– Golam Rahman*
Concern over corruption continues infinitely. There is no end of talks over the matter. The politicians have loud voice in the field and open space. The civil society is creating storm in seminar and symposium. Every year TIB occupies the headlines of newspaper by announcing comprehensive indicators. Moreover, sometimes by making survey in this or that sector presents corruption facts in press conference and thus takes initiative to enhance public consciousness against corruption. Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) holds public hearing and observes corruption prevention week. But corruption does not stop; it increases.
A foreign journalist came to Bangladesh many years back and staying here for few days he wrote in a report that in this country a person having a very minimal power applies it for earning money. Earning money-riches by the government employees is not a new matter. Two thousand 5 hundred years ago in his ‘Arthashashra’ Kautilya wrote about earning money-wealth by the royal employees in different ways of corruption. In the ‘Monusmriti’, compiled during this period the responsibility of protecting the subjects from the corruption and persecution of the royal employees has been identified as of the king.
There is no king in the country now but the politicians and the democratic ruling system. After a specified time the politicians get elected Member of the Parliament as public representative by the vote of the people. The political party having represented the majority seats in the Parliament earns the governing power of the state and forms the government. The leader of the Parliament gets nominated as the Prime Minister. Upon the request of the President he/she forms the cabinet comprising the Ministers, State Ministers and the Deputy Ministers. The Members of the Cabinet pledge to establish the rule of law; they take the oath of carrying out the responsibility as per law, for paying unmixed faith and obedience to Bangladesh, for protecting, upholding and giving safeguard to the constitution. They also pledge to behave properly as per law with all without being influenced by any passion or apathy to anybody. The words of oath that they take in time of accepting responsibility for establishing the rule of law, their success in implementation of swearing words gets question-badgered in a greater degree. In the prevention of bribery and corruption their success tends to be nil. But someones themselves set their foot in the dirty path of corruption.
There are different laws in the country for the prevention of corruption. An independent Anti Corruption Commission has been set up. I myself carried out the responsibility of Chairman of the Commission for long four years from 24 June, 2009 to 23 June, 2013. After taking the responsibility I put question to the top officials of the Commission whether any named-famed person served any punishment. They mentioned the name of one former President. In the meeting of the lawyers of the Commission, in reply on the same question, a lawyer said, moreover very few union council members-chairman might have received the punishment. During my four years term the situation did not change much. Of the remarkable ones only late Arafat Rahman Coco, younger son of Khaleda Zia, the former Prime Minister in absentia had the punishment for corruption. The amount of money forfeited in a foreign bank was made back home. But during this period activities of the Commission and my words came as headlines of the newspapers, stormed the TV screens, initiated talks and criticisms, particularly investigation on various events of corruptions in the financial sector including Hallmark, Destiny etc. was done, law suits were instituted, the accused persons were sent to jail. But the proceedings of most of the cases have not been completed as yet; a very few have been punished. A remark on the trial process is made, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. If at all these accused persons face punishment in these sensational suits in the trial court, they would submit appeal in the higher court.
Renowned advocates-barristers would fight the case in favor of them. Several more years would elapse. At last perhaps the culprits would receive punishment, else they would be relieved through the gaps-holes of law. Some of them may have died by now and gone out of all trials or some would have died before the completion of judgment. And an irrefutable truth, ‘In the long run we are all dead’ suggests, that consequences of the effects of the corruption cases don’t influence the society. Nobody learns from the settlement of the corruption cases in the trial process. The corrupt persons do not keep them away from corruption in fear of chastisement. Rather slow motion of inquiry-investigation, lengthy process of trial and through the holes-gaps of law or getting through of the debacle due the the influence-dominance incite the extension of corruption day by day. In such a situation the Anti Corruption Commission is ineffective in a major degree. In this reality at the end of 3 months after my assumption of the responsibility as Chairman of ACC in a News Conference I remarked on the ACC as the toothless tiger. Different persons made different explanation. Virtually I attracted the attention of all to the realities by using a figurative expression. But no remarkable change took place even after such remark by me.
Not only of corruption cases but in other cases also virtually desired role is not being played by the present trial process. There are 33 lakh under-trial cases. The ex-Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha said, if no new cases are instituted the under-trial cases pending at present would require 30 years to settle. The tangle is not likely to be minimized by increasing the number of judges. Weakness in the investigation and management of suits, procrastination and intricacy of the trial process not only in the prevention of corruption but also puts some serious problems in the way of establishing the rule of law in the country. Without the allout reforms of the trial process and without the mental change of all quarters who are involved in trial proceedings a transformation from this situation is not possible. By making reforms in the legal process if provision for settlement of the cases within one year of filing the case and within the next one year in the higher court can be made, the ACC then would be able to play an effective role in the prevention of corruption and then the rule of law would be secured in the country. If every year at least one hundred renowned aristocratic corrupt persons receive punishment following all the trial process, the corruption would then gradually drop down. But here a question on the interest of persons and groups connected with trial functions – of their income-earnings may arise.
