Who's who in a democratic society
 Mofazzal Ahmed


If a country is democratic and people are the supreme, all services and development plans should be aimed at the welfare of the people, and all resources should first be diverted to fulfil the requirement of the people. Any deviation should demand people's consensus. The purpose of tax and levies should not mean extortion of money from the people to fill the state vault; rather it should mean collection of money from the people to serve the people. The people, therefore, reserve the right to know where and how the tax money is spent, and whether the services committed to them are being provided.

ALL people as human beings are respectable and all their good deeds are important and laudable. All human beings are equal and there should not be any discrimination among them. But, for the purpose of functionality of a democratic state, and to establish the rights and responsibilities of the people according to their role and status in a democratic society, each category of the people needs to be defined with a clear demarcation of their rights and responsibilities.

To begin with, let's see what people means? As I see it people means the whole mass of population that includes each and every kind of people in its structure, let's call them 'Mass People' or the 'Nation'. Within the mass people there is a clearly defined section of people that comprises almost 90 per cent of them who are self employed and do not take any salary or remuneration from the public fund or the so called tax money; let's call them the 'Core People'. The other section or sections of people are somehow or other dependent on the core people and are responsible to the core people.

Then, let's see what is democracy? If I correctly understand, democracy means rule of the people by the people. That means it's a system where the government is created by the people and is meant for the people. Since a democratic government is for the people and by the people, it has no existence and meaning without the people. It's the people's wish that makes the government, and it's the people's money that keeps it running. The people are the owner of the country and hence the controller the government. Their existence is by no means for the government; rather the government is absolutely for them. This establishes the supremacy of the people, which is confirmed in the constitution. But, since millions of people together cannot run the day to day activities of the government or make unified policy decisions or reach a consensus as and when needed, they have to elect or employ groups of people from among themselves to act on behalf of them and to do the work for them. These groups of people are the people's representatives and/or the public servants. They are empowered, within respective limits, by the people to act on behalf of the people and to work for the people.

The representatives or the elected groups carry out the people's verdict in making laws and policy frames in the parliament, and in execution of development activities as in the local governments. The public servants, within their code of conduct, provide services to the people and assist the people's representatives in policy making and execution. They are responsible to the people's representatives, but all together are responsible to the people, the supreme authority. These two categories of people assume a different status when they are elected or employed for certain purposes, are paid or facilitated directly from the public fund and are made responsible to the people. They are also members of the core people when they are independent members in the public structure and cease to take any salary, remuneration or pension from the public fund.

The elected representatives are responsible to the people only for the period for which they are elected, and are remunerated or facilitated from the public fund. At other times they form part of the core people.

The public servants, if they enjoy pension or some other post-service benefit that comes directly from the public fund, are supposed to remain public servants even after their retirement because the people have taken their responsibility for their entire life. For this category of people, post-retirement employment is supposed to be restricted, or all their pension and/or post-service benefits need to be discontinued. They form part of the core people after retirement only if they do not take any pension or post-service benefit from public fund. However, there may be exceptions if permitted by the constitution.

Empowering or employing somebody for a period of time does not mean that the people themselves are exhausted of all the powers and rights, and the representatives/ public servants become master of them. If the people are dissatisfied with the level of services of their representatives and or the employees, they still have the power to say 'no' to them. They also have the right to be dissatisfied, and the representatives or the employees have no right to blow it off with anger or thundering words or false coverings. They have only one choice, satisfy the people or make way for others to come and try.

There is another category of people in the public structure; they are the antisocial elements or the criminals. They create problems for other people in the society, snatch their rights and facilities, steal money from public funds and or the individuals, and even get involved in killing and raping. They are the unwanted group of people and have the lowest status in a democratic society. The public representatives and the public servants should deal with them very hard, not only because they have been empowered, but also because they have been elected or employed and are paid for to protect the interest of the people. The criminals also have rights to enjoy the status of core people, if they are no more criminals.

Again, among the core people, he who contributes more to the interest of the nation should enjoy higher status than those who contribute less.

Now, probably we are in a position to establish the hierarchy of different sections of people in the entire public structure or the nation. The diagram shows the relationship among different sections of the people. This is a simple conceptual diagram as visualized by a citizen and may not bear exact relation with the established theories in political science. However, there may be exceptions as per the provisions in the constitution.

If we agree to the above hierarchical relationship, we can probably assume that:

The core people will enjoy the highest status and honour in a democratic society. The status and honor of the people's representatives and the public servants will follow the status and honor of the core people.

An individual among the core people can enjoy the status and honour of a very very important person (VVIP), very important person (VIP) or an important person (IP) according to his/her level of education, contribution towards the nation and income tax paid to the public fund. However, people having zero or least crime record should top the list, with the criminals and the bank defaulters at the bottom. Such recognition would certainly inspire the people to pay more income tax, contribute more towards the interest of the nation, pay bank loans in due time and be away from crimes.

A member of the people's representatives can enjoy the status and honour of very very important people's representative (VVIPR), very important people's representative (VIPR) or important people's representative (IPR) according to the level and importance of his/her position in the group, service to the people, honesty and sense of responsibility.

A member of the public servants can enjoy the status and honour of very very important public servant (VVIPS), very important public servant (VIPS) or important public servant (IPS) according to the level and importance of his /her position in the group, service record, dutifulness and honesty.

The people, if they desire, will have the right to form committees comprising proportional number of honorary members from among the above-mentioned categories of people at national, district and upazila levels to monitor the execution of public works, and to oversee the activities and expenditures of the people's representatives and or the public servants. They will also have the right to suggest reduction of local and overseas public sector expenditures, if needed.

