The government will write to the Berlin-based Transparency International against the corruption watchdog's Bangladesh chapter over its “ill-motivated” survey on lawmakers, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu told parliament yesterday.
“Transparency International Bangladesh's report is ill-motivated. It has vilified the lawmakers before people. We will send the report to the TIB headquarters saying we reject it, and ask the organisation to make objective reports,” said Inu.
Replying to queries from MPs, who blasted TIB for the survey, the minister said it had become fashionable in Bangladesh to label only politicians as corrupt though various quarters in the society were involved in the practice.
"TIB also did something of that fashion and labelled MPs as corrupt. We will draw the TI headquarters' attention to the weaknesses in the TIB survey.”
The TIB report, released on October 14, said 97 percent of the 149 sitting MPs who were surveyed had been involved in "negative activities” that included being linked to or being supportive of criminal activities, misusing public funds and influencing government decisions.
On Monday, Speaker Abdul Hamid and some ruling alliance MPs in parliament launched a blistering attack on TIB. A few of them demanded action, including a ban on its activities, against the corruption watchdog.
However, two eminent citizens observed yesterday that it would be inappropriate to ban the activities of an organisation just because members of parliament had raised questions about its research.
Referring to Monday's discussion, Inu said the House would make a decision to protect the lawmakers' dignity.
He told the House that his ministry had requested TIB to respond to its questions, 31 in all, in order to check the survey's authenticity. TIB later sent its reply to the ministry.
“The information ministry has reviewed the reply. TIB did not follow proper procedures for a social science survey. The method TIB used for the survey is substandard, flawed and weak.
“So, it's not possible for the government to take any administrative action on the basis of the survey's findings.”
He said TIB had released the survey at a time when the government took a tough stance against corruption.
“We had thought that the survey would be helpful in fighting corruption. But we were very disappointed after receiving copies of the survey. It is very weak.”
He said there were 320 registered newspapers in the country, but TIB had collected information from only five newspapers for its survey.
The information ministry yesterday gave MPs copies of the ministry's 31 questions and TIB's responses to them.
Meanwhile, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said if TIB officials were summoned to parliament, they would oblige.
“According to the country's constitution, we have the right to criticise," Iftekhar told journalists at the Cirdap auditorium in the capital.
"There is a phrase, 'Shooting the messenger'. Natural disasters cannot be avoided by destroying weather forecast equipment. Similarly, corruption will not end in Bangladesh if TIB stops functioning.
"If TIB is to be banned, it should be done through a democratic process. Our goal is to have a democratic and accountable government," he said.
Akbar Ali Khan, former adviser to a caretaker government, said it was quite natural that there would be differences of opinion or debate over a research-based report. But it would be improper to ban an organisation's activities only because MPs had raised questions about its research.
None would be able to do research freely if a single report led to the banning of an organisation, he said.
“Everyone should be allowed to express his views."
If the MPs had doubts about TIB's research, they could commission other organisations to find out the flaws in the TIB's research and show them to TIB, if there were any.
"The problem is we don't have a comprehensive code of conduct for MPs. Parliament should formulate it, defining what they should do or should not do. Otherwise, such debates will continue."
Legal expert Shahdeen Malik said the lawmakers' intolerance could have been the main reason behind the respondents' negative perceptions about them in the survey.
"Banning TIB will not turn Bangladesh into a corruption-free country. Similarly, a prohibition on TIB's activities will not remove the negative perception about lawmakers,” he said.