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Saturday Feature
The cancer of corruption
Enayet Rasul

          Not only the World Bank (WB) cancelled further aid to these projects. It demanded immediate punitive measures against government of Bangladesh (GOB) officials who were blamed for corruption in these projects. Plus, the WB also demanded refund of the money so far spent on these projects.
This is for the first time in the history of Bangladesh that a donor organization has gone to such length and in such harsh a manner to make its point. Outright cancellation of project funds, calling for refund of spent resources and demanding punishment of government officials, the triple penalties declared on the GOB itself, is without a parallel not only in the long history of developmental assistance to this country but among most of the other developing countries as well who are the recipients of such funds.
It needs no hard think to realize why the WB acted in the manner, it did. WB is a flagship donor organization and the trend set by it can be counted as reflective of the mood of the donor organizations and countries as a whole . The worry for GOB and the country should be that this is just a beginning. WB has unambiguously sent a message by its aid cancellation and demanding of other measures that it is running out of patience with GOB as the latter has been foot dragging in taking convincing anti corruption measures notwithstanding this country being listed for the fifth consecutive time by Transparency International (TI) as the most corrupt country.
Donors have been insisting on the formation of appropriate anti corruption mechanisms, including the independent anticorruption commission, to launch a strong enough campaign against the cancer of corruption in Bangladesh. But they were disappointed to see the formation of a rather enfeebled anticorruption commission from the outset that lacked empowerment or jurisdiction to be able to move against the heavyweights of corruption in the country. Donors were also galled by lack of progress in other areas where taking of measures by GOB would make conditions more conducive for fighting corruption. It appears that donors are starting to question the government's credibility or sincerity in taking appropriate anticorruption measures. Hence the gesture of aid cancellation by WB. The immediate effect of the move will not be significant in terms of the country's development because the projects are small and in the social sectors. But its real purport is symbolism. Donors seem to be underlining the point that they could act more and more in a similar manner to withhold aid and demand true anticorruption moves by GOB if it fails to live up to their expectation.
Government leaders in Bangladesh may bombast that they can do without foreign assistance. But everyone in the country realizes that foreign assistance plays a very important role in financing the country's developmental activities and without the same the country would face a very serious economic predicament. Thus, the onus has been created for the government to prove that it really means business in taking decisive actions against corruption.
The strengthening of institutions is likely to contribute most to the fight against corruption. Government has disabled the Department of Anticorruption which was perceived to be underperforming and had limited powers to move against government potentates. This was replaced by what the government claims to be an independent Anticorruption Commission. But doubts have surfaced about the real independence of this Anticorruption Commission.
What good can come if another anticorruption body is raised to replace the older one if its completely unrestrained nature cannot be ensured ? The new corruption fighting instrument is not likely to be so much more effective than its predecessor if it cannot move freely against anybody or everybody. Members of the government-- meaning both civil servants and politicians of the ruling party-- spawn the most corruption in this country. If the Anticorruption Commission is restrained from taking actions against ruling party members or high ranking bureaucrats because the top functionaries of the Commission remain sympathetic towards the government or have intangible links with it, then the kind of determined actions that are expected and needed to curb corruption will not be there. Thus, the government must prove that it has sufficiently empowered the Anticorruption Commision to do its work effectively without fear or favour. This is the main task it must accomplish if it wants to prove that it really wants to take up the gauntlet against corruption.
The higher judiciary of the country tends to demonstrate a flair for independence although doubts have been voiced whether even this section of the judiciary is truly free in the absence of effective separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. The lower judiciary is the greater victim of this non separation of powers and the executive branch of the government allegedly intervenes frequently in the activities of the lower judiciary. Understandably, this interventionism shelters many forms of corruption the only antidote to which can be no other than effective separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary at the fastest. But this vital task is pending and, before its completion, the stage will not be really set to deal powerful blows to corruption.
Parliamentary committees in functional democracies play a very useful role in watching over all spheres of governmental activities with a view to making the same transparent and accountable. Unfortunately, the parliamentary committees in Bangladesh have not acquired the desired level of efficiency and effectiveness in playing such a role. Thus, the strengthening of the parliamentary committees ought to occupy an important place in the agenda of the government as well as the opposition. The appointment of an ombudsman and the creation of an ombudsman's office should be given highest priority for the same reasons.
The previous elected Prime Minister made a good impression in the beginning of her tenure by declaring that all Cabinet Ministers would be required to periodically provide statements of their individual properties. But nothing was heard about this matter later on. All successive governments in the country should be persuaded take a real initiative in this respect and make it happen. The higher ranking civil servants should be similarly required to account for their personal wealth . A sense of deprivation in areas of salaries and other benefits is thought to be the motivational factor for government employees to engage in corruption. This can perhaps be checked considerably by improving the salaries and other benefits of government employees . But the higher salaries and benefits to be awarded to specialist manpower in government services must be absolutely linked to demonstrated cases of working with integrity and efficiency and, more significantly, achieving on time clearly set performance targets.
The police in particular have become too corrupt and a great deal of the corruption related woes of the country have a relationship to this police force. All governments from now on must aim for sweeping reforms of the police force as among the highest priorities. No intention of good governance will quite succeed keeping unchanged such a decadent police force . It must undergo drastic reforms for the revival of honesty and integrity in its ranks.
Reforms should include generally all government services . Shocking cases of corruption have been reported in governmental departments related to education, public works, civil aviation, customs, shipping, etc. Reforms within a time-bound framework should aim to reduce corruption in these government departments.
All of the above measures and more will depend, critically, on the greater activism of the press and citizens' group in building up pressure for anticorruption measures . All should step up their activities and intensify a campaign so that political parties are obliged to recognise corruption as an issue of paramount importance.


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