Lawmakers in Bangladesh very rarely hit news headlines for their good work, if there is any.
Their involvement in beating of journalists, cases of loan default, non-payment of huge telephone bills etc., does often get prominent display in national dailies.
The abuse of duty-free car import facility granted to the Members of Parliament (MPs) is also an old story that newspapers unfailingly made known to the electorates. But that could hardly deter a section of the lawmakers from indulging in the mischief. For, it fetches a handsome income without any investment. Many lawmakers, past and present, could not check the temptation of grabbing this opportunity of money making, though unfairly.
The unscrupulous section of MPs does not take the trouble of importing duty-free luxury cars on their own. The local distributors of renowned car manufacturers or car dealers pay them handsome amounts and do the needful on their (MPs) behalf. Finally, the luxury cars imported under such special arrangements find places in the garages of wealthy businessmen.
This irregular practice has been going on since the introduction of the duty-free car import facility for the lawmakers in the mid-eighties by the 'autocratic' government of H.M. Ershad. And the National Board of Revenue (NBR), the official agency entrusted with the responsibility of mobilising revenues through duties and taxes, has been very much aware of the irregularities since the beginning. But it has never tried to stop the malpractice for reasons that are not beyond anybody's comprehension. The government officials consciously avoid anything that annoys the MPs.
But, it seems, that the situation with the duty-free facility for the import of cars by MPs has gone too far. That is why the NBR is planning to try a milder form of check on the abuse of the facility. Whether the NBR would finally be allowed to do that or not is altogether a different issue.
With a view to checking the abuse of the facility, the NBR is planning to put specially designed non-removable stickers or tags on the automobiles imported duty-free by the lawmakers.
The government, according to a report published in this daily, incurs a loss of revenue ranging between Tk. 700 million and Tk.750 million annually.
The value of each of the cars imported under the duty-free facility ranges between Tk. 8.0 million and Tk. 13 million. The most interesting part of the story was that the central intelligence cell of the taxation department could not trace the whereabouts of those cars since neither the lawmakers nor the businessmen concerned mentioned about those in their annual tax returns.
Most of the luxury cars, namely, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Lexus that are plying on the roads of Dhaka have allegedly been imported duty-free under dubious arrangements.
Irregularities involving the import of duty-free luxury cars by the lawmakers have been going on for nearly two decades in the absence of any remedial measure on the part of the NBR. However, the NBR's inaction is nothing surprising when it allows large-scale tax evasion even by businesses and professionals having no political clout. Moreover, the finance ministry in spite of being fully aware of the abuse of the facility has never asked the NBR to take actions against wrong-doers.
The very facility granted to the lawmakers for the import of automobiles duty-free is both morally and ethically wrong since it is discriminatory in nature.
The two major political parties that had launched simultaneous movement to oust the autocratic regime of Ershad while in their respective stints in power scrapped many of his programmes and projects but decided to keep the duty- free car facility in tact.
The electorates can hardly do anything except for rejecting the lawmakers, who have abused the facility, in future elections. But for such an abuse, the law of the land certainly has provided for some kind of punishment.
The NBR would be doing a great job if it could identify the abusers -- past and present -- of the duty-free car import facility and disclose the names to the electorates through the media.
Moreover, if the anti-corruption commission chooses the misuse of government vehicles as one of the subjects of its investigation, then the abuse of the duty-free car import facility by lawmakers deserves to be investigated by it.
The successive parliaments in Bangladesh have failed to live up to the expectation of the people. The boycott by main opposition parties has been a sore point in the performance of the parliaments, no doubt. But the MPs except for adopting laws could hardly contribute anything worth-mentioning to the national welfare. In sum, the perks and privileges enjoyed by the lawmakers do not commensurate with their performance. The perennial problem of quorum crisis in parliament bears testimony to that fact.