The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a recent report has refocused on two old issues -- lack of transparency and corruption -- in the state-run enterprises and financial institutions, including banks, in Bangladesh. The IMF report, according to a news item published in this daily Saturday, has noted with concern that the policymakers' efforts to rein in corruption has been 'very slow' in spite of the massive presence of the same in the public sector entities.
Actually, lack of transparency and corruption are very much interlinked. Unscrupulous elements in any organisation or system deliberately avoid transparency to continue with their corrupt practices. These elements who are quite strong and powerful in the state-owned enterprises and banks, to meet their selfish ends, do not allow relevant information to come out for public consumption. This is not a new phenomenon. In Bangladesh, the process started immediately after the nationalisation of various industrial units, banks, insurance companies, and other commercial enterprises in 1972. Over the years the problems have deepened and the nation has been paying a heavy cost for it. Country's policymakers were very much aware of the wrongdoings inside the state-run organisations. Yet they did not do anything tangible to stop them. Allegations were galore that some at the decision-making level even had a share in the money siphoned off from the state-run enterprises. Due to much persuasion, mainly by the donors, governments since mid-eighties started disinvestment of the public sector organisations in a bid to rid the economy of serious financial haemorrhages. But because of constant opposition from the vested interests, the process of privatisation never acquired the desired pace. The same is true in the case of reforms promised by successive governments to streamline the operations of the public entities.
The reasons for not pursuing privatisation and reforms, actually, have nothing to do with people's welfare or benefit. Those are being avoided just to retain the existing hold of the unscrupulous people over the public sector entities for reaping the undue benefits. Since transparency and reforms are recognised antidotes to corruption and irregularities, the beneficiaries of a non-transparent system would naturally undercut any move to break the status quo. The observation of the IMF that the government's move to rein in corruption in public sector organisations has been very slow, it seems, will not be contested even by the government leaders. The government, regrettably, has not taken any meaningful move to make the operations of the public sector bodies transparent. Nor the much-talked-about anti-corruption commission (ACC) could make any mark until now with its designated jobs. The ACC has been able to draw the attention of the people not by any action against the corrupt elements but, regrettably, by their internal squabbles. The people initially had great expectations from the ACC. Maybe such expectations had been generated more by the donor agencies, media and the so-called civil society. To be honest, many people have started believing that the ACC in its present form is unlikely to deliver anything so far as combating corruption is concerned. So, under the circumstances, one cannot expect speedy actions against corruption in public sector organisations, including financial institutions. It is not that the Transparency International (TI) alone is stigmatizing Bangladesh for pervasive corruption. There are others, too. The 'development partners' are also repeatedly advising the government to rein in massive corruption. Yet the government is demonstrating sheer apathy towards carrying out this important job. One may wonder, why?