One of the fundam-ental principles of Bangladesh, as stipulated in the Article 20 (2) of the country’s constitution, is that the state will endeavour to create conditions in which, as a general principle, no-one will be able to enjoy unearned income.
Through this article the constitution strongly speaks against black money which is usually earned through illegal means like corruption. Sometimes money earned legally may become black money if the earner does not pay tax on the earnings.
In Bangladesh, amassing wealth through illegal means is an open secret. People holding high offices such as public servants and even individuals in private sectors make a fortune through illegal means. Is it a small wonder then that corruption has appeared as one of the biggest problems for Bangladesh?
Fighting corruption was a popular political slogan of both the previous military rulers. They grabbed power in the name of making the country free of corruption, something they miserably failed to deliver.
Political parties, particularly the Awami League and BNP running the country by turns since the restoration of democracy, have also been making similar promises.
The ruling Awami League in its electoral manifesto had also promised to take strong measures against holders of black money. But when the time came to deliver on its promises, the AL-led government has done the opposite. In its five budgets, including the one for the next financial year, owners of black money have been given special opportunities to whiten it by giving a certain amount of tax.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) thinks the provision of legalising black money is an example of institutionalisation of corruption. The culture of allowing people to whiten black money started during the martial law regime that grabbed power after the bloody changeover of August 15, 1975.
But the democratically elected governments that took power since the restoration of democracy in 1991 have nourished the culture, instead of taking a stance against it. Late Finance Ministers Saifur Rahman and Shah AMS Kibria, who placed budgets in the parliament from 1991 to 2006, spoke about the political pressure to continue the provision of legalising black money. They personally spoke against the provision.
Their successor AMA Muhith has also done the same. He however has said “politics is a game of compromise”. Muhith’s remarks have made it clear that his government has made the compromise ignoring the constitutional provision and the electoral commitment that his party has against black money.
Likewise, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier in her speech spoke of holding a dialogue with the BNP to resolve the political standoff over the formation of an election time government. But she has retreated from her stance and has blamed it on Khaleda Zia.
It is interesting to see that around 18 years ago Sheikh Hasina had said what Khaleda Zia is saying now regarding the fate of the dialogue and the installation of a non-partisan election time government.
On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina is speaking frequently to uphold the constitutional spirit, although her government has been flouting it by legalising black money. Around 18 years ago, Khaleda Zia, when she was the Prime Minister, took the strategy to reject Hasina’s demand for the caretaker government.
Around 18 years ago, they could not reach any compromise. They had played it hard, paralysing the country’s economy through the enforcement of dozens of hartals. Again, they failed to make a compromise in between 2005 and 2006, when Khaleda was the Prime Minister and Hasina was the leader of the opposition. Their failure to make compromises resulted in the enforcement of the state of emergency and a two year-long unconstitutional rule of a military installed caretaker government-led by Fakhruddin Ahmed.
All the prevailing signs suggest that there will be no talks between the AL and BNP, which means that the politics in the upcoming days will be more volatile. People will suffer a lot; public property will be damaged; economy will have to bear the brunt.
In his latest budget speech, Finance Minister Muhith however, has come up with the proposal to reduce the import duty of windscreens to 5 percent from 12 percent. In his defence, he said that it is an essential part of the car. Windscreens of numerous vehicles were damaged in the ongoing political violence.
The Finance Minister’s proposal may give comfort to those who will need to buy new windscreens. But what shield will the masses have to protect themselves from violence in the coming days?
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.