It was in November 21, 2004 that the so called independent Anti-Corruption Commision (ACC) was launched with fanfare. It was given much publicity at that time as an organisation that would be truly independent and impartially effective against all doers of corruption in the country.
The ACC was justified by the need to replace the now defunct Bureau of Anticorruption (BAC) that was accused for being neither independent nor efficient. The previous anti-corruption watchdog was too much tied to the government's apron strings to be able to perform with any measure of independence against government bureaucrats and the ruling party's potentates. Thus, the ACC was meant to replace the anticorruption bureau with a dynamic organization the main features of which would be prompt actions against the nabobs of corruption without getting swayed by any influence specially from the government.
But hopes can be one thing and the realities another in Bangladesh. Long twenty-three months after the formal start of work by the ACC, that body continues to be almost totally ineffective from the standpoint of battling corruption. Hardly any news has been published in newspapers over the last two years about this organisation starting cases against the czars of corruption in the country or even taking steps against the somewhat lesser individuals or institutions who are well known for their corruption.
The ACC remains a namesake body with a large establishment. Its officials and employees come regularly to its offices, draw their salaries and leave accomplishing nothing. There is also no onus on their part to do anything because the organisation does not even have its organogram and rules of procedure. It has also become divided into two feuding sides : one side is led by its Chairman, a retired High Court Judge and on the other side by one of its Commissioners, a former Professor of the Dhaka University.
The two individuals and their supporters have diametrically opposed views about how to go about in starting the work of the organization with full flair. The Chairman says that they can do active work even without the organogram and rules of procedure whereas the Commissioner says that they are not empowered to do their work without sorting out these basic operating tools. The conflict between them is seemingly keeping the ACC into a state of limbo although there are reasons to doubt whether real activism is really desired because that would require taking of action against the worst perpetrators of corruption in the country who are allegedly the members of the ruling party or are to be found among senior government functionaries.
It is even observed that the feud is deliberately kept alive to buy time so that actions against the fat cats of corruption can be kept postponed immediately. There was a lot of concern voiced when the top positions in the ACC were filled because the ones who were appointed included persons with a background of being loyal to the ruling establishment. Nothing has been done in response to these criticisms to replace these persons with ones having backgrounds of true neutrality, honesty and high integrity, The critics of the ACC say that this body was never intended to be allowed to do its work purposefully. It was set up as a showcase to show to the donors that the government had not been unresponsive to their demand that something of substance be done after the branding of the country successively for five years as the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International (TI).
The Country Director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized a high profile meeting with the ACC, the Finance Minister, Cabinet Division Secretary and the Economic Relations Division (ERD) Secretary in January of the present year. The agenda of the meeting was the non functioning of the ACC and how to dynamise this body. Clearly, the ADB sponsored meeting reflected the impatience of the donor community with the ACC and was designed to spur it into some kind of activity.
Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman left the meeting after ordering the ACC to show some immediate proofs of activism on its part. Interestingly, the ACC Chairman at this meeting pledged that he would resign if he could not demonstrate some actions by the ACC in about a week's time, Both the directive of the Finance Minister and the pledge by the ACC Chairman have proved to be hollow. For not a week but weeks, in fact over two months have passed since the ADB sponsored meeting and the ACC remains as it has been always - a completely static organization in all respects. It is going through the motions of charge-sheeting some not so highly placed government functionaries. But this work was started by its predecessor body, the erstwhile BAC. Thus there is nothing new in the ACC's move.
What is expected from the ACC is going after the real big perpetrators of corruption in the country such as top bureaucrats and bigwigs of the ruling party. The litmus test for the ACC as a truly independent and empowered body involves its taking of steps in response to charges of corruption in the high levels of the government itself. If it cannot do this but remains only limited to investigating cases of corruption of members of the previous government, then surely it cannot be credited for having made any progress from the BAC. In that case, no justification can be there for doing away with the BAC and replacing it with another equally impotent and ineffective body.
All stakeholders are very eager for a crackdown against corruption in the country and for such a crackdown to be of any value, it must be directed against those who spawn the most corruption such as bureaucrats and ruling party stalwarts. According to a figure obtained from the Finance Ministry, a sum of Taka 18,000 crore was misappropriated in the public sector due to corruption in the years between 1971-1993. This is a very modest and officially acknowledged figure compared to what Transparency International (TI) found in its survey. According to a TI survey, the corruption related drain of governmental resources was Taka 11,53, 498 crore or US$ 2.1 billion in the first half of financial year 2000-2001 alone . The corruption related losses have only climbed higher and higher since this computation was made. Thus, it should be obvious how Himalayan in size the losses which are being caused to the country, the economy and its people from the unbridled corruption.