Fox guarding the henhouse

Updated at 10:46pm on February 20, 2019

THE transport sector appears, by far, to be the most corrupt and unregulated. The staggeringly high number of death in road accidents speaks a volume of the situation. Since 2015, at least 25,120 people have died and 62,482 become injured in road accidents in Bangladesh. A large portion of the accidents are results of reckless driving and unfit vehicles running the road. No government efforts have so far been able to streamline the sector. The government’s failure was even internationally criticised after the death of two college students and subsequent road safety movement in 2018. The government has now set up a 15-member committee, with a member of parliament who is also executive president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation as the head, to make recommendations to stop road accidents and discipline the road transport sector. Five others on the committee are also involved with transport organisations that are often blamed for the indiscipline the committee seeks to end. The selection of a controversial figure with direct monetary interest in the transport sector to lead the committee has, thus, sparked a debate. Passenger welfare activists equate the move with fox guarding the henhouse.
The selection of the member of parliament, Shahjahan Khan, especially made the committee controversial as in recent past he made comments that go against public interest. In 2011, denouncing the importance of well-trained, educated drivers, he said that anyone able to ‘tell a cow from a goat’ could be a driver.’ In 2012, he placed a demand before a parliamentary sub-committee that extortion should be made legal to stop rampant corruption in the sector. In 2017, his federation called for a strike protesting at a verdict that sentenced a bus driver to life imprisonment for the death of filmmaker Tareque Masud and cinematographer Mishuk Munir. Besides, a number of times in the past, he, as a cabinet member, influenced the government policy and disrupted road safety drives in the interest of transport owners. It is, therefore, only reasonable that conscious section of society questioned the selection of a political figure who lost moral and ethical legitimacy to oversee the sector through his own doing. Road safety experts have also questioned the committee as such a committee historically had not been effective. In 2011, the government formed a similar sub-committee which made recommendations that were never implemented.
It is public knowledge now that the influence of transport owners on policymaking in this sector has largely contributed to the fatal road safety situation. The selection of the federation’s executive president to head the committee, instead of undoing the unholy influence, reinforces public interest being sacrificed. The government must, therefore, consider reconstituting the committee with credible experts, long-standing road safety campaigners and members of parliament with no direct or indirect monetary investment in the transport sector.