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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: A task not to be underestimated

What it takes to act against corruption

Update : 16 Dec 2020, 11:38 PM

The unthinkable has happened. The “toothless tiger” that former anti-corruption head Golam Rahman described is spreading its reach and search. 

Coordination that many have been crying out for between different government agencies has led to a spurt of drives, including targeting powerful lobbies, reclaiming rivers encroached upon, the eviction of illegal shops, and probing the Begum Para, Canada’s hitherto safe haven for money-launderers. 

At least one of the more sensational capital flight villains has been prised out and a member of parliament is languishing in jail in Kuwait.

There’s a decided difference this time round. Confiscating outdated and illegally imported drugs is being pushed for by the courts. If it extends to counterfeit and unapproved drugs, all the better. Even notorious Rajuk, the approving body for construction of homes and apartments, is becoming stricter, although loopholes for graft still remain.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had pleaded with public sector employees to desist from corruption. He implored the general public to expose and ostracize profiteers, hoarders, and the like. He threatened to turn these pleas into action when it turned out that many around him were just as guilty. His life was cut short shortly after that.

Hussein Muhammad Ershad had once directed that lists be made of people owning homes in the plush residential areas and match such purchases with their income. That died a premature death. Former mayors Muhammad Hanif and Sadeq Hossain Khoka had pleaded for a city-government structure to coordinate development activities and minimize wastage. 

These were lost on deaf ears. The refreshing change has come in the last few years. Mayor Annisul Huq took the bit between his teeth, bringing revolutionary changes ranging from taking on the powerful truck owners and employees association and coming up with simple solutions to solve the traffic snarls, with promises of more. 

His untimely death brought about a halt to the ambitious plans. Mayor Atiqul Islam has struggled to keep pace with Annisul though that too seems to be on the move again. Mayor Fazle Noor Taposh has taken on the business community through illegal shop eviction, removing overtly corrupt city corporation officials, and clear plans to tackle the old city’s traffic issues. 

Without creation of city government, he has garnered support for plan submission by the Titas Gas, Wasa, telecommunications ministry, and cable TV providers by the end of the year for coordination. In so doing, he exposes himself to the interests that thrived on previous practices. 

One of his biggest early successes was wrestling control of city canal recovery and maintenance from the hopelessly listless and obviously corrupt Water and Sewerage Authority.

The Anti-Corruption Commission has filed cases against individuals and groups after investigation and interrogation. Their most recent move to probe 80 businessmen, bankers, government employees, and others is a move that has long been awaited. Public servants must justify their means of owning homes and flats as well as funding children’s education abroad as equally as private citizens and private sector employees. 

The notable names missing from the list must be former National Board of Revenue officials, Rajuk, and Bangladesh Railway. The list can be expanded further, including the police. That may happen in due course. What is important is that the process has begun with gusto.

It’s the follow-through that is treated with a fair deal of scepticism. The lack of progress of the busted casino racket, the slowness of the legal process following the exposure of unbelievable corruption in the health sector both private and public, and the tardiness of prosecuting those involved in the unheard of inflated costs of procurement of material and machinery in even the most flouted projects add to the scepticism.

For some time now, reports have been flying around of intelligence agencies having presented lists of individuals and groups that have accusations of various misdeeds, including corruption against them. Misuse of power, muscle, and position for illegal benefits run deep in our society. 

That which used to be condemned in terms of speed money or otherwise has become an almost accepted part of life. Such acceptance brings with it all the wrong moral vicissitudes that the new generation is exposed to, leading to their heartbreaking venture into substance abuse. The recent charge-sheet against dismissed Inspector Pradip Kumar in the Retired Major Sinha murder reveals a drug smuggling cartel. 

It takes courage, determination, and resolve to prove and act against such lobbies that few countries in the world have been able to do. President Duterte of the Philippines went one drastic way. Bangabandhu’s daughter has the power, wherewithal, and intent. Cracking the self-made defensive barrier, be it in government or politics, is the key.

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

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