A certain amount of corruption in our society is now accepted as the norm
Over the years, I have often written in columns such as this one about my sadness and anger that corruption and cheating have become a way of life in Bangladesh. Just think, or imagine, how much more progress Bangladesh could have made if people -- civil servants or the general public -- found to be corrupt, had been severely punished.
I was here, in Dhaka, in January 1972, when Bangabandhu spoke out strongly about corruption, and he strongly reminded government employees that “they are not masters, but servants of the people.” It is significant that, now in Mujib Borsho, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina feels the necessity to regularly warn people about corruption.
In recent days, two pieces of news caught my attention. The first reports that at an online meeting with all secretaries of the public service on August 18, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that public servants will face tough punishment if anyone indulges in corruption. The prime minister was reported as saying: “As we are providing various facilities, we will not tolerate any corruption.”
The prime minister, reportedly, went on to say: “You have to take stern action against it; whenever you see anyone indulging in corruption, take immediate steps. There must be a reward for any good job, but punishment must be given for any involvement in corruption.”
The second news item that caught my attention was that of a fire at the Amecon Building at Chairmanbari, Banani on August 21. The media reported that the company Amecon is a manufacturer and supplier of crests and other gift items.
I have to say that I am surprised to hear that the Amecon company still exists. From 2012 to 2013, in seven phases, the government of Bangladesh honoured 337 foreigners who had assisted Bangladesh in different ways during the Liberation War of 1971. 13 were awarded with the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour, and 324 with Friends of Liberation War Honour. A total of 338 crests were made, reportedly 60 by Mohasinul Hasan, a private supplier, and 278 by Amecon. Each crest was supposed to have contained 11.64 grams of gold and 350 grams of silver. However, during a routine test by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute, it was found that only 2.36 grams of gold had been used, and that the silver had been replaced with an alloy of base metals.
Following this discovery, it is understood that the prime minister ordered a probe committee to look into the matter, and this was led by the then Dhaka divisional commissioner, Md Zillar Rahman. During the committee’s investigation, the committee borrowed the crest awarded to me, and it was tested by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. It was found that my crest contained no gold or silver at all.
The probe committee, according to their report submitted in May 2014, found 13 members of Liberation War Affairs Ministry involved in the making and purchasing of the below par crests from the two companies. The committee estimated that Tk7.04 crore had been stolen.
I am not aware if any action of any kind was taken against the officials of the Liberation War Affairs Ministry, or the companies that made the crests. It is high time that we know what action was taken.
Be that as it may, I am sure that the recognition given to us by the government of Bangladesh is more than enough, and was never expected, and even if we had received a certificate only, it would have been a great honour -- very special indeed. And so, I am sure that the recipients of these unique honours never felt cheated or short-changed.
I do not know of any country that has said “thank you” in this way. It is quite remarkable, and all of us who have received this honour feel very blessed. We are not so very special. The special ones are the unsung heroes of the Mukti Bahini and citizens of Bangladesh who fought against all odds, and many perished on the way.
As far as corruption is concerned, 10 years ago, I wrote in the national media about the progress Bangladesh had made since 1971. I wrote: “A strong and courageous government is also required to reduce the amount of leakage or corruption, which affects all development processes. I remember that even during the Rowmari famine of 1974-75, the chairman of a local co-operative association was systematically smuggling priceless food supplies over the border to India.
Sadly, now, a certain amount of leakage is the norm, not the exception. I am told that a PWD contractor, for instance, normally pays out, for bribes, about 30% of each contract’s value. Therefore, most contractors inflate their tender quotations by 30%. To overcome this, we need a sea-change in the way work is done.
As far as corruption and bribery are concerned, readers might be interested to know that a distant ancestor of mine, posted in the police at Noakhali and Chittagong in the 1860s and 1870s wrote the first Police Constable’s Manual, which was approved by the British government in Calcutta and translated into Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. It was written in the form of questions and answers and one of them is: “What is the greatest fault a constable can commit?” Answer: The taking directly or indirectly of a bribe or any article of value (money or money’s worth) from anyone for the purpose of being induced to perform or to refrain from performing the strict letter of his duty.”
I wonder what is in the Police Constable’s Manual today!
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh Citizenship. Julian has also been honoured with the British award of the OBE for ‘services to development in Bangladesh.’