There is close relation between corruption and politics. At its root stays the Election process of the Parliament Members. It is an event of the last part of 2001. I was then serving as a Secretary of the government. I had a good relation with my concerned Minister for a long days. He was a popular leader of his area and got elected M.P. several times consecutively. By way of talks once he said that the Election expenses increased day by day. In 2001 he had an Election expenditure amounting to 75 Lac taka. Perhaps in the following Election he would have to spend several crore taka. If he had to sustain in politics, he would have to manage this money while serving as Minister. Moreover, for conducting the party and for the satisfaction of the persons having authority in the party, regular provision of money is necessary. All these sides are to be tackled by using ministerial power. Other than Election costs an MP has to spend a lot of money when he moves to his area. A big worker-force has to be helped/co-operated in different ways. Avenues of earning-living for them are to be made smooth. Right or wrong activities of them are to be given indulgence. He has to take care so that they can get the contract jobs of development activities in the area. Money is required to be provided for organizing meetings and gathering; poor-indigents need to be helped. Monetary help is required for mosques-temples and religious functions. Gifts on the marriage occasion are to be provided and so on. In the expression of the Minister there was disappointment and distraction but it caused to appear a hard reality. This picture applies for most of Parliament Members. Moreover, there is no such example of diminution of popularity in the event of any accused leader for corruption in Bangladesh. Many corrupt politicians are being elected public representatives repeatedly. Amongst the top leaders someone earned victory in all the electorate seats contesting simultaneously.
Is corruption in politics only? No, it is not so. Such a government office or organization is difficult to find out where there is no corruption. What about private sector? There is also corruption. In recent times politics has been made corrupted by nomination deal and an extensive penetration of the businessmen into politics. Politics determines movement-activity of the society. Members of the Parliament enact the laws. On this ground it can be said that the ‘Parliament’ is the source of all powers. The Chinese proverb says, “Putrefaction of the fish starts at the head”. So for making the country and the society free of corruption the politics should be relieved of the vicious circle of corruption encircling the politics. In politics the predominance of the public beneficent politicians is to be established. It has no alternative. Here the potential major hurdle happens to be our perpetual political thoughts-perception.
In Bangladesh the democratic system has taken shape in the British pattern. UK ruled this country for about two hundred years. The way of thinking of the British has been ingrained in us. We have the perception of ‘Unitary Election Area’ from them. But to check any revolt we have included the provision of losing the Membership position of an MP if he leaves the party or votes against it. As a result in place of a parliamentary democracy an environment of a ‘Parliamentary dictatorship’ has been created. In such a situation whether or not parliamentary Democracy as an administrative method is useful for Bangladesh at all should be evaluated. My perception is that the democratic ruling system of France, Germany, USA and even of the South Asian country like Sri Lanka is more effective for preventing political corruption and establishing good governance in our country.
On the background of the election of one MP from every unitary electoral area in our country the election process in Bangladesh has turned mostly money and muscle-dependent. And the MPs, particularly the government party ones are the elected ‘Maharaja’ in their respective constituency. Upon the fact that politics brings honor and simultaneously it being a profitable profession gradually higher number of businessmen are participating in the Election. They are also getting elected. Not ‘service to the people’ but ‘profit motive’ is the guiding power of their politics. In place of unitary constituency if a system of election of MPs could have been elected by the proportionate vote ratio of the parties throughout the country or Division/District-wise, perhaps the dominance of more and more muscle-power in the Election would decline, decrease mutual fighting in politics and the participation of the business people in an increasing rate in politics in a major degree would diminish. Hostile feeling between parties would come under control at least a little and the people’s representation in parliament would be established in a proper way.
Political or judicial reforms only won’t help restrain the corruption. For the prevention of corruption reforms of the political and judicial process is necessary; but that is not sufficient. Firm commitment or zero tolerance and public consciousness is helpful in preventing corruption. Corrupt persons are very powerful; common people are helpless to face them. Here the role of ACC is very important. If the Anti Corruption Commission takes lawful actions impartially and independently against all corrupt persons without taking into consideration their social position, political identity, religion-color and without being influenced by passion or aversion, corruption would then start diminishing. The fruits of economic growth of the country would then reach the door step of the poor group of people. Economic advancement would be accelerated. Only then the vision of transforming Bangladesh into a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041 may have been implemented.E
* Former Chairman, Anti Corruption Commission
** Translated into English by ‘The Economy’ Analyst.