Corruption = (authority + monopoly) – transparency
With the vision to create a strong anti-corruption culture that permeates throughout the whole society and with the mission to relentlessly combat, control, suppress and prevent corruption, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) of Bangladesh was created on May 9, 2004 while its predecessor, the Bureau of Anti Corruption (BAC), was abolished on the same day. The event was termed as the commission's “rising out of the ashes” by many; during the last caretaker government, the ACC acquired the absolute power to investigate, summon and arrest anybody and everybody. However, such power of the ACC was inhibited, as the new Government, formed by the Grand Alliance through the general election in 2008, did not ratify those laws in the parliament. Going against their election pledge– to take a multi-prong approach to fight corruption– the Grand Alliance led cabinet, on January 24, 2011, approved a bill seeking amendments to the ACC Act 2004 that would make it mandatory for the anti-graft body to obtain permission from the government before filing cases against public servants. The approval was given at the 90th meeting of the cabinet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair. Amendment of nine more clauses of the relevant Act was also approved in the same meeting, raising protests amongst the civil society, leading personalities and the masses. The frustrated ACC chief Ghulam Rahman tagged his own organisation as a “toothless tiger”, during the recent developments and if the bureaucrat-proposed and bureaucrat-friendly propositions get the final approval from the parliament, the toothless tiger will surely lose its paws as well.
Anti Corruption Commission (ACC): In search of freedom. Photo: Zahedul I Khan
The most talked about amendment passed by the cabinet was that the ACC would have to obtain permission from the government before filing graft cases against government officials will surely create an obstacle for the ACC to curb corruption. According to the ACC Chairman when a commission is given the responsibility to check corruption in the country, it must be given complete independence and it must remain neutral. “The stated amendment would hamper our process of action against corruption and we have requested the government to review it” he says. Fortunately, the amendments have been approved in the cabinet division, which is just a preliminary stage. The amendments have to go through a lengthy process to be finally approved by the parliament. As the proposed amendments stand diagonally opposite to the Government's stand against corruption, Ghulam Rahman thinks and hopes that those amendments will not be finally approved.
“The most corrupt section of this nation is the bureaucrats and the ACC works against this corruption. The recent amendments will only help and protect the corrupt bureaucrats. And if that happens, there is no need of the ACC or any such organisations” says the Chairman.
But Awami League presidium member Obaidul Quader opines differently; according to him, “Everybody– organisations, politicians, and people– must be accountable to someone, otherwise no one can control the breach of laws. People are talking about the hindrance of the ACC's independence but the ACC is not any super human who is above all corruption. Recently an official of the ACC's Chittagong branch has been convicted of major corruption. The government wants the ACC to be accountable to an authority so that it does not misuse its power.”
“Ours is a government that had pledged to do everything in its power to ensure the eradication of corruption and we shall never do anything that obstructs the realisation of that pledge,” he adds. Echoing the ACC Chairman's optimistic attitude he also says that the cabinet has only approved the recent amendments. The proposals will have to go through a long procedure of parliamentary debates and discussions before they can finally be approved. The final proposals might be changed for betterment.
As another amendment proposes that no junior official of the ACC would be able to inquire the actions of any high government officials and those government officials could only be investigated by the ACC officials of the same rank, the ACC chief states that as the ACC does not have any secretary or any ministers if a secretary or minister is found corrupt, how would the ACC be able to investigate them? “Will the government provide us with secretaries and ministers now? The above amendment, along with the one that proposes that the government would have the authority to appoint the secretary to the ACC, is just an indirect way to hinder the freedom of the commission,” he urges.