The people and or the people's committees will have the right to decide if the teachers and the students of public educational institutions can be involved in direct politics at the cost of people's money.

No body among the mass people will have the right to disturb other people in their personal lives or at their work places; or to stop other people's vehicles and or their movement in any form; or to put barricades in public places and or roads; or to hold meetings and rallies in places that disturb other people; or to put posters on other people's properties, and to do other similar activities.

Every person should have the right to express his/her thoughts, anger or grievances by shouting, showing signs and symbols, making rallies, writing or speaking in the news media and calling hartals but in doing so he/she must not disturb other people who do not want to share his/her thoughts, anger or grievances.

Neither the people's representatives nor the public servants are supposed to enjoy higher status and facility than the core people, except that are needed for efficient discharge of their duties. Of course, all their good services and initiatives should be acknowledged and rewarded. Again, if the people themselves can't be exempted of some obligations, the people's representatives and the public servants can't also be exempted of the same obligations, though the reverse can happen.

Every person should have the same right of way in the public roads, ferries, airports, seaports, river ports and similar other places. The public representatives and or the public servants are not supposed to have any priority showing excuses of problems that might delay their movement, as they are elected and or employed not to avoid the problem but to solve the problem. To solve the problem they need to experience the problem and hence must be in the problem and not out of the problem.

In the name of development neither the government nor any other organization or people has the right to degrade the environment and hence cause severe damage towards the health and living of the people. Any such damage should demand heavy compensation and nothing should permit the government to deny its responsibility.

Since all activities are meant for the people, any body in the mass people should have the right to get access to any information that relates to the interest of the people.

The public servants will coordinate and or manage the public functions but, by no means, will administer the people themselves. Therefore, all designations that directly or indirectly mean administering the people should be changed with designations that would mean assisting or serving the people.

All people including the public servants have the right to support any political ideology and or a particular political party. But, the public servants and the people who derive all or part of their salary and remuneration from the public fund are not supposed to be directly involved with any political party. However, they will have the right to do so when they are not in full time public employment or do not draw any salary or pension from the public fund.

All facilities and development activities should be oriented in proportion to the number of persons among the core people, the people's representatives and the public servants. Skill development should not be limited only to particular sections of people in the government organizations as, because of the traditional system of transfer and posting, skills of these people can't always be fully utilized. Moreover, skilled people in one organization can't be used for similar jobs in other organizations, which necessitates same kind of skill development in many organizations, a sure wastage of national resources and facilities. Skills need to be developed in a national pool, and then utilized in different organizations as and when needed, without making a permanent burden to the nation.

Each member of the mass people has the right to protect himself/herself, his/her family members and properties. If the government system cannot provide the desired protection, the people have the right to develop means to protect them. If the government takes the responsibility of protecting the people and if, after that anybody is killed, irrespective of the reason behind it, the responsibility goes to the government, and the government should immediately pay a minimum compensation of Tk. 10 lakh to his/her family, because a life is very important and the government is pledge bound to protect the people. No excuse should relieve the government of its responsibility.

In all public hospitals, which are run by public money, the members of the core people should get priority over the public representatives or the public servants. Moreover, if these facilities fail to provide the desired level of service, people will have the right to ask the justification of existence of these institutions. The people and or the people's committees will also have the right to monitor the activities of these institutions.

If foreign treatment is needed at the cost of public money, it should be equally applicable for all the people, not only for the people's representatives or public servants, and should be done in proportion to the number of persons in each category. Otherwise, facilities should be developed in the country and every body should be treated within the country. However, this should not jeopardize the rights of people who want foreign treatment with their own money.

If the organizations and/or the sections of people, who have been made custodians of justice, law and public property, are involved in any corruption or crime, the people will have the right to demand punitive actions against these organizations and or the people, because the custodians themselves cannot do crimes.

All the members of the mass people, either individually or in a group, have the right to oversee the development activities. If the government takes any loan, its purpose and mode of operation should be debated in the parliament, and the details should be clearly presented to the people. Otherwise, the concerned parties and not the people will be responsible for payment of the loans and the service charges.

The public organizations responsible for the public utility services will have no right to disconnect the utility services of the individual people for non-payment of bills, unless they do so for other public organizations, public representatives and the public servants. In case the utility bills are regularly paid, any disruption in the services should demand compensation for the inconvenience and/or financial losses suffered by the concerned persons or the organizations.

Every person, organization including clubs, parties, societies, public servants whatsoever, irrespective of the category, who's income, allowances and facilities exceed certain limit should pay income tax under uniform taxation rules, without any ambiguity. There should not be any discrepancy in this regard and the people's committees should have the right to monitor if the taxation rules are uniformly applied to all sections of people. The amount of tax paid should have a direct bearing on the status of a person or organization in the society.

When anybody in the public dies, according to the status of people as declared in the constitution of the republic, he/she should die a more honorable and dignified death than the people's representatives or the public servants, if not, at least the same. This is justifiable because the people are the first, and the money comes from the people.

The people themselves should also have obligations towards each other, and none of them should do anything that harms and or disturbs others, damages public properties, and or indulges crimes. They should cooperate with the people's representatives and the public servants so long they work for public interest.

The status and position of court should be determined through public consensus or as per provisions in the constitution. For justice and neutrality, the court needs to exist with proper honour, dignity and freedom. It needs to be tough with the criminals if proved, but modest with the people because the court is for the people. The people should also have the right to ask for means to address any corruption in the court itself.

Ahmed is a free-lance writer


Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, February 13, 2002


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