Vol. 5 Num 500 Fri. October 21, 2005  
Front Page

Burying our heads in the sand, living in the world of blaming others

As the saying goes, you can help the blind but not those who decide to keep their eyes shut. A good example of this self-imposed blindness is seen in the game we play with annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of the Transparency International (TI).

We have been perceived to be (not necessarily that we are) the most corrupt country in the world for the last five years and yet we do nothing about fighting corruption inside the country, except for complaining either about the TI methodology of CPI determination or about some international conspiracy to malign us.

Our venerable Foreign Minister Morshed Khan has used this occasion to launch his own brand of media bashing. Once again, it is the fault of the free press. According to his own version of logic, the reason that we are perceived as the most corrupt is because we have such a free press. According to him, there are at least 50 countries more corrupt than we are. But they are not on the top of the TI list as their press is not free to report on corruption like the Bangladesh press.

There are two flaws in his thinking. First, the TI report is not based on newspaper reports. The TI from Berlin, the TIB from Dhaka and we in the media have literally gone hoarse shouting that it was not so. But, because our leaders refuse to face facts (self-imposed blindness) and because media is a convenient whipping boy, they continue to say that the CPI is based on newspaper reports.

Morshed Khan may wish to note the following facts, if facts at all interest him. The Bangladesh CPI 2005 report is based on seven independent surveys conducted by five internationally reputed organisations. They are-- 1) The World Economic Forum (Davos); 2) Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the world famous weekly Economist magazine (London). (Any survey done by EIU is highly regarded by world business leaders because of its credibility); 3) Columbia University (USA); 4) World Markets Research Centre (London); and 5) Merchants International Group (London).

The above five international bodies conducted seven surveys through different methods, including distributing questionnaires to business leaders, both local and foreign; country analysts, including multilateral, bilateral and related bodies; and experts residing in Bangladesh and living in abroad. The results are accepted only when similar surveys are conducted over a group of countries (single country research is not accepted) and the data collected for one year is compared with the same data collected over a period of three years.

In fact in the whole CPI exercise, newspaper reports do not figure at all. The five international bodies conduct their research independently and they are not at all based on newspaper reports. Yet, minister after minister keeps on harping on the same string that we are being perceived as the most corrupt because of newspapers. [But what is wrong with newspaper reports anyway? Can the minister cite any major story where the media was ever wrong? In fact, if his government had listened to us earlier, they might have been able to take timely and effective action against the militants, and would not have been in the mess they are in now].

Our questions to the foreign minister are: How could you say that the CPI report is based on newspaper reports when the fact is totally opposite? What does it do to your credibility? Do you really care whether your words are true or false? Do you do any fact-finding job before going public with a statement? Why do you blame the media without making a minimum effort to find out the facts?

The answer to the above is very simple. The minister blamed the media because he did not want to know the truth and for the people to know the same. He and other ministers keep on doing so because they are among those who keep their eyes shut and pretend to see nothing when they know perfectly well that the truth lies elsewhere. This they do because, very often, they are the beneficiaries of this corruption. Will any of the ministers and their families have the moral courage to submit themselves to any independent investigation into their personal and family wealth? They are all in denial mode because it suits them, even if it means an unbearable cost for the country. And so they chose to live in a make believe world by blaming others, especially the media, for all their personal and collective failure.

We can derive a very revealing insight into the foreign minister's mind from his comments to the press on Wednesday. He did not deny that we are corrupt. He only complained that the free press in Bangladesh is writing about it. He referred to an unnamed fifty countries where the press is not free and as such there are no stories of corruption. As a result those countries do not feature in the CPI index. Our foreign minister's argument is clear. Whether a country is corrupt or not is not the issue. Writing about it is. So, refrain from writing about corruption in Bangladesh and we will disappear from TI's CPI list, and in that way the whole problem could be solved. So stop the free press and do nothing about those who indulge in corruption. What a wonderful idea, Mr. Foreign Minister! The only problem with this is that every corrupt leadership has thought about it and tried it before and, regrettably for them and happily for the rest of us, they have failed, miserably and dishonourably.

Let's forget the CPI and tell the Transparency International to go to hell. Just ask the people of Bangladesh about corruption and listen to what they have to say. Isn't corruption just around the corner from all of us, if not upon us already? Do we not experience it on a daily basis? From buying adulterated products to paying bribes for the simplest of utility services, to paying speed money to move files, to paying commissions to some renowned and not so renowned sons, nephews, and recently to daughter-in-laws - you name it and you can trace graft.

Ask any honest official (an increasingly diminishing species but some strong strains remain) of almost every government office and listen to tales of corruption they have to tell. Do we really need TI to tell us about our corruption?

For the last five years we have been labelled as the country 'perceived' to be the most corrupt. My question is, except for vilifying the TI, what have we done to fight corruption? Is setting up an ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission), which is yet to make any impression, the answer? Maybe we are not the Number 1 corrupt country. Maybe we are number 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or even 10. What does that matter? We know that we are living in an extremely corrupt environment. This disease has caught most of our offices, professionals and businessmen. What does system loss of hundreds of crores of takas in all our utility services mean? What does it mean when a project worth $10 million costs us $100 million? What does it mean when the World Bank forces us to move away from unsolicited bids to open tender? What does it mean when ministers concerned claim they are powerless because orders come from somewhere else? What does it mean when a written order of the principal secretary of the prime minister about corruption of an APS is overridden (who can over-ride, we can guess)? What does it mean when more than 20 abandoned Gulshan houses with one-bigha plots are handed over to dubious owners without any proper procedure and transparency?

When in 2001 Bangladesh was termed the most corrupt country in the TI's CPI for the first time, present Finance Minister Saifur Rahman, then opposition BNP leader, said, "TI's report is timely and beyond question. I have analysed the report personally and have concluded that it was done on the basis of international indices. It cannot be said that this report was made to denigrate Bangladesh (June 28, 2001)." The next year, when TI handed us the same dubious distinction, but by then Saifur Rahman had become once again the finance minister, he said, "TI should have its brain examined (October 27, 2002)."

Last Wednesday, gloating over the latest CPI of the TI, which found our country the most corrupt for the fifth time in a row (four times under the BNP rule), AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil described how the TI had correctly analysed the situation over the last four years and how TI's findings were absolutely perfect. But for the first year's findings, when the AL was in power, the venerable leader said, "Transparency International was influenced by the then opposition leader to publish that report to tarnish the image of the then government." What a sick and morally bankrupt intellectual position it could be! Our leaders must have such a low opinion about our ability to think and judge them. Do they still expect us to respect them and take them seriously?

For the sake of the country and for our future, please do not continue to bury your heads in the sand and think that the world cannot see you. They can. It is only you who cannot see how stupid you look. Stop living in the world of blaming others.