Vol. 5 Num 689 Mon. May 08, 2006  

Parliament first, judiciary third

Historically, king became the supreme functionary of executive, legislative and judicial organs of the state. Behind subsequent facades of titular and dictatorial monarchy, and evolution of responsible parliamentary cabinet system and powerful presidential and socialist forms of government, an oligarchy lurked with a gravitational message of public welfare. After the collapse of the ancient empires, and the emergence of nation states, colonial empires grew with exploitative practices, and built their socio-political and economic power at the expense of colonies. These empires fought among themselves.

The World War II (1939-1945) ended with uncontrollable demand for political independence of colonies. Ruthless colonial suppression failed to frustrate the demand. Independent nation-states with poverty and illiteracy and all manners of backwardness appeared on the international scene without experience of self-governance, planned economy and political virtues. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, vast illiteracy and poverty drove the newly emergent sovereign states mostly toward chaotic political administrative regimes under freedom-fighting political leaders and ambitious military bureaucrats. Some such countries adopted democratic responsible cabinet or parliamentary presidential system with separate judiciary. The rest were dictatorial with no parliament or judiciary worth the name. Long subservience to colonial rule sapped the vitality of the value system of colonies and created strong political impulse for power and affluence. This became noticeable in Africa and Latin America.

With the commencement of the international aid system after World War II, lack of accountability, proper supervision and audit of accounts encouraged political misuse of aid for private ends. Official Development Investment in the less developed countries (LDCs) gradually dwindled into a negligible state, and in its stead the strategy of multinational corporation (MNC) was considered by donors as the harbinger of transfer of technology to LDCs for their rapid growth. Corporate corruption soon became spectacular. Latin American agonies brought to the forefront the corrupt practices of MNCs which maintained close link with their native politics and economic interest.

We noticed Tanaka indictment in Japan and very recently the expulsion of corrupt members of parliament in India without surprise. There was a long-standing general allegation in Bangladesh against parliamentary corruption in public contracts, state purchases, distributions, allocation of funds in projects, secret shares of politicians in business etc but no action therefore. Financial tycoons grabbed money-hungry political parties and parliamentary candidates for policy dividends. Elections became a game of political-muscular-criminal combine for political power. The Transparency International and the native Transparency Trustee Boards in various countries seem to have now brought the cat out of the bag in their reports. Although corruption has co-existed with human society as a phenomenon of ordinary behaviour, its spectacular development in government and politics in recent decades is startling.

Transparency International may have had in its record the interesting legends of corruption in ancient Greece, Rome, India etc and its march through medieval and subsequent ages of history in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, USA, China and many other dictatorial countries and in the Indian sub-continent. We believe, the profile of corruption recently released by Transparency International has impaired the moral fibre of parliament, police and judiciary of the world. The perception of corruption of parliament and judiciary marked as No. 1 and No. 3 in world perspective may not create any special sense of shame in Bangladesh which has already been declared first among nations for five years consecutively, commencing on January 1, 2000.

It is our belief that the element of error in the perception of corruption reported by the Transparency Trustee Board would not exceed 10 percent if corruption means decomposition and debasement of moral values, perversion from right principles, and is characterized by bribe-taking and bribe-giving, misuse of public power for private ends, nepotism, favouritism, embezzlement of funds, and includes scam in elections, tax evasion, business, trade, commerce, industry, allocation of funds, purchases, contract, development projects, appointment and promotion of public servants and teachers in all levels of education etc.

Transparency International has certainly its own device of collection of data from newspapers, citizens and foreigners, victims who bear the brunt of corruption and other sources in order to reach its perception of corruption located in the parliamentary and the judicial organs of the state. The low level of the moral fibre of parliament and judiciary as distinct from the executive was not brought into public lime light so spectacularly in the past, in fear of the red-eyes of members of parliament and the contempt procedure of courts. We usually concerned ourselves with the petty and crude corruption of the little men and kept out of focus the big and sophisticated corruption of the big and the powerful like parliament and judiciary, the police apart.

