Vol. 5 Num 382 Fri. June 24, 2005  

Cross Talk
A deal on the wheels

There was a time when you could draw a line between opposites. Good was good and bad was bad. Innocent was innocent and guilty was guilty. Then politics came along and made a jumbled mess of everything. Now you can't tell the difference even between adults and juveniles. A State Minister took a car from a foreign oil company and then resigned from his office when others found out. It is as simple as taking away the toys from a kid because he was not paying attention to his studies.

But should it be that simple? Should we make it that easy for anyone who has abused his office and engaged in corruption? What happened to the accusation that the Minister had wrongly taken a luxury car from a vested interest? Was it true or was it false? Well, the Minister has resigned. If the allegation against him is true, we should have done more than watching him vacate his office.

Interestingly, there is a new standard in this country. Nothing is wrong unless it annoys the Prime Minister's Office. Did not others know about it, the people in the Ministry who must have seen their boss suddenly hopping in and out of a spanking new car? Did not any of his cabinet colleagues notice? Did not the car dealer who sold the car know where it was going? I know, I know. I am asking some pretty stupid questions, but that helps us understand the brotherhood of crooks that upholds wrongdoing in this country.

Then someone cared to notice. That is why the shit hit the fan and we got to hear about it. But was a car the only thing the Minister must have wrongfully taken from that company? Was it the only thing he must have wrongfully taken from any company? We would not know unless we investigated, unless we dug deeper into the scandal and looked for evidence of other misdeeds.

It is common sense that a man can't be partially corrupt like milk in the same bucket can not go partially bad. If the now former State Minister could have taken a car, he might also have taken other undue favours. Who does not know the shopping list of a corrupt man? It includes cash bribe, foreign trips, land, houses and all other elements of creature comfort. On the surface he was not doing anything wrong. He was only trying to enjoy his life, have a little comfort, make a little money, a Chartered Accountant who was doing the books of his life. He took his colleagues on a tour of the United States, all expenses paid by a client company. It never occurred to him that what he did was like a judge and his clerk partying at lawyer's expense.

It's a shame though, shame because people of that stature demonstrate such despicable nature, that they stoop low without any scruples. There is also an amount of psychosis to it, a cuckolded man lashing out at the world on the same terms as it treated him.

Yet he had gained from it on many counts. He got elected to the parliament, became a State Minister and got a second chance at life which, as it appears now, was wasted in the same roiling filth. He may have been a victim of party politics as others would like to claim. But he also has been a victim of his own doing, which has led to his embarrassment one more time.

Should we leave it to that only? Should we let him just step down from office and then continue to represent his constituency in the national parliament? If killers at large is scary business, why should corrupt at large be any different? If doctors can loose their license for malpractice, if government officials can be sacked for insubordination, then why the people's representative should not lose his seat if found guilty?

The irony is that a corrupt man was given a cabinet posting and then asked to step down when he was found corrupt again. We do not know why he was chosen by the party in the first place, and then why he was let go of on easy terms once he stepped down. Perhaps politics is the magic detergent that washes all stains so that the same person returns like fresh laundry again and again.

How does it make sense to leave public trust in the hands of such people? And why should they not be subject to legal proceedings just like other felons? What signal does it send to those who are in line for future politics? Get power, abuse it, step down and go clean. If an 80-year old man can be tried in the United States for committing a crime forty years ago, why do we choose to look the other way if a public servant has lost his job over corruption less than forty days ago?

Too bad there are other reasons why the Minister has lost his job. Too bad there are other Ministers who are engaged in more or less the same level of corruption. But that doesn't exonerate him from what he has done, and that doesn't make us feel any better about the man. As a certified Chartered Accountant, he failed to audit his own behaviour and comply with his professional standards. You do not take a fancy car from a company, which stands to gain within your sphere of influence. It is like a procedural incest when a keeper turns usurper.

The height of audacity is when a man leaving his office in disgrace shows the nerve to harangue others on morality, telling how Petrobangla had turned into a den of corruption. Look who is talking? He is given credit for much of that corruption and for fostering a culture of moral depravity. The same man was blaming others for doing what he had done himself, an outrageously remorseless response to his own outrageously loathsome action.

This is all the more reason why there should be an investigation. It is not enough to ask someone to step down if he does not feel humbled by the shame or guilt of his wrongdoing. He has not yet learned his lesson. That means he has not done his penance.

Can you imagine, giving away a prized position in life for a damn car? One has to be really silly to make a mistake like that, but there are people who cannot resist the temptation of the slightest thing. The path of greed always leads to a dead end. Others might call it a car, but I call it four wheels of misfortune, which looked like a deal until it crashed.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.