, their respective offices become dysfunctional due to their absence. 

 

The Prime Minister’s supporters flood the airports. Ordinary passengers and vehicles are subjected to all sorts of harassments, resorted to for ensuring her safety.

 

Her party loyals erect gates and arches at all the important junctions of the roads her motorcade has plan to pass through. Hours before the passage of her motorcade, ordinary mortals are seldom allowed to step on them. On one occasion, I had to spend over an hour by the roadside, as I was not allowed to ride in my car to my office.

 

Hours before the Prime Minister reaches Dhaka, her Ministers again rush to the airport to welcome her back home. What had happened prior to her departure is repeated again. The country’s government moves out of its offices every time the Prime Minister leaves from, and arrives at Dhaka airport.

 

Now, calculate the amount of money the government spends on the mobilization of the security forces for the Prime Minister and her Ministers; the cost of fuel the Ministers burn; the overtime, if applicable, for their drivers and escorts. Add to them the value of the time the Ministers spend on waiting on the Prime Minister, and also the one they spend on traveling to and from the airport.

 

Add to the subtotal, the cost of sufferings people undergo. Add to it the cost of time that their offices lose due to their absences. And then multiply the total with the number of Ministers that Bangladesh has, to manage its 144,000 Sq. km of territory.

 

The total will be colossal. And most of these wastages are recouped from the loans and aid Bangladesh receives from its foreign benefactors. What are the justifications for these wastages I have never understood. Can someone help me out with a logical explanation, please?

 

March 5, 2005