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Ridding our universities of corruption

  • Published at 12:03 am September 19th, 2019
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Teachers and students of Jahangirnagar University (JU) close the institution's administrative buildings on Thursday, September 5, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

The important questions aren’t being asked

Without going into the details of the Jahangirnagar University saga, the “who was right and who was wrong,” it can safely be concluded that there was wrong-doing of a vicious sort. 

But what’s new? 

Corruption is endemically rooted in our society, as is evident from the trickle of information of people being rounded up for relatively small misdemeanours. If an iota of social media is to be believed, there are countless examples of low-paid employees living beyond their means and amassing wealth and assets that are mind-boggling, to say the least.

That it took the prime minister to come down hard on the Chhatra League leadership on the basis of the vice chancellor’s allegation is a shame on the state organs that are supposed to be addressing these maladies. 

Counter-allegations are emerging about the VC too, and one feels it is just a matter of time before further action can be expected. The money in question can’t be recovered, giving rise to the theory that suspensions and removal from positions is sensationalism that will die down and matters will revert to as before. 

Rumours have it that this kind of extortion is nothing new, and the concept of “fair share” strengthens the understanding that this kind of happening is prevalent elsewhere, only never really revealed.

There is a view that persons with stronger backbones can possibly reverse the trend, but that is misplaced. The lifestyle of student leaders is enough to prove that this is systematic and continuous. The failure of internal controls on expenditure of organizations is best reflected in the bad debt of banks where despite internal risk control sections, dubious loans are smoothly processed over telephones.  

The National Board of Revenue has the option of investigating anyone, and yet the incidents of low paid employees amassing wealth that doesn’t match their income tax returns, if any, are rarely highlighted. 

It is the tax-paying individuals who are repeatedly harangued, and little effort is focused on those TIN holders who are registered and yet don’t file returns. The approach is to organize tax fairs to assist tax-payers submit returns with much fanfare being made of the increasing number of returns and taxes collected. 

Questions aren’t being asked about how children’s tuition and coaching centre fees are being paid, and indeed about the source of income of parents that send their wards abroad for higher studies.

Few questions too, are asked about those in lucrative positions with the option of resorting to corruption. The efforts of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate reported allegations haven’t created the fear that was expected -- of being exposed -- and this comes partly due to lack of financial punishment. 

The Hallmark scandal resulted in one of the proprietors landing in jail. The sentence will be served no doubt once all appeal processes are exhausted, but for all the promises and commitments, none of the looted moneys have been returned, and the legal process has been slow to react.

The Jahangirnagar University incident requires a proper enquiry by the ACC, not the University Grants Commission. 

If indeed money was given to the students union, how did it come to pass, and is there evidence of admission of individuals having been paid? They can all be summoned and made to face the facts, including the vice chancellor. Removing them from positions is old hat in a society where shame is no longer a factor. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.