Credible mechanism to address graft issue
The formation of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the appointment of a member of the ACC were challenged in the High Court (HC) recently.
According to reports published in various dailies, the HC issued a rule on the government asking it to explain as to why the formation of the ACC and the appointment of its commissioner Maniruddin Ahmed should not be declared illegal.
A petition before a HC division bench submitted that the Commission had been formed ignoring the list of eligible persons recommended by a selection committee for appointment as commissioners. The name of Mr Maniruddin Ahmed, a chartered accountant, was not on the list. As such, his appointment was a violation of the rule as he did not meet the requirement of at least 20 years of experience in the fields of law, education, administration, judiciary or disciplined forces, and thus was not eligible for the appointment as commissioner of the ACC, the petition mentioned.
Earlier, the appointment of another member of the ACC was challenged in the same court. The fate of both the cases are pending. In reality, the people expected a flurry of activities from the Commission. But initially, the ACC could not meet their expectations. Despite repeated assurance from the authority, the ACC failed to make any breakthrough due to alleged shortage of manpower and lack of operational efficiencies.
However, against the backdrop of unbridled corruption occurring in the country, analysts are ventilating guarded optimism. The previous anti-graft watchdog body - Anti-Corruption Bureau (BAC) - has a huge backlog of cases which have been naturally transferred to the Commission. These cases need to be settled along with numerous others that have been filed with the ACC after its formation.
Of late, the Commission appears to be coming out of a long gestation period and more than normal teething troubles. According to another report, the ACC is expected to launch a drive against those who amassed wealth abroad by siphoning off money from Bangladesh. The ACC chairman Justice Sultan Hossain Khan said the commission will write to different banks around the world seeking information on deposited money amassed by Bangladeshis in the last ten years. A list of suspects will be prepared and supplied to those banks.
The mode of operation here is just two simple to note. When exposing corruption within the country is difficult, it cannot be any easier to extend the dragnet abroad. Some governments sometimes do engage international intelligence agencies specialised in dealing with financial rackets. But such actions, in many cases produce no results. The cooperation not only of the banks but also of the governments will be required to unearth clandestine deals. For every corrupt deal on a big scale, there is invariably an accomplice abroad in the form of a principal, a corporate executive or a banker who is pledge-bound to maintain total secrecy. It has been seldom possible to penetrate that shield of secrecy. Whether the ACC can take the advantage of the changed climate or not remains to be seen. There is no denying that illegal money transfers have been occurring in Bangladesh. In recent times, there has been steep deterioration of governance in the country that is prompting a section of people to resort to money laundering.
While in Dhaka recently, British Foreign Minister Hilary Benn, said the corruption is a menace that looks no less inimical than militancy. Bangladesh needs a system that is capable of rooting out corruption for both domestic and foreign investment and economic development to improve the living standard of the people. It must be ensured that those engaged in corruption would be nabbed, and they must understand its consequences, he added.
According to the Transparency International (TI) ranking, Bangladesh topped the list of most corrupt countries in the world for the fourth time in a row. The World Bank estimates 2.0-3.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) growth is lost due to corruption each year. The per capita income in Bangladesh could be doubled had the government restrained corruption. Tax and customs administration is at the top of the list of corruption-ridden agencies. The country's banking system is plagued by default. Bribery and theft in utility services such as power, ports and telecommunications are rampant.
Such 'systems loss' appears to be present in all sectors of the society.
Lack of institutional reforms, severe confrontational politics, 'criminalisation' of politics and deterioration of law and order are hindering the country's sustainable economic growth. There should be a credible mechanism to penalise officials for corruption and inefficiency, and reward the meritorious ones for efficiency. The declaration of assets and liabilities should be made mandatory for ministers, legislators and people entering or leaving public service.
Getting rid of corruption will always be a daunting task in Bangladesh as the vice is deeply rooted in country's socio-political and administrative systems. However, the country has many things to learn from other nations that are giving increasing attention to issues of governance and corruption and are investing substantial resources in making their governments more accountable, transparent and responsive to the needs of their people.
The people have little trust in the police force, widely dubbed as one of the most corrupt organisations. Reports of torture, intimidation,
extortion, and extrajudicial killings are also rife within the police force. The impact of bitter hostility between the two leaders of mainstream political parties is severe. It has resulted in the politicisation of key institutions of the society such as the bureaucracy, police, academics and lower levels of the judiciary. Even popularly elected representatives are
not interested to take effective measures against large-scale corruption. The establishment of an Ombudsman's office, to act effectively as the watchdog against corruption, is yet to see the light of the day.
An effective anti-corruption strategy should thus be developed in order to bringing about reforms in the public sector. The World Bank suggested substantial hike in salaries of public sector employees, especially for the senior officers. The Bank also suggested downsizing of the government. It thought that better-paid officials would be under less economic pressure to supplement their incomes through corruption.
Proper use of information technology (IT) provides opportunity for increasing transparency. All government offices should be run through e-governance. The people must have channels to report corruption that should be readily accessible.
The TI's subsequent branding of the country as the 'most corrupt' should be an eye-opener to the government. The ACC should make coordinated efforts to help the government initiate drastic reforms in every sector. The implementation of the reform agenda will help the nation recover from the social vices.