We do not know of any agitation of parliament and judiciary anywhere against the evaluated perception of corruption released by Transparency International. In Bangladesh, we create usually row against proverbial tyrants in and around lower courts, government offices including the police organisation and civil services and some departments where recruitment, promotion etc are hinged on corruption. Lack of effective inspection and supervision of the functions of lower courts has perhaps created corrupt elements in matters related to warrant, summons, bails, auction sale, hearing of cases, distortion in judgement under political interference. Independence of conscience of fundamental state functionaries is perhaps a thing of the past, otherwise Transparency International could not have formed its perception of judicial corruption. Lamentable is the unconstitutional role of Bangladesh executive in lower judiciary. Citizens' demand to separate judiciary from executive since the days of Warren Hastings has remained unfulfilled. We noticed since 1954 the separation issues as election highlight just to keep the illiterate voters in good humour without any political will to effect the separation.

The transparency report will, we believe, inspire research into corruption in its historical perspectives. We know that in 430 BC, Romans had law prohibiting political badge. A Roman governor used to fleece the province to compete for consulship, used magistrates to act as collaborators. Any one found corrupt was disqualified for future elections also. Julius Caesar introduced nomination of consuls to reduce corruption. In Greece, high administrative posts were assigned by lottery. In Carthage, the throne and military commands were saleable. In Britain, in the 15th century, jurors tampered with evidence. George III created peers for political jobbery. Justice Bacon was impeached for corruption. In the 19th century, parliamentary seat could be procured with money. In USA, lots of Senators have been guilty of corruption; missions, consulates, contracts are viewed as President Jackson's doctrine of spoils of victors. Corporate presidents can fill up a house with gifts. Since the time of Gerald Ford corporate corruption has startled the world. Tanaka indictment hit Japan. Lockheed scandals involved Netherlands.

In ancient India, corruption was punished with banishment. The Mughal rulers gave East India Company trade facility through corruption. Company corruption accelerated the pace of industrialism in Britain when the East India Company's purse-proud barbarians and Knights of the Golden Fleece provided the cash capital at home.

Police job is visible, hazardous, public-predicament oriented and a historical subject of unpleasantness; police has to deal with human frailties and bring delinquents to court, in the process depriving delinquents of liberty. Police has to deal with all kinds of liars and hardened criminals to extract truth, use force to keep peace, and control orderly as well as disorderly crowd and pursue preventive steps. Hardly anybody appreciates the predicaments of police in the discharge of duties for which he is duty-bound for 24 hours.

In the year 1829, British Prime Minister brought wide scale reforms in police and today London police is treated as the world's best. Before the reforms, none could dare to come out in broad daylight in the city of London for fear of armed robbers and dacoits. The Tames was the haven of pirates. Women moved in cities openly for unsocial contacts. Britain had one single characteristic which was absent elsewhere. There was rule of law. None was above law. There were no red-eyed politicians and powerful citizens who could interfere in professional police job. Laws are mostly judge-made and respected equally by the high and the low. All the cruel laws known in history were legal in Britain but they were all abolished with the growth of enlightenment. Even death sentence was abolished in mid 1960's whereas by the early nineteenth century there were 250 offences for which the punishment was death. Theft of handkerchief from shop was punished with death.

In Britain, police is a self-governing institution under the statutory control of the Home Ministry, consisting of about 90 independent units functioning under local governments, under the national police policy figured out by the government in the Home Ministry. Recruitment is made at one level only (constable) by each unit; from such recruits emerge police chiefs of the 90 units in due course.

Police corruption in Bangladesh has extended up to collusion with criminals and easy indulgence in crimes which police has to prevent and detect. He does not have professional freedom and has to work under the red-eyes of politicians. Allegations against police are too many. Police has also too many tales to tell: He overworks but gets no overtime. His pay does not cover hazards of his job. He cannot enjoy even weekly holidays. His pay and emoluments are far below his minimum requirements in family life etc.

It is unfortunate, we do not have honest, tough-principled persons in politics, capable of taking sincere and bold-stroke action to jettison the corrupt elements from parliament, police and judiciary.

Abdul Khaleque is a former IG, police.