The National Integrity Strategy
Fazlur Rahman explains how a good government needs to earn the trust of its people.
Bangladesh earned its independence only 38 years ago. Like all young democracies it has had to build the foundation of governance gradually and has taken a lot of time to develop the framework of institutions that maintains law and order in a country of 150 million people. While, Bangladesh has the necessary institutions required for a fully functional democracy, our institutions are still very young and vulnerable. Corruption thrives on systemic weaknesses and the strengthening of our institutions will help us bring back integrity into our society.
The overall purpose of a National Integrity Strategy is to provide a system of governance that creates trust among citizens. The NIS recognizes that the state's legal institutions require watchdogs within the general population to keep it accountable. For this reason the strategy targets a broad audience, and takes in to account political, social and cultural factors. The stakeholder groups involved not only include government and administrative institutions but also other components of society including family, civil society and community organizations.
The 2008 Global Integrity Index gives Bangladesh's legal framework very high marks of 84%. However, in practical implementation it gets a comparatively lower 52%. What this means is that Bangladesh can be up there with its counterparts in South Asia but it lags behind in institutional capability. Both Pakistan and India are both in front of Bangladesh in the Integrity index. The OECD's Business and Advisory Committee noted that the quality of governance has, in recent times, become the single most important determinant of investment-location decisions in developing countries. This should be of particular concern for emerging markets such ours, who need as much foreign investment as we can get. If the government implements the NIS, it can mobilise its legal institutions and bring back integrity into the system. If so, Bangladesh will be able to catch up with its South Asian counterparts and present an attractive picture for other governments and financial institutions to want to invest and do business here.
“The National Integrity Strategy of Singapore”, was the prime reason for earning Singapore one of the lowest levels of corruption in the world and changed its image into a beacon of good governance in Asia. The Government, encouraged by the success of the National Integrity Strategy (NIS) in other Asia countries and all over the world has opted for its first NIS policy document. The Cabinet Division of the Government of Bangladesh, with technical assistance from the Institute of Governance Studies (IGS), Brac University, has prepared the National Integrity Strategy as a comprehensive approach to unite all relevant stakeholders, and act for integrity and honesty in the society as a whole. The NIS team conducted a total of 53 focus group discussions throughout Bangladesh. With the help and support of the Cabinet Division and cooperation from the Deputy Commissioners, district administrations and the local dignitaries, these valuable discussions formed the foundations of forming a consensus about an NIS.
The NIS is like a well-constructed house; it rests on public awareness & demand. The stronger our societal core values, the firmer is the foundation. Figure-1 displays that the nation's integrity, which forms the roof of the structure, is supported by a series of mutually reinforcing pillars. The three balls on the roof emphasize that the roof must be kept level, failing which they can roll off. Figure 1 displays the model constructed by Transparency International (TI) to assess the integrity system in more than seventy countries. In addition to this framework, the Bangladesh Government has expanded the original structure and included more relevant institutions to contextualise it in the Bangladesh scenario. Table 1 demonstrates how the Bangladeshi NIS has been tailored toward addressing issues of particular concern in the different institutions of the country.
Accountability can be established when a healthy balance of power exists between the key organs of the state executive, legislature and judiciary, when each can discharge its designated functions effectively, and when no one takes absolute control. Thus, these institutions are interlinked, and integrity can only be established when they learn to work with each other.
Goals and principles:
The NIS is an instrument to enhance integrity and eliminate corruption within institutions. Improved honesty and morality in people, policies and procedures are seen as a vehicle to address and rectify the crisis of integrity that the institutions are presently in. Upon its implementation, the NIS will establish that only people with integrity will become people's representatives, and they will exercise their collective will to instill integrity back into society. It will also ensure competent and non-partisan public service to implement government policies. Financial accountability of public officials will improve through enhanced internal control mechanisms, and through more effective functioning of the Parliament, supported by an empowered Public Accounts Committee. If NIS is implemented, the judiciary will be more independent and capable of responding to citizens' demands for justice. A more capable Anti-Corruption Commission will prosecute the corrupt effectively and make people more aware of demanding integrity. The non-state institutions would emerge not only as watchdogs, but will also practice self-regulation mechanisms to earn people's credibility. The success of the NIS requires continuous political will, and the people and institutions must challenge the political leadership to that end.
