It has become almost like a ritual for the Bangladesh chapter of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) to publish an annual report on corruption in the country, mainly based on guesstimates. Last Thursday, the TI-Bangladesh (TIB) published the "Corruption Database-2004" report in Dhaka and its findings are identical to that of similar reports published by the organisation in previous years. Some quarters might question the authenticity of the contents of the TIB report since those were generally compiled from newspaper reports. One cannot just dismiss such doubts outright. For, it is very difficult to know the actual extent of corruption basing on newspaper reports. Any allegation of corruption needs to be properly investigated before arriving at a conclusion.
Yet, the TIB as a watchdog body is making a lot of contribution to the task of creating awareness among the people about the level of corruption in government bodies, if not anything else. Its latest report said Bangladesh had suffered a financial loss of more than Tk 4.0 billion due to corruption in 36 sectors and the communication sector was at the top of the list of corrupt sectors. The names of other sectors mentioned in the report are not new additions to the long list of corrupt government agencies. Those were the names that came again and again in reports published by the TIB and other international orgainsations earlier. And the people who have to deal with the corrupt officials and employees of all those sectors day in, day out do not need to know from the newspapers or the TIB which are the most corruption-infested agencies. They know it from their real-life experience. What the people want is that someone would crack his/her whips and then start lashing the corrupt elements at all levels.
That is not happening and there is no reason to believe that it would happen in the near future. In spite all the revelations, the situation is actually getting worse day by day. But why should there not be any improvement in the situations in spite of so much of criticism at the local and international levels? After all the foot-dragging on the part of the government, the much-talked-about anti-corruption commission (ACC) was born late last year. The ACC, if not stillborn, is, at least, not kicking. The Commission is still suffering from, what the government leaders describe, teething problems. So, it seems, the ACC would take some more time to show its teeth, if it has any.
Against the backdrop of such a frustrating experiencing with the ACC, the TIB has come out with some highly ambitious suggestions. It has suggested the appointment of more than one Ombudsman and establishment of an anti-corruption cell in each of the ministries and in the Prime Minister's Office. One can well imagine the outcome of such a move, given the level of honesty, sincerity and integrity at all tiers of the administration. Even if the government decides to implement the TIB suggestions, it will run short of people who are honest and motivated enough to carry out the fight against corruption. The ACC, if it deems fit, might try one particular move to combat corruption among government officials. It should first try to know about the assets -- movable and immovable -- of the officials and employees of the public sector organisations that deals with people directly. It should gather information on assets acquired by corrupt officials in their own name or through benami ownership in the names of others. Even the Commission may seek information from the members of the public on ownership of assets and on the unusual lifestyle of the public sector officials and employees. Action should follow only if one is found guilty. All assets should be confiscated by the state immediately in addition to awarding appropriate punishment to the guilty officials.