Friday, November 6, 2009

Development as Distraction: Stop all the clocks

Last month the clocks were all turned back for winter saving, but not in Bangladesh who with its 6 seasons annually stayed fixed on summer time. When the government brought the clocks forward for the first time this year to raise productivity it caused uproar. A change of one hour in a daily routine was too much for many people and so they continued to run their lives one hour behind the official time (always a great excuse for turning up an hour late to a meeting).

Instead the government chose to play with the clocks once again, anouncing that from November 1st, all businesses and offices (even schools were originally included but then allowed special dispensation to set their own schedules) had to change their times to open from 10am-6pm as a means of tackling the traffic congestion in the city. Considering that previously the government had to rely on the army to control traffic, changing the clocks seemed a pretty big ask but still the government went ahead.

Once again the government has responded to an issue that matters directly to the population (certainly of Dhaka at least, so that is 10% of the nation) by addressing it in such an indirect way that it only causes greater confusion and undermines previous initiatives. But what else can it do, when everything in the country can be bought and sold, and it is the ruling class that buys and sells the most? They are accountable not to the population who voted them in, but the people who bought them their votes.

It is not just a problem faced by Bangladesh, as even Dmitri Medvedev is reduced to playing with the clocks as he seeks to modernise Russia. In Bangladesh, the government matches its tinkering with buying and selling on a grand scale, issuing procurement after procurement so that in 4 years time there will be a metro system and several new fly-overs (which of course will immediately fill up) will have eliminated traffic, and by 2020 the country will be energy self-sufficient. But who is seriously going to get on a metro in a city that regularly floods and sits at sea-level? Or a country that can't even get its tenders right.