Each institution is a key component of the state's legal apparatus.
For example, sound financial management systems are powerful instruments for preventing, discovering, or facilitating the punishment of fraud and corruption. Although, the ACC took a very proactive role in fighting corruption in Bangladesh during the Caretaker Government, the sustainability of its initiatives is yet to be seen. Needless to say, its functioning is dependent on cooperation and coordination with other national institutions that play their due role in providing effective governance. For instance, the ACC needs the reports of the C&AG to be published and sent out in a timely manner so that they can be equipped with the information they need to prosecute any misappropriation of funds they may discover. In this respect, the NIS can serve as a crucial tool in curbing corruption in Bangladesh by addressing questions of self-integrity.
The World Bank's Doing Business report points out that enforcing a contract in the Bangladesh civil court system can easily take up to four years. In this regard, the NIS suggests installing a separate secretariat for the appointment of our subordinate court judges. In the absence of a separate secretariat for the judiciary, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs still determines the transfer, promotion and posting of the sub-ordinate court judges. This severely undermines the quality of judges. The number of judges to handle the huge volume of litigation is also insufficient as the case-judge ratio is extremely high. The unpredictability of our law system will not inspire confidence in foreign investors to do business in our country. These problems should be addressed or else Bangladesh will not be able to move forward in an increasingly competitive global arena.
Recommendations of Bangladesh's national integrity strategy:
In the NIS, each pillar needs some core tools. The Right to Information Act has been passed in on May 5th of this year. Its effective implementation, however, is crucial for the media to function. Thus, even the non-state institutions and civil society are dependent on the cooperation of the state institutions. Table 1 outlines the major recommendations of the Bangladesh NIS as it applies to both state and non-state institutions:
Legal framework of NIS:
Within the NIS plan, the Cabinet Division is responsible for the implementation of NIS activities through relevant line ministries and in collaboration and concurrence with the constitutional bodies and other institutions. A policy-making body, the National Integrity Advisory Committee (NIAC), headed by the Prime Minister/Chief Advisor and comprising members from the Cabinet and major institutions of the national integrity system will provide policy guidance.
The Cabinet Division will also facilitate the establishment of an Ethics Committee composed of the heads of the institutions. Each institution will nominate an NIS officer as an Ethics Focal Point to maintain liaison with the Cabinet Division and manage implementation of NIS activities from within that institution. The framework overview is outlined in figure 2.
Azizur Rahim Peu/Driknews
The Government of Bangladesh believes that the issue of integrity should not stop at the top level of institutions. Rather, each institution is expected to find mechanisms to implement institution-specific strategies at different tiers. The idea is to let the obligations of integrity reach down to each individual of the institutions. In that respect, every citizen will be part of the NIS. The NIS can only come into effect with the continued support of the Bangladesh Government. The NIS is based upon a belief that all the institutions required for good governance already exist in Bangladesh. By identifying a common goal for all relevant institutions to pursue the NIS will integrate the different pillars of society, and infuse integrity back into Bangladeshi society.
For more information please visit the official website of the Bangladesh Government's National Integrity Strategy at http: //www. nisfor-bangladesh.com/.
1. July 2008 estimate CIA World Factbook: https://www.cia. Gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/bg.html.
2. Government of Bangaldesh's 2008 report on the implementation of the United Nations Conventions against Corruption (UNCAC) highlights that corruption is an institutional weakness.
3. For the Global Integrity Index 2008 results visit their website at http://report.globalintegrity.org/globalindex/results.cfm
4. From key note address by Dr. Tan Tay Keong at a workshop titled “The Strategy of Soft Power in International Relations” held at the Harold Hartog School of Government between Novermber 15-16, 2005 http://spirit. Tau.ac.il/ government/ OccasionalWS.asp
5. See Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) report titled “Corruption and Parliamentary Oversight: Primacy of the Political Will” for NIS structure description. Presented at the Seminar to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day, Dhaka, 9 December 2006, organized by TIB.
6. World Bank's Doing Business Report 2009.
7. Legal framework provided by NIS draft (April 21, 2009) with the kind permission of the author.
Fazlur Rahman works at the Institute of Government Studies at Brac University as a research assistant.