Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 6 Issue 48 | December 14, 2007 |

   Cover Story
   Photo Feature
   A Roman Column
   Writing the Wrong
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review

   SWM Home

Cover Story

Corruption The Common Enemy

Srabonti Narmeen Ali
Photo Credit: Abu Taher Khokon

Corruption in Bangladesh has spread like an incurable disease. It has seeped down to every level of society and can be found in even every day situations -- a tradesperson who does his job half-heartedly so that he will have to keep coming back (thereby getting paid twice, even thrice the amount that it will actually take to do the job); a civil servant not wanting to do his job without extra 'incentive;' a traffic policeman who will take even two takas to let a rickshaw through a VIP road. It is easy to say that the underprivileged are taking advantage of the upper classes, but in actuality this is a problem that has trickled down from the top to the bottom. After all, what is a few hundred extra taka when many of Bangladesh's rich are extorting crores and crores?
The reality is that whether it is a few hundred or several crores of takas, corruption is corruption. In a country, which is now internationally infamous for its high level of corruption, the anti-corruption drive in past years has been almost a joke among the citizens of Bangladesh. It is only recently, after the Caretaker Government took over in January of 2007 and after 36 years of independence, that people are beginning to acknowledge that any form of corruption, regardless of the person's social class or power, cannot be tolerated.

This picture depicts how hundreds of files pile up without any real work being done at public offices, thereby adding to the nation's low productivity rate in every field. It won the first prize at the Photography Exhibition.
Photo Credit: Amirul Rajiv

The year 2007 has been a turbulent one for Bangladesh. Aside from the natural disaster, Cyclone Sidr, that recently hit so many different areas of the nation and took hundreds of lives and robbed people of their homes, the country itself is going through a major overhaul with the drive to clean up the nation's conscience being top on the list. With newly revamped Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), (which replaced the Bureau of Anti Corruption in 2004), spearheading the mission other organisations have joined hands in the fight to make honesty a national issue. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) have all joined in the much-needed war against corruption in Bangladesh.

As part of this anti corruption drive Bangladesh signed the United Nations Convention Against Anti Corruption (UNCAC), in February 2007. UNCAC is dedicated to prosecuting and punishing any forms of corruption as well as devising new ways to prevent corruption. This in addition to the UNDP's two year Anti Corruption Advocacy Campaign (ACAC), which began in 2006, under the theme of Public Administration Reform and anti corruption are the weapons which will be used to fight the battle. The Campaign aims to raise awareness and promote a better understanding on the integrity of those who are involved in the campaign in order to raise the public's trust in the effort itself. Endorsing open discussions on corruption and integrity, spreading information on what the public can do to reduce corruption as well as exercising strategic interventions to reinforce the anti corruption efforts are key to the campaign.

Manoj Basnyat (L) and Lt. Gen (retd). Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury (R) discuss their plans for making Bangladesh a corruption-free nation
Photo Credit: Zahedul I. Khan

“The PR Campaign will involve activities such as rallies, seminars, workshops, debate competitions and other such activities involving people of all ages,” says Lt. Gen. (retd) Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, ACC Chairman and former army chief. “There will be six TV channels participating -- BTV being the channel that will be giving us the biggest coverage we hope to see a major campaign primarily through electronic media and other activities continue for one year. There are two issues that we will have to study now that we have signed the UNCAC. This is a great opportunity for us and conducive to the fight against corruption. The first thing is that we have to understand what our responsibility is towards a corruption-free world -- what benefits do we expect to derive from this and the second is that we have to find the gap between the existing acts and rules and match them according to the rules of the convention. We even have agencies working on research to do the gap analysis so that we can ensure that the ACC laws are in line with the UNCAC regulations.”

This photo shows how some young people have been punished for entering a park in Foy's Lake without tickets. They have been forced to walk the whole park in front of the visitors as punishment. Photo Credit: Shoeb Faruquee

In addition to this, as part of a “meet the people” outreach programme, Chowdhury has already travelled to 31 districts in the country and is planning on covering the remaining 33.

The plan is to activate the Campaign in every district of Bangladesh, involving people of all classes.

On December 9 the UNDP along with the ACC and TIB commemorated International Anti Corruption Day by organising a seminar, which launched the translated version of the UNCAC in Bangla. In addition, TIB presented a seminar paper and different speeches by various representatives of the UN, Civil Society, Donors, Government and the ACC spoke about the anti corruption drive. The seminar ended with a prize giving ceremony to a Cartoon Competition organised by TIB and the Photography Competition held on December 8 at the DRIK Gallery, organised by both the UNDP and DRIK.

“I think the seminar will yield a lot of positive feedback,” says Manoj Basnyat, Country Director of UNDP. “People will be looking at it with interest. The signing of the UNCAC is to remind all the people in Bangladesh and different organisations that the current initiatives the government is taking should yield fruitful results.”

The Photography Competition and the Cartoon Competition are just examples of how the public can, in their own way, protest and fight corruption. The winners of the Photography Competition on December 8 are: a) Grand Prize: Amirul Rajiv; b: Second Prize: Khaled Hasan; Third Prize: Shoeb Faruquee; Honourable Mention: Jashim Uddin Salam; Honourable Mention: Monirul Alam.

