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A working democracy has no space for corruption

  • Published at 12:03 am September 19th, 2019
Anti Corruption Commission
File photo of the Anti Corruption Commission building Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The ACC needs to be invested with increased powers

There is that certain power which drives the engine of democracy. It is the power to develop and strengthen institutions. It is the ability to hold people across the spectrum, all the way from the corridors of high political authority to the lowest rung of the social order, accountable for their acts and deeds. In a democracy, corruption has little way of insinuating its way into collective life. 

Where there is a break in that rule, the institutions and organizations which democracy nurtures and replenishes on a regular pattern quickly assert themselves and set things back in their proper perspective.

An assertive democracy, one which insists on and indeed builds on substantive institutions -- and the reference here is to the civil service, to parliament, to the judiciary, etc -- does not allow government officials or influential citizens to walk away with Tk57 crore from a project, with no one ready to explain where the money has gone.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Forest, and Climate Change has stumbled on the truth of that hefty amount of money having been taken out of a Tk1,500cr project specifically designed to plant trees on 76,000 hectares of land in 600 villages across the country. 

Corruption, the old disease we have not been able to send packing into the dark woods of memory, has worked its way into the project. Fancy cars have been bought, other vehicles have been hired, officials have travelled abroad -- and yet nothing is there to show that work on the project has begun.

In a democratic ambience, these delinquent officials who have so unabashedly wasted public resources would be brought to justice.

The parliamentary committee in question would recommend harsh measures aimed at getting to the bottom of the sordid story. Quite a few would be marched off to prison.

The energy which keeps democracy going would not permit the scandal which has now enveloped Jahangirnagar University. In a state of political pluralism, it is inconceivable that students, be they leaders of unions or holding other positions, will or can so audaciously approach the vice chancellor of a university and demand that a chunk of financial resources earmarked for the development of a university be handed over to them, for no rhyme or reason. 

And yet at Jahangirnagar, two young men at the top of the Chhatra League echelon have had the temerity to do precisely that. They have since paid the price, not through any enforcement of the law, but through the decision of the political gurus they are beholden to. 

And then comes the question of what the state now does about the VC and her family, all of whom are under a cloud because of the allegations of financial impropriety laid at their door.

In a democracy, swift would be the working of the machinery of justice. Quick inquiries would be launched to probe the doings or non-doings of the VC. The full weight of democracy would lead the VC to stand aside, indeed to submit her resignation in full compliance with ethics. 

At the very least, an institutionalized system resting on democracy would have the government ask the VC to stay away from office until investigations have gone through on the scandal in which she has become embroiled.

A working democracy, resting on institutional pillars as they do, is a guarantee of probity in public life, in the functioning of government.

Audit reports relating to the country’s diplomatic missions abroad are laid open for public scrutiny; questions are raised in parliament on the collapse of banks, and why no action is taken to bring the guilty to justice; inquiries are made on why government officials must travel abroad to undertake training on the excavation of ponds in the country; investigations commence on money laundering resorted to by men and women of a questionable nature; queries are made on the ill treatment of citizens at the hands of individuals, firms, and governments abroad.

A strong democratic base for a country envisages an assertive role on the part of parliament, on the willingness of law-makers to raise questions on matters of public interest and have them answered to public satisfaction.

Democracy is not a mouthing of platitudes. It is an instrument, sharp and effective, employed in defense of all the rights and all the responsibilities citizens are privy to.

A weak democratic base is a spur to corruption, to social stagnation, and atrophy. The existence of weak institutions causes turmoil of a corrupt nature at universities, in administration, in the economy, and threatens the remains of a social order with eventual destruction.

That is reason enough for Bangladesh’s democratic experiment to be injected with fresh energy. Healthy debates in parliament, a fearless working of journalism, a demanding civil society are necessary in order for the battle against corruption to be won. 

And, of course, in the gloom engendered by all-round corruption, it becomes necessary today for the Anti-Corruption Commission to be thoroughly recast, invested with increased powers, and rendered fully and unequivocally independent.

If India has its CBI, if the United States has its FBI, there is little cause why a powerful, active, and feared ACC should not be a reason for the purveyors or dreamers of corruption to be on their toes all 24 hours of the day, here in Bangladesh. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.