Welcoming the amendment that permits the ACC to hire any expert official for an investigation, the ACC chief says, “This will surely help us conduct better. Suppose, if the ACC wants to investigate corruption in a bank, we would need an agent who knows banking well. Our work force might not have a skillful banking official but this law would help us get one to investigate more accurately.” But he admits that the ACC still lacks desirable financial and administrative independence. “We must be given the supremacy above all other laws so that nothing hinders our investigation or data collection. The ACC should also be permitted to investigate anyone and everyone at random. An example will make the necessity of such power clear; suppose a government servant is prone to corruption but if s/he is aware of such power of the ACC, s/he will evade corruption out of the fear of being investigated and caught at any time,” he demands.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) protests the crippling amendments. Photo: Star file
Since the Awami League-led grand alliance government assumed power two years ago, the ACC filed 462 corruption cases compared with more than 1,700 filed during the preceding two years of caretaker government rule. Over 600 corruption cases filed against high-profile corruption suspects during the last caretaker government's rule remained stuck at the High Court in the last two years, dampening ACC's anti-corruption campaign. Explaining ACC's stand on this, Ghulam says, “During the caretaker government, the ACC was given the supreme power that was above all the laws. We had the power to acquire any documents from any organisation despite the fact that there is a law that allows any organisation to confine any of its documents if it wants. After the formation of the democratic government, such power was renounced by the parliament.” If the ACC requires permission from the court to proceed with its action, the investigation will naturally be delayed. That should explains the reduction in the number of cases filed by the ACC. “Moreover, the ACC only investigates corruption and if proved, it files cases. The ACC does not sentence any punishment to anyone. It's the High Court's job to punish the corrupt. The judiciary process of our country is inherently a lengthy one, hence many of the convicts are still not punished and this dilatory nature provides immunity to the convicted and corrupted citizen. The ACC has not withdrawn any of its filed cases. Most of the cases are at various stages in the court; some are at stay, some are squashed. A point to be noted here is that, the ACC received many pleas to withdraw the cases against AL-affiliated people, we even received requests to remove the allegations against the country premier but we did not withdraw a single such case. Any and every case that has been dismissed was dismissed by the High Court through legal procedure,” he says.
But the noted AL politician, Obaidul Quader thinks that though the ACC had acquired immense power during the last caretaker government, it did not use the power. Most of the people they had arrested, are roaming free. “None of the arrestees were freed because of any government interference; neither any case was withdrawn by force. As the investigation process, filing of the cases conducted by the ACC had loopholes in them, many of the convicted people took advantage of that and got free. We don't want the ACC to repeat its past mistakes. Had the ACC conducted its investigation process more thoroughly during the caretaker government, many of the real corrupted people would have been in jail now; but the ACC chose to misuse its power,” complains the veteran. But the ACC chief defending the honest intention of the organisation says, “each and every investigation of the ACC is subjected to the judicial review. Every case we file, we file it after thorough investigation supported by clear proof. And about the corruption among the ACC officials no organisation is above corruption. The only thing we can do about it is to keep it checked. And that's what we do in case of our corrupt officials. There are laws to try the corrupt officials of the ACC.”
When an authority is served with monopoly and given impunity from accountability or transparency, corruption is inevitable. The world has seen it through the course of history; Bangladesh has seen it through BKSAL and the following military regimes. The ACC has had its share of flaws in not using its absolute power in the best possible way, but forcing it to seek permission from the people it might be investigating is no way to make it accountable.
According to the report of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), in corruption perception index Bangladesh was at the bottom among the 188 countries from 2001 to 2005. That was what made Bangladesh the number one corrupted nation in the world. In 2008 Bangladesh stood 147th in the same index. It stood 139th and 134th in 2009 and 2010, respectively. According to TIB's corruption barometre, 20 percent of the public think that corruption has remained the same in the past two years, compared to the past political government and 34/35 percent have opined that corruption has decreased. So the majority of the masses do not think that corruption has increased in the past two years. “Bangladesh is making a U-turn in its fight against corruption and if the ACC is made inactive at such a crucial point, the U-turn will be bogged down,” says the ACC chief. He adds, “Corruption was not born in one day; neither will it die in a moment. Two thousand years ago, 40 types of corruption were listed in Chanakya's writings. In the medieval period there was corruption. And there is corruption now. We have to fight to curb it.”
(R) thedailystar.net 2010