The second prize winner, in which a student covers the eyes of the famous sculptures that represent the fight against violence, symbolises the shame that the youth feel at how deeply the country has sunk into corruption.
Photo Credit: Khaled Hasan

“It is absolutely essential and necessary to involve the people, the common masses to fight corruption,” says Chowdhury. “We need the society to help us with the campaign against corruption. The Photography Exhibition at the DRIK Gallery will be one way in which people can, in their own way, protest against corruption. We are giving them the opportunities to emphasise their views in as many forms as possible so that they can reach as many people as possible. There are so many different creative avenues, which people can explore in order for them to speak out against corruption. We want their voices to be heard so that they can help us with the war against corruption.”

For the people to contribute to this joint effort to free the nation of corruption, however, it is first important for everyone to understand what corruption is. According to the ACC, corruption is a) any act committed for one's own interest, profit and gain, b) the misuse of power, c) when a company or a person is knowingly breaking rules or manipulating regulations for the respective individual's or company's gain or profit; and finally, d) any act that your conscience may consider corrupt.

“Corruption is any act which is not morally acceptable,” says Chowdhury. “Many people play with the idea of committing an immoral act, such as taking a bribe. Some people justify such acts on the plea that they have to because they are poor or because they do not have enough, but the reality is that nothing excuses such immoral acts. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of Bangladesh is not corrupt; it is only a small segment of society that indulges themselves in corruption.”

The third prize winner shows 35-year old Rani, a garments worker who lost all three of her children in a landslide in Chittagong that took approximately 86 lives earlier this year. Photo Credit: Shoeb Faruquee Two people admire the first prize winner at the DRIK Gallery that began on December 8 and is going on till December 17. Photo Credit: Zahedul I. Khan

Basnyat has a similar definition of corruption in which he assesses that it is any situation “in which one uses its power or position of authority to take resources away or personal benefit and deprive the masses of their rightful benefits. This makes the system dysfunctional.”

And that is exactly what has happened. Our system has gone from flawed to completely dysfunctional and our country is suffering as a result. In the last few years the rich of Bangladesh are getting richer, while the poor people are becoming poorer still. At the expense of the masses, the privileged classes have reached such unbelievable heights that we have almost reached the point of no return. The question is why and how have we come to this point?

“I believe that at some stage, some people get addicted to gaining more in terms of material wealth,” says Chowdhury. “It's like this lust for money and possessing things -- be it houses, cars, homes abroad and even trips abroad in some cases. There is this sort of peer pressure where if someone's friend does something they have to do it as well and do it in a bigger way. This cycle keeps going on and on so that the rich people of Bangladesh can satisfy their egos. In reality our culture -- the oriental culture and even our religion -- does not encourage material and worldly gain.”

Photo Credit: Hemonto Kumar Mondol

However, even after all this campaigning and the hard work being put in to fighting corruption, it is highly unlikely that Bangladesh will ever be completely, 100 percent corruption-free.

“Ideally, yes, it should be done,” says Chowdhury. “But practically, realistically, it is not quite possible. Our aim, however, is to bring corruption down to a level where the ultimate level of good governance will be possible.”

Basnyat also agrees that it is impossible to rid the country of corruption entirely, but that the “initiative is to see how to minimise corruption and build a society respectful of integrity.” He continues by talking about his previous experience in Ukraine, where there was a similar problem, but as the government became more decentralised and economic systems became more defined and transparent, there was less corruption. “In Bangladesh they are trying to put democracy in a transparent light,” he adds.

Transparency goes hand in hand with the Right to Information Act, which Chowdhury believes should be implemented.

“The idea is you should be transparent in your deeds, thoughts and actions,” he says. “By doing this we are effectively cutting out corruption. I believe that many misdeeds take place only because people can hide them.”

This photo shows housewives of Phulbari town who came out on the streets to protest the sanctioning of an open-pit coal-mining project with the UK-based Asia Energy Corporation that would have taken away the homes of hundreds of families
Photo Credit: Andrew Biraj

.It is the need for transparency that is the first stepping-stone to a better, improved Bangladesh. Throughout the years Bangladesh has fallen deeper and deeper into the hands of corruption. Our system, for so long, has been flawed. In a country where corruption can be found in every situation, amongst all levels of society, it seems like Bangladesh has reached rock bottom. But there is hope that someday Bangladesh will, if not be rid of all forms of corruption, will still be a nation in which corruption is frowned upon and not tolerated. The goal here is not to reach unfathomable heights, but to get ourselves on the right track towards a better nation.

There comes a point in time where everyone -- regardless of who they are, how much money they have and how well they are connected -- has to be held accountable for their actions. Any immunity that they might have had from answering to the higher authorities or living by the laws of a nation eventually runs out. And as much as cynics prefer to believe that such people are infallible, there are others who believe that justice, no matter how slow, will eventually be served. Those who make their way in the world by taking the corrupt path will someday have to pay for their actions.

“In order to start, sustain and win the battle against corruption,” says Chowdhury, “we cannot miss this chance. We must all join the fight and act as comrades-at-arms to fight the same enemy.”

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007