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     Volume 11 |Issue 41| October 19, 2012 |


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Currant Affairs

A Question of Credibility

Shakhawat Liton

In the run up to the ninth parliamentary polls, the Awami League in its electoral manifesto promised to take multi-pronged measures to fight corruption. It promised that powerful people would have to submit wealth statements annually and strict measures would be taken to eliminate bribe, extortion, rent seeking and corruption. It also promised to make the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) stronger to curb corruption.

Its strong stance against corruption was lauded by people and they gave the party a landslide mandate to go ahead to fulfil its promises. People were very frustrated with the misrule of the past BNP-Jamaat led alliance, so they had expected a significant change in the governance. And the AL-led government began its tight-rope journey on January 6, 2009. But when it comes to fighting corruption, the AL has largely failed in the last four years to deliver on its electoral pledges. It summarily denied allegations of graft without even probing into the authenticity of the allegations.

Will the ACC be able to come up with a satisfactory investigation report? Photo: Star File

The denial policy did not work, as it never worked in the past. The AL policymakers should have understood it better than anyone else, especially after the cancellation of the loan agreement with the World Bank to fund the Padma Bridge. The global lender raised the allegation of 'conspiracy of corruption' in the project in September last year. The same year the Washington-based bank postponed its funding for the project claiming it had proof of corruption conspiracy involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian consultancy firm and some private individuals.

But the government did not pay any heed to the allegation. Rather, it launched a campaign to reject the allegation and blasted the World Bank on many occasions without examining the authenticity of the charge. So, the result was obvious--the World Bank on June 29 this year, cancelled the loan deal after the government failed to meet two of the four conditions set by the bank to release the fund.

After the cancellation of the loan agreement, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and many of her colleagues in her cabinet and party started to castigate the World Bank quite openly. In fact, they challenged the global money lender to prove the allegation and launched a verbal onslaught against the bank.

The World Bank seemed to have accepted the challenge. In a statement made on September 26 this year, the bank said that its funding of the Padma bridge project would depend on the satisfactory implementation of all the measures it had asked the government to take.

In the middle of September, it had announced that it was re-engaging in the project after the government had fulfilled some of its conditions, but for the project's implementation, the bank also wanted a fair probe into the graft allegations.

In addition, the financing will depend on the "positive report" by a World Bank panel on the manner and progress of the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission. It announced: “The Bank remains concerned about corruption in Bangladesh in general and in the Padma bridge project in particular. It is for this reason that we have also made it clear that to engage anew in the project will require new implementation arrangements that give much greater oversight of project procurement processes to the Bank and co-financiers."

It continues: “It is only after satisfactory implementation of all these measures as well as a positive report from the external panel of internationally recognised experts that the World Bank will go ahead with the financing of the project.”

As per the statement, the global lender appointed a three-member external panel to assess the ACC's investigation into the allegations of corruption in the Padma bridge project. The panel visited Dhaka last week. During their visit, they held introductory talks with the ACC about the investigation into alleged corruption. After the talks, Ellen Goldstein, WB country director in Bangladesh, said the panel would prepare a report in a couple of weeks and share it with the government, ACC and WB. And ACC Commissioner Mohammed Shahabuddin said the team might come again in December or January.

World Bank's funding of the Padma Bridge now depends on the panel's report. Will the panel's report be satisfactory? Is the panel satisfied with the investigation made by the ACC? Will the ACC be able to come up with a satisfactory investigation report?

In the last one year the ACC could not make any headway into the Padma bridge corruption allegation. Rather, the ACC has already been burdened with many big and crucial tasks including the share market scam, the Hall-Mark loan scam and the Destiny 2000 scam. To make matters worse, the anti-graft body does not have adequate manpower to do the jobs properly.

The government did not take any measures to strengthen the ACC to fight corruption. And the ACC itself has been suffering from lack of people's confidence in it, as it could not do any mentionable work in last four years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, many of her cabinet ministers and party leaders have repeatedly been claiming that there was no corruption in the Padma bridge project.

What will happen if the ACC comes up with the findings that there was no corruption in the Padma bridge project as claimed by the World Bank? Will people believe the ACC's findings? Will World Bank trust the report and agree to fund the project? And what will happen, if the ACC finds corruption in the project? How will the government react to such findings as its credibility will be under question in the run up to the next parliamentary elections? Will the government advise the ACC to kill time in the name of completing the investigation? Will the ACC follow such advice?

The coming days are going to be very crucial to determine the course of future events.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

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