A writ petition was filed challenging the government’s stand against the coaching business. After the hearing, the High Court declared the government’s policy in this regard to be legal. The court also said that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was paying more attention to minor instances of corruption rather than focusing on the major corruption. The watchdog has to have a priority list, it said.
These issues come to attention after the attendance of primary school teachers came under observation. Similar monitoring was carried out in the health sector regarding the attendance of physicians. According to ACC, drawing salary without attending the office is also a form of corruption. Two High Court judges rightly said the ACC remained indifferent to major corruption and economic losses of the state. Millions of taka is regularly being embezzled from the banks. On a priority basis, the ACC has to bring to book those involved in such serious corruption. They said voices had to be raised against the big incidents of corruption first and then the smaller ones. Only then the drive against corruption will be successful.
The banking sector scam is discussed regularly. Loan defaulters may not be classified as corrupt persons, but using fake documents to take loans is certainly an instance of corruption. Those who have taken and disbursed loans in such a manner must be punished. The ACC can take necessary action. Falsely inflating the value of assets is also a sort of corruption. In fact, most of the loans have been disbursed without ensuring the necessary security. But these matters are hardly taken into consideration. Due to lenience from Bangladesh Bank, most of the loan defaulters are dropped from the list. The central bank is also responsible for this disaster in the banking sector. It is lack of accountability in our governance system that creates such a crisis.
A law suit was filed abroad over the Bangladesh Bank heist. CID, however, could not finish its investigation. It is not understandable why this should not be considered as a sort of corruption. A commission headed by former BB governor Mohammad Farashuddin submitted a report in connection with the BB heist, but this report has not been published yet. The former finance minister had made a commitment to the nation to make the report public. It is not clear why it has not been published as yet. The people have the right to know. No steps have been taken against those in Bangladesh Bank who were said to be involved. The ACC does not require any permission from any authority to carry out investigations and bring about charges. The law must be duly applied. After the formation of the new government, the prime minister has been talking about the zero tolerance against corruption. So there is a political commitment. There is no reason for the ACC to lag behind in tackling corruption.
Corruption, big or small, is widely discussed. Junior officials amass huge amounts of ill-gotten wealth. We were stunned by the news that two officials of a health ministry department, illegally made a massive sum of money. But investigations take so long, that eventually nothing happens at all. Justice delayed is justice denied. It is not clear why it takes so much time for investigations and submission of charges. The ACC can hold the lawyers accountable so that the cases are disposed of quickly.
In 2017, over Tk 100 million was found in the bank account of a superintendent of police. This was disproportionate to his income and was also not mentioned in his wealth statement for tax returns. The evidence was collected fast and a case was filed. The accused police officer is on bail, but the investigation was only completed recently. The charge sheet is yet to be submitted. It is not clear why such a long time is being taken. There is no reason to take such a long time in this type of case. Evidence, including a bank statement and the wealth statement of tax returns, is enough to prove the allegations. It is not supposed to take so much time to collect evidence. The ACC can apprise the media of the accountability of these investigation officers. They can explain the reason of the delay. They may have a shortage of manpower. If they can become proactive to overcome the crisis, they will be successful.
In the eyes of the law, that there is no difference between minor and major corruption. But in case of tackling corruption, the big corruption matters. If a low level official at the land office is arrested on charges of corruption, there will be an outcry. But if any action is taken against a high official or industrialist or a politician, there will be a huge outcry in the society. So the ACC has to pay attention to big corruption. If the ACC concentrates on small matters, this will hamper the main function of the organisation. And that is what is happening.
The legal structure of ACC is very strong. None except the court can interfere in the functioning of the ACC. But the ACC has had little success in curbing the corruption. The CBI of India is under the central government. This organisation is so strong that industrialists, politicians and bureaucrats are afraid of it. It ensured a prison sentence for the chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad. He has had to say good bye to politics. CBI took the police commissioner of Kolkata to another state for interrogation on the basis of an allegation. The chief minister of West Bengal has to backtrack due to the decision of the Supreme Court after opposing the activities of the CBI. Whether the concerned person is guilty or not will be proven in the investigation. Can our ACC set such an example?
The ACC is more active than before, but there is something wrong. According to the report of Transparency International, we have performed badly this year. TI’s report cannot be ignored, particularly if we consider the corruption in the financial and banking sector. The report is a message. It is necessary to look at the message not to the messenger. It has long been demanded that the major corrupt persons be brought to book. The court also gave the similar order. Although the order of the HC is like an observation, the moral ground of the order is very strong. There is a strong public opinion against corruption.
*Ali Imam Majumdar is former cabinet secretary. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece appeared in Bangla in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here in English by Rabiul Islam